If you have a Twitter account you may be a bit troubled by the disruption to the business model as the new owner, Elon Musk, flexes his considerable financial muscle. There are 5.8 million Twitter accounts in Australia, the eighth largest in the world. Still, of the 1.3 billion Twitter accounts worldwide, only 192 million are actively used. The stats were uncovered in an ABC discussion about how relevant Twitter is to people.
Twitter is a social networking service launched in March 2006. The San Francisco-based company hosts a microblogging site on which users post and interact with “tweets”. Tweets were originally restricted to 140 characters (one or two sentences). This was doubled to 280 characters in late 2017. The required brevity attracted writers, journalists, comedians and academics keen to demonstrate their skill in making a concise point. It also attracted minorities who otherwise had no voice.
As Twitter devotee Mr Shiraz said when I joined: ‘say something original, clever or witty.’ He added: “Be careful who you follow or they will make your life a misery!”
Over time Twitter became the ideal way to break news and all journalists found themselves inextricably tied to their ‘Twitter feed.’ Twitter also became the darling of propagandists (of the left and the right), the most obvious example being former US president Donald Trump. Posting under the handle, The Real Donald Trump, the US leader for a long while started conversations on policy with the public at large, bypassing the hierarchical chain of command.
In 2021, after the January 6 attacks on the Capitol building, Facebook banned Trump from posting and a day later Twitter issued a permanent ban, “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
The Conversation last week wrote about the latest developments at Twitter, which was bought by Elon Musk for $44 billion. Writers Daniel Angus and Timothy Graham said it was clear that Musk was “intent on taking Twitter in a direction “at odds with the prevailing cultures of its diverse users”.
Amid reports of Twitter users quitting the platform for alternatives like Mastadon and Hive Social, Musk began reinstating high-profile users – including Donald Trump and Kanye West. Both had been banned for repeated violations of community standards. Trump in the meantime set up his own social media site (Truth Social).
Elon Musk completed his $44 billion takeover of Twitter in late October, seven months after he first made a bid for the listed company. What quickly followed was a mass exodus of Twitter staff, including thousands that Musk fired via email. Those who remained were warned they would have to face hard working conditions. Not surprisingly, there is much angst about the future of the privatised Twitter.
Just this week Musk has removed the policy that stopped people posting Covid misinformation. Reasonable people everywhere said ‘why?’
Forbes magazine said many Twitter users are worried about degradation on both the technical and content moderation sides. This is a particular worry in light of Elon Musk allowing suspended accounts to rejoin, with fewer people left to police hateful content.
This week Musk complained about Apple removing its advertising from Twitter and accused Apple of threatening to ban the software from its App Store. Apple has said nothing public about this, although Musk now tells us the ban is off. It’s a good example of what we can now expect from Musk. He has taken the company private, which means he no longer has to make public disclosures, unless it is in his interest, that is.
Forbes reported on the sudden rush of support for a tech startup, Hive Social. In early November Hive announced it had reached a million users, broken through crowdfunding goals and was adding more than 100,000 users a day.
Writer Paul Stassi speculated that it was a matter of Twitter users opening a Hive Social account ‘just in case.”
Stassi points out that Hive Social is a new tech company run by just two people. While it appears to imitate Twitter to some extent, there are many things you can’t do on Hive that Twitter users take for granted.
Twitter’s enduring slogan is ‘don’t miss out – Twitter is the first to know what’s going on.’
A quick check on Saturday morning (the Victorian election), @PRGuy17 tweeted in Report from Mulgrave: “this is the first time I have ever felt unsafe while voting … they literally circled around me and blocked my path.” By 11.44am Victorian time, 1,995 people had ‘liked’ this and 399 retweeted the post, which meant it spread to the followers of more twitter accounts.
In the Twitterverse, other users comment and the original tweeter responds (or not). A conversation develops. If the interest is manifest, Twitter will declare that the topic is ‘trending’. That’s all fine and good and democratic unless you don’t want to be that up to date.
In short, a 74-year-old retired journalist has no real use for following a Twitter feed (all day and night as some people seem to do). I do post FOMM there every week but have no way of knowing which of my followers read it. The one exciting thing that happened to me on Twitter, a well-known Australian musician and songwriter tweeted: “@Bobwords48 is Bob Wilson, who wrote Underneath the Story Bridge. Who knew?”
Australians are in love with social media in general, but Twitter not so much. Marketing company Genroe says that as of February 2022, 21.45 million Australians were active users of social media (82.7% of the Australian population). That’s a 4.6% increase on 12 months before. Key statistics drawn from the research include
- 98% of Australian users access social media via a mobile device;
- Australians spend an average of 1 hour 57 minutes per day on social media;
- Australians have one of the lowest number of social media accounts per person in the world (7.2);
- 52% use Social Media as a source of news (the world average is 55%).
- 30.3% use Social Media when looking for information about a brand.
YouTube (78.2%) and Facebook (77.7%) are tied for the most popular social media platforms in Australia. A survey of people aged 13 and over declared Facebook (27.1%) as their most favoured social site platform. YouTube was excluded from this survey, which showed Instagram in second place (16.2%) followed by Messenger (9.0%), WhatsApp (6.1%), TikTok (6.0%), SnapChat (4.2%) and Twitter (2.8%). As for leaving the Twitter platform because you fear what kind of content may be permitted (or banned) under the new regime, here’s a few thoughts. There were many instances of fake news, fake accounts, flagged content, spam, harassment, trolling and mis-leading commentary under the old Twitter. Despite moderation, there is still a fair bit of aggro (Australian expression meaning aggression), defamatory comment and hate speak. I look at my semi-active Twitter account with its series of links to our website and think ‘what’s the worst that could happen?In terms of relevancy to “our” demographic, the over-50s comprise only 17.1% of Twitter accounts worldwide. As for @PRGuy17, by 3.39 on Saturday afternoon his 9.08am tweet about intimidation at a Victoria polling booth had been liked by 3,023 users and retweeted (shared) 580 times. As is the Twitter way, the story made its way into mainstream news bulletins. This one tiny example plucked from the Twitterverse is a good example of how free speech and democracy works. I can’t see regular Twitter users (of the left or the right) giving away the opportunity to engage in unfettered public discourse about things that matter.
*Today is the 50th anniversary of the Whitlam government’s historic election win. In case you missed my musical take on this era: https://thegoodwills.bandcamp.com/track/when-whitlam-took-his-turn-at-the-wheel