The high and low moments of Twitter’s first decade

Meet the dark side of the Twittersphere

Trolls. Whilst Twitter can give a voice to many, the challenge is that it can also create bullies who feel they can hide behind the anonymity of the internet. A particularly low point was the trolling of activist and feminist Caroline Criado-Perez who was campaigning for more women to be represented on UK bank notes. The historian, Mary Beard was another public figure who suffered abuse, but she turned the tables by naming and shaming her abuser, then befriending him.

The not-so-clever. One tweet claimed that “barraco barner” was Britain’s president. In less than 140 characters one person brought our entire education system into question. Another unconsidered tweet became known as “The Twitter Joke Trial”: 

It landed the author in court and prison but was finally overturned on appeal. In another example of the viral-ness of the medium, PR executive Justine Sacco sent a highly inappropriate tweet to just 170 followers, shortly before she boarded a flight to South Africa, whereby she said she hoped she didn’t get AIDs. By the time she landed, there were thousands of retweets and her name was trending. She had also lost her job.

Ill-considered marketing. There are numerous examples of brand #fails from the world of Twitter that include body shaming, “accidental” pornographic pictures and many poorly timed tweets. The fashion designer Kenneth Cole has become famed for his inappropriate tweeting. During the Egyptian revolution he tweeted: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online”. Whilst the fashion industry seems to have more than its fair share of fails, no business sector is immune. For example, in the US the DiGiorno pizza company used domestic abuse campaign’s #WhyIStayed to promote its pizza.

Politicians. If there’s one thing that characterises the contemporary Twitter, it’s a very long list of political indiscretions. Whilst it’s a global phenomena, a notable UK mention includes Ed Balls tweeting his own name:

There was also the time David Cameron tweeted to a spoof Ian Duncan Smith account and Aiden Burley described the Olympic opening ceremony as “leftie multicultural crap”. It’s not just words, Labour front-bencher Emily Thornberry was sacked from her role after tweeting a picture from Rochester, of a white van in front of a house with the flag of St George.

So, after ten years Twitter has informed, entertained and horrified us in equal measure. The next decade for the channel appears less certain. Its user base has flattened off at around 300m people and there is growing sense of disillusionment. Stephen Fry recently stepped back from Twitter describing it as:

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Mark Brill is senior lecturer in digital communication and future media at Birmingham City University.

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