The future of the blue bird social network looks very uncertain after a week as convulsed as the previous ones, marked by a new staff cut and the return of Donald Trump’s account. In this scenario, the question arises more and more frequently: what would a world without Twitter?
With approximately 237 million daily users according to the last record from the end of June, Twitter is quite far behind the numbers of Facebook (1.98 billion), TikTok (over 1 billion) and even Snapchat (363 million).
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However, in a little over 15 years, the platform has become an essential space for leaders, companies, celebrities and the media, who often have Twitter as their only direct channel to communicate.
Twitter “it is not essential”wrote Steven Cohn, a New York businessman, on Twitter. “The world would be fine without Twitter”, he insisted, convinced that the universe of tweets is only a microcosm with little real importance. “Most tweets come from the 1%” of users and “most normal people never log in”he claimed.
On the contrary, for Karen North, a professor at USC Annenberg University, “Twitter’s real strength is that anyone can post something there that everyone can see.”
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In the event of a conflict, a social movement or a wave of repression, “Twitter has become a key platform to report on the reality of what is happening on the ground”says Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute, a think tank in Washington.
Like most other social networks, Twitter is also used to spread propaganda and false information. The company has developed moderation tools to combat these issues, but its continuation is uncertain after more than two-thirds of the teams exit.
A study published in 2018 showed that false information circulated faster than verified information.
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“It is an unrealistic expectation to think of a platform where disinformation is impossible”warns Charles Lister. “Watch information disappear, both good and bad” before a possible disappearance of Twitter, “it is by definition a bad thing”.
“Authoritarian leaders or anyone who doesn’t want to share information could benefit from a world without Twitter”said Mark Hass, a professor at Arizona State University.
“It would be terrible for journalism”adds Karen North, because “Twitter is not a social network”but “a news and information network, the meeting point where journalists go to get updated, to look for an idea for a story, a source or a quote”.
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With downsizing and shrinking budgets in the press for over a decade, “There are no longer enough resources to go looking for sources on the ground”argues the academic.
Another perverse effect, according to her, is that “Without Twitter, the people who will have access to the media will be the ones who are already important enough for the press to listen to. With Twitter, anyone can tell a story”.
Another of the functions of this collaborative space is that it has become “in a vital source of information, advice, mutual aid during hurricanes, forest fires, wars, terrorist attacks or epidemics”tweeted Caroline Orr, a researcher at the University of Maryland.
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“It is not something that can be replaced with existing platforms”he warns. In general, when asked what are the possible alternatives to Twitter, there is still no obvious answer.
“Facebook has its uses, but it is a bit outdated”says Charles Lister.
“Twitter’s competitors will undoubtedly win back users”foresees Mark Hass, who mentions the Mastodon social network, “But they will probably continue to be niche. None of them will become the public square that Twitter has sought to create.”.
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Hass believes more in the potential of a community platform like Reddit, as does Karen North, for whom this social network is however limited by its minimalist and cluttered appearance, nothing comparable to the pleasant user experience of Twitter.
“I don’t think there is anything today that offers the same added value as Twitter”insists Lister. “Could it be replicated? Sure,’ she says, ‘but that would require enormous resources and a significant amount of time.’.