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Is Twitter a life-enhancing or life-disabling tool?

By Talia Klein Perez
 Getty Images: Bethany Clarke
*Updated 2019

Since Jack Dorsey sent out the first tweet in 2006, Twitter has revolutionized the way people broadcast and learn about significant personal and public news stories. The social media channel has become so prevalent in President Trump’s daily professional routine that some call his presidency the first “Twitter Presidency.” While it has made news and people seemingly more accessible, (hence the attraction for foreign powers to use Twitter in their spying attempts), Twitter’s impact as an information source has (maybe inevitably) grown to distract us, slowing our productivity. It has also become a way to knowingly or unknowingly spread misinformation, even from the highest of offices of authority. So, to tweet or not to tweet? That seems to be the question.

Here are three reasons why Twitter is a life-enhancing tool and three reasons why it does more harm than good.


Three reasons Twitter enhances our lives


Increases accessibility of information

Today, when more people are getting their news from social media than ever before, Twitter is increasingly becoming their first choice. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 71% of adult users turn to Twitter for their news. This social media platform has been a lead source into what is happening on the ground during huge and/or tragic events, like staying updated about developments regarding the coronavirus outbreak, the Pulse nightclub shooting, the Boston Marathon Bombing, and the Las Vegas shooting. The social network also provides unprecedented access to lawmakers, business leaders, journalists and researchers, the latter has proven especially important during the Covid-19 pandemic; in President Trump’s case, Twitter turns his off-the-cuff announcements into mini-press releases that are often embedded into news sources. In fact, Special Counsel Robert Mueller pored over Trump’s personal tweets as a means of finding possible evidence against Trump in Mueller’s 2017-2019 obstruction investigation.

Twitter increasingly recognizes its growing influence on informing and shaping people’s awareness. In 2019, the platform stated that it will no longer allow political advertisements. More recently, much to the ire of President Trump, the platform added fact-checking warnings (links) under Trump’s unsubstantiated tweets about voting fraud. Some view this as being responsible while others think Twitter is undermining its own principles of free speech.


It is straightforward

Twitter is direct. Even after extending its original 140-character count to a generous 280, Twitter’s concise nature makes it the perfect tool for our hectic, non-stop lifestyles. It has also proven to be an important source of comfort, connection and entertainment for people forced to stay at home during coronavirus quarantines. The platform’s focus on succinct tweets – as opposed to the images of pets and gourmet lunches that crowd other social platforms – keeps users informed in the know, with much less clutter. While 20% of all daily Twitter users are American, 92% of all Americans know about Twitter, even if they don’t use it. This attests to its accessible nature – and the fact that anyone who thinks or types can use it.


Kickstarts societal change

Twitter has become an effective platform for kickstarting societal change. The social media platform was instrumental in organizing mass protests in Egypt during the Arab Spring. Michelle Obama also used it to call attention to the abduction – and later return – of 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria with her #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Twitter activism has made especially productive use of hashtags to raise direct awareness of societal matters – on a global scale – and to address and even correct wrongdoings. Additionally, Twitter’s #MeToo phenomenon transformed a Hollywood scandal into a worldwide movement; not only did the platform open a floodgate of consequence, but it has also become a tool to ensure accountability. Plus, through offshoot hashtags, it has nurtured calls for change worldwide.


Three reasons why Twitter is disabling our lives


Ruins students’ grammar and writing skills

As Twitter demands that tweets be succinct, they usually contain abbreviations and jargon instead of correct grammar and syntax, such as leaving out personal pronouns, punctuation and articles. It’s no wonder, then, that this compressed Twitter language (“U” for “you”, “4” for “for,” etc.) has trickled into students’ school exams. It’s gotten to the point where universities are even introducing remedial English classes for their students. In fact, a Cambridge Assessment survey of more than 600 university lecturers listed academic writing as one of the top three areas in which new undergraduates were least prepared.


Everyone’s watching!

These days, mostly everyone is on Twitter – including your boss or clients. In fact, while only 20 Fortune 500 companies engage with their customers on Facebook, 83% have a presence on Twitter. Therefore, misuse of the social channel can devastate your work opportunities and, by extension, your home and community life. Furthermore, unlike other social media platforms, Twitter has allowed your tweets to appear in Google search results since 2015. This means a lot of extra, perhaps unwelcome, exposure for any regrettably or hastily written sentiments. Take PR executive Justine Sacco for example. She linked Aids with race in a racially tone-deaf tweet before departing for Africa. By the time she’d landed at her destination, the tweet had gone viral and she’d lost her job. Let’s not forget about comedian Kevin Hart, who had been scheduled to host the 2019 Academy Awards until his homophobic tweets were discovered and got him fired from the gig. These are only two of many examples of people whose regrettable tweets led to serious consequences.


Enables cyberbullying

Yesterday’s old-school playground bullies tend to hang out online today. But cyberbullying doesn’t just affect kids and teens; adults are also victimized by cyberbullies, especially on Twitter. As users can open and operate multiple fake Twitter accounts, it is easy for anyone to claim to be someone else – impersonating people to either spread fake news or hurt others. In fact, it’s easier to create a fake personality on Twitter than Facebook and Instagram, since it demands much less visual evidence of users’ private lives. Take feminist writer Lindy West, who was stalked and harassed by a fellow Twitter user pretending to be her deceased dad.

Even those who don’t hide behind fake profiles can troll others, taunting users with abusive, racist and anti-Semitic tweets. The US president himself is also known to make offensive tweets and has even threatened the company and has signed an executive order against social media platforms in response to Twitter trying to monitor some of his questionable tweets. While Twitter is making efforts to mitigate cyberbullying and tweets that are perceived to potentially encourage or glorify violence (even or especially if they are written by the US president himself), it is challenging to monitor; it’s often healthier for innocent victims to close their Twitter accounts.


Bottom line: Twitter’s nature and access to information has enhanced our lives in many ways, but it has also negatively impacted the quality of our daily functioning. So, will you start or continue to tweet regularly, or will you steer clear of this social media platform?

Co-written by Rachel Segal

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