There’s an old(ish) saying that Twitter is where strangers go to become friends and Facebook is where friends go to become strangers.
Monday marked 10 years since Twitter was hatched as a microblogging service in San Francisco, the brainchild of now veteran tech entrepreneurs Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Noah Glass. Since then, millions of people around the world have found a new way to connect and become, in a sense, friends.
The question, though, is what’s that connection really worth? Sure, the social media platform has radically changed the way we relate to each other, but is that good or bad? The answer is both.
We #LoveTwitter because it has given people a way to share their thoughts – sometimes without thinking – and find like-minded people during presidential debates, NFL games and launches of SpaceX rockets. It has given us a real-time window into the most remote corners of the world to see what topics are “trending.”
Twitter has given us a redefinition of the word “viral.” It gave us hashtags and “mentions” (or “@ replies”) to make it easy to follow and participate in the most important or most idiotic of online arguments.
From the Arab Spring to Ferguson, Mo., Twitter has helped people protest government authorities. It gave us Black Twitter and Black Lives Matter.
Today, politicians tweet major policy statements. Sports figures announce major career moves – or, in Marshawn Lynch’s case, retirement – in cryptic tweets. The pope tweets. So does the Dalai Lama, the president and the Hubble Space Telescope. Anthony Weiner tweeted, alas.
This era of social-media connectedness that Twitter has helped usher into existence – one in which more conversations are taking place, but often with less depth and context – says as much about human beings as it does about the balance we’ve chosen to strike between technology and civility.
Ten years ago, people used to communicate by writing paragraphs with complete sentences in email. Today, 140 character tweets are often the way to go. Sometimes, that’s not such a good thing.
Through Twitter, we’ve learned to take umbrage at anything and everything. A stupid tweet or an off-color joke can trigger a worldwide avalanche of name-calling and public shaming. Who needs facts, context or details? When a mob mentality takes over, careers end on Twitter, as do good reputations.
Some of the worst parts of human nature also reign supreme in the Twittersphere. Racists and sexists have found like-minded friends and legitimacy, and regularly target and harass unwitting users.
Twitter is a haven for bullies – perhaps none bigger than the leading Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump. The real estate mogul has taken to social media like no other candidate before him, disrupting the traditionally impenetrable political process and turning his Twitter followers into voters. And he’s done it while insulting politicians, world leaders, reporters and random Americans with the crassness of a fifth-grader.
Through Trump, we’ve come to know the power of Twitter – good and bad. Still, it’s just a communications platform and it very well may be obsolete in 10 years. What will never be obsolete is civility.