How relevant is Twitter to most people? | #socialmedia


There are more than 1.3 billion Twitter accounts, but only 192 million of them are daily active users – so how relevant is Twitter to most people?

A lecturer in Digital Media Research at Monash University, Dr Verity Trott, said Twitter was “generally still pretty insular”.

“It is largely used by those involved in or particularly interested in media, politics, the academia or fandom,” Dr Trott said.

But Twitter’s impact isn’t limited to what happens on the platform.

From hashtags to global movements

Global social movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo originated on Twitter, then grew beyond the platform.

“The hashtag #YesAllWomen emerged in 2014 after the shootings in Isla Vista by Elliot Rodger, who was motivated by deeply rooted misogynistic beliefs,” Dr Trott said.

Dr Verity Trott’s current research projects focus on the intersectional issues of the #MeToo movement, and cultures of toxic masculinity online.(Supplied)

“In the wake of the shootings, some Twitter users responded to the attack by stating that ‘not all men’ were violent and misogynistic.”

“In response to this argument, the #YesAllWomen hashtag was used over a million times to … highlight that, while not all men may perpetrate sexist and gender violence, all women must live with the threat of such gendered violence.

“This use of Twitter laid the foundations for future protests such as the Women’s March and #MeToo in 2017.”

Other large, national protest movements from around the world – the Arab Spring and Tunisian uprisings, the Spanish Indignados and Occupy Wall Street – have some origins on Twitter.

Dr Trott said digital tools such as Twitter were relied on “to coordinate, organise and transmit the key messages of the actions and to connect activists within a broader community”.

Finding acceptance and community

Using Twitter can be a deeply personal experience too.

Rohan Salmond is the producer of ABC RN’s Soul Search and the author of Modern Relics, a weekly newsletter about religion, pop culture and the Internet.

He started using Twitter in 2008 to follow friends he made online.

“Back then, it would send out tweets as text messages to everyone who followed you, so it was a bit like being in a big group text,” he said.

“I posted a lot like a public journal – and to a certain extent I still do – although I self-censor a bit more since I started working in media.”

Twitter was also a place where he could find and connect with people who were just like him – something he struggled to do in real life.

Rohan Salmond and his fiance
Rohan snaps a selfie with his fiance on a recent holiday – where he got engaged.(Supplied)

“LGBT Christians are a significant part of Christian Twitter,” he explained.

“Up until recently it was difficult to talk about sexuality and gender in mainstream Christian spaces.”

Christian Twitter is fun too.

Rohan’s latest edition of Modern Relics explores accidentally erotic church signs.

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And one of his favourite theological debates on Twitter was over whether it would be right to baptise Baby Yoda: “What and who is baptism for? Is infant baptism necessary or not? Can you theoretically baptise an alien?”

“Baptism has been a thorny subject in Christian history – and still is, really – but it was funny and good-natured, even though people were expressing strong views,” he said.

In case of emergency, check Twitter

Emergency communication is another example of Twitter’s relevance.

Dr Trott pointed to the 2014 Jakarta floods as an example of how Twitter was used to “deliver effective communication from verified outlets and authorities to inform the public about a rapidly evolving situation”.

Then there’s breaking news.

Dr Jonathon Hutchinson
Dr Jonathon Hutchinson tweets regularly at @dhutchman.(Supplied)

Dr Jonathon Hutchinson, a senior lecturer in Online Communication and Media at the University of Sydney, said Twitter was even relevant for non-users.

“Notable Twitter activity will always make its way into mainstream media and other platforms that Australians use,” Dr Hutchinson said.

He points to Will Smith punching Chris Rock at the Oscars, Liberal candidate Karen Deves offensive social media posts referencing the transgender community and Nazism, and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese contracting COVID during the election campaign as examples.

What about free speech?

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Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter has raised concerns over his views on free speech.

Dr Trott says digital platforms that uphold a ‘free speech above all else’ policy don’t necessarily make the platforms safe.

“The chans – 4chan and 8chan – are a key example of this unmoderated, ‘wild west’ Internet culture that has resulted in some absolutely horrific violence including multiple White and male supremacist attacks – the Christchurch shootings and the Isla Vista killings to name just a couple,” she said.

There’s also concern over the return of users who have been banned by Twitter for violating company rules on hateful conduct and incitement of violence.

“Over the last couple of years, there has also been a purge on Twitter of extremist accounts,” Dr Trott says.

“If Elon’s Twitter were to strip back its moderation processes, perhaps some of these users would return but they would have to begin again and redevelop their networks which they may not be willing to do.”

Dr Hutchinson said participation was good.

“Unfortunately, people broadly have proven that absolute freedom of speech includes a range of negative and hateful commentary that is often untrue or misinformation,” Dr Hutchinson said.

“A simple text messaging service that assists users to engage with live events, political commentary, news and information makes this service incredibly useful.”

There’s something for everyone on Twitter

Free speech aside, Twitter is known for generating weird and wonderful tidbits for everyone.

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Rohan pointed to the “recent discussion among witches on Twitter and TikTok about whether to hex Vladimir Putin as a way to aid Ukraine”.

“Opinion was split between those who approved of the hex and those who thought it would be ineffective or potentially dangerous,” he said.

“It was fascinating to hear about the reasons why various witches were choosing to do different things, and I wouldn’t have been easily able to witness that discussion were it not for Twitter.”

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Dr Trott loved “the cereal brand scandals that happen on Twitter”.

“Last year there was the juicy story that went viral when a customer found a shrimp tail in a Box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch,” Dr Trott said.

“Other users in the science community volunteered to test the sample to prove it was shrimp based as the company tried to claim it was an accumulation of sugar.”





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