On March 21st 2006, Twitter creator Jack Dorsey send the first ever ‘tweet’. It wasn’t particularly inspiring post – “just setting up my twttr” – yet it was a moment that would go on to have major repurcussions in the way we interact, communicate and stay informed in the technology-centric 21st century.
Starting off as a mere ‘status’ mirco-blogger, where tweeters could write their thoughts and feelings in a miniscule 140 characters, Twitter has developed into one of the defining cultural phenomenon of the modern age.
So much so that the words ‘Twitter’, ‘tweet’ and ‘social media’ – encompassing the other giant of internet interaction Facebook, amongst others – now have places in the dictionary. Indeed, seven years later, Twitter now stands as one of the world’s most popular websites with over 200 million active users, posting over 400 million tweets a day.
To celebrate its (be-lated) birthday, here’s a rundown of the good, the bad and the ugly of Twitter’s short history. (Unfortunately, not in 140 characters)
One of, if not the main, unique selling point of twitter is the ability for the public to communicate directly to people outside of their normal everyday lives – celebrities, journalists, politicans, religious figureheads, academics (even companies); you name them and they’ve probably got an Twitter account.
Indeed, the public now have an all-access pass and insight to the lives of their respective heroes and idols; you can tweet them whatever you want and find out what they get up to (generally everyday boring crap that we all get up to, so it’s questionable why the cult of celebrity still exists?)
Indeed, the relationship between the ‘rich and famous’ and mere citizens is somewhat subjugated on the medium; they may have more followers, but Twitter is a democratic society where everyone is equal and everyone can have their say.
More than anything though, Twitter is now the world’s best source for global news and events, often informing most of the world about dramatic events before media sources; as well as the ability to watch people from all around the world interacting about it.
A prime example is when the crash of a US Airways plane into the Hudson River by New York City in 2009; the near-disaster was tracked through Twitter updates before any news services even had the story. Sohaib Athar unknowingly live-tweeted the 2011 US raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. Even today, the former government minister David Miliband – and once-expected Labour leader – confirmed his decision to leave parliament via Twitter.
Arguably the world’s biggest event, the 2012 US Presidential election, was officially declared won by Barack Obama when he tweeted (it probably wasn’t actually him) ‘four more years’ – before even most media sources had finalised the result and would go on to become the most retweeted tweet ever. That alone sums up the power of Twitter.
It is the product of a now globalised and connected world; a ‘global town square’ of the modern era where all tweeters can interact on a larger scale, meaning information from one part of the world travels quicker than ever before. To take a cliche, it is the new ‘water cooler’ for world events such as the Olympics and Super Bowl – just no longer the day after, but when they are happening and on a much, much larger scale.
Twitter’s affect has been more than though; more than a news informant and place for people’s reaction, it has now become a tool that can actively be used to change things and help people.
During Hurricane Sandy, Twitter became the best source of realtime updates – about weather updates, evacuation orders, safety information – with power down for thousands. Similarly, the Haiti Earthquake had a fundraising campaign that raised more than $8 million through mobile text messages; it was Twitter & Facebook that made such a campaign go viral though.
It feels like every person who has a Twitter account has tweeted about it, which is a pretty amazing thing to seeWendy HarmanRed Cross Social Media Manager
On a more local level, the student favourite pub that is the The Hobbit was largely saved from legal action and, most likely, closure over its name through Twitter. The handle @savethehobbit tweeted national treasure and major tweeter Stephen Fry – ‘Honestly, sometimes I’m ashamed of the business I’m in. What pointless, self-defeating bullying’ – who backed, along with Ian McKellen, the online campaign, bringing the news story wider press attention and leading the issue to be settled by a nominal $100-a-year license fee.
Its most crucial role, however, came during the Arab Spring in 2011. Twitter and Facebook had a major role in the organisation of protests, with activists using the social media sites to arrange and publicise such events with #Egypt, #Jan25, #Libya, and #protest being the most popular Twitter hashtags of the Arab region during the turbulent few months.
Government attempts to ban these websites actually backfired, spurring them to press on and getting more and more people involved. While the affect has been disputed, there is no doubt that social media played an integral role in mobilising and empowering the citizens of these nations, shaping their opinions, to stand up and eventually topple the longterm governments of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
Essentially, it was an unprecedented occurrence: Twitter has changed from a tool of merely communicating about the world to a powerful means to go about making a difference to it.