The social media platform Twitter is surely one of the strangest specimens in our 21st century digital habitat. With its 140-character limit and hashtag system, Twitter is a beautifully efficient system for moving information around online. It's been hailed as one of the single best ideas of the Information Age.
On the other hand, the company is having a lot of trouble turning a profit. Despite a massive base of 300 million active users, the company's market value is a third of what it was two years ago. So how powerful is Twitter, really?
As Laura Ling explains in this Seeker Daily report, Twitter's influence is subtle but strong -- especially in media and politics. Its influence was first widely acknowledged in 2008, when Barack Obama successfully leveraged the platform in his 2008 campaign run to the presidency. The opposition soon followed suit. The Tea Party movement, for instance, initially galvanized their base through Twitter rather than traditional mailers.
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And as the current U.S. election has demonstrated, Twitter is still a hugely popular political tool for candidates. Donald Trump's improbable success has been linked to his enthusiasm for the platform.
Internationally, Twitter has been lauded for its ability to organize and bring people together for a common political cause. In 2011, when Egyptians attempted to oust their long-running president, Hosni Mubarak, tweets about the movement exploded from 2,000 per day to more than 250,000 per day in the week prior to his resignation.
Twitter-organized protests are credited with fueling the Arab Spring and other so-called Twitter revolutions. Communication by way of social media was essential to these popular uprisings, where traditional forms of mass media were often controlled by oppressive governments. Twitter has also provided a critical line of communication during natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy.
But there's also a dark side to Twitter's power as a communication tool. Terrorist groups such as ISIS regularly use the platform for global propaganda and recruitment. Twitter has attempted to actively suppress this activity by shutting down more than 125,000 accounts with pro-terrorism rhetoric.
And of course, Twitter has enthusiastically embraced by many celebrities and other public figures, changing the very nature of pop culture discourse. If nothing else, Twitter has provided a place for ace comedy professionals to deliver jokes directly to the people, and it's hard to argue with that.
-- Glenn McDonald
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