Media & Technology

Do We Really Need Twitter?

Anna Kenworthy will be exploring the double-edged sword that is Twitter. Does it bring people together from all corners of the world, or does it push them apart with the rise of the internet Troll?

Twitter is rapidly becoming a household name, with 6,000 tweets sent per second, by almost 320 million active users; from Lady Gaga to the Pope. As it grows in popularity, the way it is used has split into two main, very different, purposes. On one side are the millions of accounts using the platform to share issues ignored by mainstream media. On the other, the rise of the internet troll. So is Twitter a place for ground-breaking change, or abusive threats? Does it bring people together from all corners of the world, or does it push them apart? The real question is: do we really need Twitter?

In the past, our only method of hearing about current events was through mainstream media. This meant that large media corporations could control what the public knew about certain events. Twitter has given the public a voice, and with it, control of how news is reported. It allows us to send photos and videos of incidents worldwide, often portraying more realistic accounts than news corporations. Through the use of hashtags, people can now share stories happening across the world.

After the death of Mike Brown, a black teenager who was shot and killed by a police officer, #blacklivesmatter became well known. When the resulting protests in Ferguson were reported as violent riots, people took to Twitter to spread photos of the peaceful protests. The hashtag was also used to inform others of the ways black people are victimised by the police. Since then the campaign has exponentially gained support, and was even the focus of Beyoncé’s album Lemonade and her performance at the Super Bowl last year. This, along with the part Twitter played in the organising and reporting of the women’s marches earlier in the year, display how Twitter is no longer just a novelty. It is a powerful media force which many are using to change how we see the news for the better.

Twitter allows people from all corners of the world to communicate. Users can keep in touch with family and friends through tweets, direct messaging, and sending photos and videos. They can see what their loved ones are up to, what shows they’re watching, what music they like, without the expense of letters or long distance phone calls. Twitter enables us to instantly contact with whoever we want, wherever they are in the world. This also opens up the opportunity to connect with people who share similar interests; people we never would have met without the existence of this platform.

Twitter is abundant with communities in which users can share their opinions about their mutual hobbies. Many people have met through the website and become friends. Some have even fallen in love, their long distance relationships made easier by the ability to contact each other on Twitter. With a 140 character message and a click of the mouse, people are able to both stay in touch, and make new friends through the use of this social network.

However, one of the main downsides of Twitter is the internet troll. The anonymity of creating a fake Twitter account allows people to say anything without any consequences. They can send people messages without their identity being known, and this can lead to many vicious tweets such as death and rape threats being sent to anyone; from A-list celebrities to members of the public. The release of the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot brought lots of mixed emotions for fans of the originals. Whilst many fans were excited, the female actors received numerous aggressive tweets, attacking them for reasons ranging from their gender to their size. Leslie Jones found herself at the forefront of these attacks as trolls took to Twitter to send vicious messages not only about her gender and size, but her race. As a result, Jones was forced to leave Twitter, as the abuse was too much. Unfortunately, this was not an isolated case. Trolling of this nature – towards women of colour – is sadly very common on this social network, and many can’t help but ask if the world would be better off without Twitter.

As Twitter allows people to post anything, the news you receive through Twitter can often be opinion rather than fact. While Twitter gives its users a voice, this can mean it is difficult to tell fact from fiction. Many celebrities have been falsely reported as dead, as some users abuse the freedom Twitter provides.

This happened recently when a troll hacked into a popular music Twitter account in order to announce Britney Spears had died in an accident, to the horror of her millions of followers. Shortly after, a fake BBC Twitter account declared the death of Queen Elizabeth II. This one tweet caused thousands to mourn over the loss. Twitter gives people a voice that many use for good by shining light on important issues. Unfortunately, others use this unfiltered speech to spread lies and panic through presenting rumours and misinformation as fact. So maybe fact check before you start mourning the loss of your favourite pop star.

Twitter is most definitely a double-edged sword, both thriving on people using the platform to promote causes and campaigns, and crawling with trolls sending malicious tweets and death threats. It simultaneously brings people together from across the globe, helps people meet, and drives them apart with cruel messages and fake news stories. Nevertheless, although it’s clear the idea of anonymity brings the dregs of society out of the woodwork and onto the network, to angrily express their hatred, Twitter, when used correctly, can be a very powerful tool for improving people’s lives. All in all, it would seem that we really do need Twitter.