The Twitter Impact

THE TWITTER IMPACT

An essay by Samantha Cole

 

An imagined dispatch from the near future. This is the way Twitter ends. Not with a bang, but a “lol wut.”

 

The timeline is blurry. Who could name Myspace’s time of death? Or when the last person hid their racist aunt from their Facebook feeds before logging out forever? Twitter died sometime after that.

 

But there are always warning signs. The company’s stock dropped 12 percent after its 2016 Q1 earnings call. Before its next quarterly call, Twitter announced that it wouldn’t Periscope this one, because investors didn’t really care to watch people tap papers on a desk over the Internet for an hour.

 

Fun fact: Twitter was born “Twttr,” because vowels are gross. That was 2006. Flickr was founded in 2004 and Tumblr in 2007. The dot com era was weird.

 

Not much changed when Twitter finally went under. What it taught us graduated into the next generation of networks, so it’s not lost. There’s no hole left from Twitter’s absence. But there’s a nostalgia in thinking back on this now-defunct network’s best years.

 

Twitter was the first place many of us truly felt the notion that the world wasn’t getting worse, but that our ability to access huge swathes of information was getting better. Wow, did it ever feel like it was getting unbearably worse at times, though.

 

 

Twitter often delivered an equal measure of beauty and pain. Tweeting was the only way protestors in so many movements could get the word out about what was happening on the group — even if dictatorships tried to shut them down. It gave a voice to the oppressed that was equally as loud as the most loudmouthed politician. Artists who had their work stolen by fast fashion brands could stand up for themselves and have a mass of people behind them instantly. Schools went on lockdown, over and over, administrators tweeting “Stay in your rooms” and students writing back, “We’re scared; I’m okay.” We laughed at the same inside jokes, cried together from far apart when the world felt like it was going insane. A photo of a young black woman facing riot police in Baton Rouge could be shared by millions. The deaths of innocent men were recorded by bystanders. Over and over.

 

“Arrested,” a tweet read simply. Days later, “Free.” These notes and images shook the world. Can you imagine if Twitter had existed 30, 40 years ago? What a gruesome and complete public record we would have today.

 

So what happened to Twitter? It was around the time we forgot that the words “user,” “consumer,” and “influencer” meant human beings.

 

To that effect, some point to when harassment because too much for the casual user to bear. Most people don’t thrive on arguments with strangers with eggs for faces, and without a good mod any forum will collapse into itself. Twitter administrators tried to redeem themselves with a few high-profile bans: In 2016, they kicked professional troll Milo Yiannopoulos off of the site for being the racist poster boy for his hoard of grown men clutching stuffed Slimer toys. Turns out freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences, who knew? More public figures followed him into the banned abyss shortly thereafter, thanks to increasingly violent racist and sexist remarks about the 2016 election.

 

These bans put Twitter in the headlines for a few weeks, and earned their PR department a few pats on the back, but the majority of harassment reports — made in large part by female journalists and celebrities but increasingly by literally anyone who signed up for an account — went untouched by administrators.

 

That same year, they opened verification up to anyone who took the time to fill out an online application. A rash of social media managers and YouTube celebrities applied, but eventually, they all stopped coming. Eventually, it was only Media Twitter left, a massive comments section for people who were banned from or shut down actual comment sections. The snake ate its own tail.

 

“Luv 2 b an influencer,” Twitter’s founder wrote, trying to be ironic, with screenshots of a Business Insider listicle headlined “12 now-defunct companies’s mistakes to learn from” and an Uproxx essay, “How Twitter’s Death Gave Us Life.” The tweet gained 270 impressions and 6 total engagements.

 

Of course, people found the next app to scroll. Like I said, its death didn’t leave a hole, any more than punching a bowl of Jell-O creates an empty void. The next “disruptor” is always ready to slide in. Uncensored human expression and information finds a way. And we’ll always find some new blue light to stare into, scrolling endlessly with our backs facing each other in the early morning hours.

Delanie Billman