Twitter Inc.’s mission statement reads:
And Twitter is the perfect weapon to execute this mission. Its practicality is immense, and incomparable.
The social networking service is effective in broadcasting quick bits of information to large or specific groups of people. It has the useful ability to display both trending and live content. Most uniquely, it allows users to send and receive tweets to any other user (unless an account has been blocked).
By default, it allows users to view another user’s posts and replies, as a mutual action is not required to view content (see: unrequited Facebook friend and Instagram follower requests blocking all or most content). Even with zero people aware of an account’s existence, mentioning another user or using a hashtag will bring a post to the public. Twitter users don’t require a huge following to be heard in the public sphere.
Considering only this, it seems like a mission accomplished. And yet, many have begun to speculate that it is dying.
Why it could be dying.
User rates are falling. At the beginning of September, Twitter had almost 696 million registered accounts. As of its most recent quarter, only 45 per cent of users (313 million) were classified as “active” – meaning they use the site every month. While the past two years have seen 39 million active users joined, they have also seen the growth rate of users per year drop from 24 per cent to three percent.
Another main concern of the company is that they are not able to properly monetize the platform. Twitter has always found it challenging to translate the widespread use of their platform into revenue. They’ve done it to some extent, and the vast majority of their revenue comes from advertising and data licensing (the sale of Twitter’s data to third parties). But ever since its creation, this has never been enough for the company to turn a profit.
Even after increasing revenue to $2.22 billion from $1.4 billion in the past two fiscal years, Twitter still suffers millions of dollars in net loss annually. The company has lost a total of $2 billion in their 10 years of function as of February, though they have shown decreased losses in recent years.
So it must be dying in more than just a financial sense, and here are some other potential reasons why:
The bot crisis: Millions of Twitter accounts are non-human ‘bots’ – automated programs designed to massively carry out a specific function, like tweet, follow, or use hashtags. While the current number of bots has not been published, reports in 2014 claimed that the company had admitted as many as 23 million active Twitter accounts were bots.
New users are not as passionate: The majority of users (especially new ones) use Twitter in a very limited way, which can lead to frustration and abandonment of the site. Twitter uses an “engagement rate” statistic to track interactions with tweets. Newer users have lower interaction rates, meaning those who join recently aren’t using tweets to their full potential, that is, they are not using a variety of Twitter’s features, like hashtags, links, replies, and so on. Data also suggests newcomers have difficulty building an interactive community forming new connections with other users that had a hand in making Twitter so popular only a few years ago.
Inconsistent relationship to censorship: Twitter’s methods of dealing (or rather, not dealing) with hate speech from trolls and bullies have brought controversy. Some steps have been made to rectify this – they banned Azealia Banks’s account in May, and they had officially banned 360,000 users for supporting terrorism from mid-2015 to August 2016. However, Ku Klux Klan members, and many others who use hate speech, continue to not be banned.
Competing social media networks: Facebook has far surpassed Twitter in both users and revenue. As of December 2015, Facebook had over 23 times more advertisers than Twitter, 8.5 times as much advertising revenue, and five times more users. Additional platforms, which emerge constantly, also divert attention in the competitive field.
So is this my formal letter of account deactivation? Is this where we find out if all good tweets go to heaven? First, some reasons why Twitter will probably stick around.
Why it definitely shouldn’t die.
However greatly the odds seem to be stacked against Twitter, we must remember what made it such a huge and influential site in the first place. These are the reasons it should, and needs to, stay running:
Breaking news and natural disasters: Twitter acts as a virtual megaphone built effectively to deliver short messages, links, and popular ideas to as many people as possible. Twitter has no problem bringing crucial alerts to mass audiences with immediacy. Its focus on hashtags then sorts these ideas and transmits popular or specific tweets to make this megaphone even louder, and even more effective. Sites like Facebook
Public discussion: Twitter is extremely public, and all parts of a discussion can be seen and joined by anyone. When discourse happens on a (somewhat) level playing field, instead of in closed groups of common interest as is a focus of Facebook, unique voices can be heard, and discussion can be advanced incomparably.
Social movements and protest: What immediately comes to mind as the biggest example is the hashtag, and how it has enabled groups of enormous size to communicate and organize. Remember Iran’s 2009 presidential election protests? The Egypt Revolution of 2011? Twitter users created hashtags to organize protests and avoid government forces like the police hindering their movement.
Celebrities: Obviously, celebrity drama has a unique stage on Twitter. Our favourite celebrities have other famous people to joke and/or feud with, career updates to brag about, and intimate details from their personal lives to share. What better way to connect on a personal and involved level, particularly in instances where a celebrity tweets constantly? Many celebrities even tweet to and follow fans directly, which has not been paralleled on Facebook.
Memes and viral content: With Twitter as the arguably fastest and easiest way to communicate with the largest masses of people, it is invaluable as a first stop to post anything you hope will go viral, or access what may become viral first.
When you think about every single user having “the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers,” what other social media platform is there? This is the final reason Twitter hasn’t died yet and doesn’t deserve to: right now, for the reasons listen there’s no proper replacement for it. We’ll be tweeting in the meantime.
By Francis Mbadiwe (@KachiFran)
Please note that opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.