“ ‘In that moment, what were you thinking the value of it was?’- ‘Retweets.’”
This is a part of the conversation between a fictive cable network executive and a young reporter working for the network’s news division, after she had tweeted an insensitive tweet from the network account, all happening during the latest episode of Alan Sorkin’s critically acclaimed “The Newsroom”.
This Emmy-winning show (currently shown on HBO) was, in its history, the primetime first in its efforts to cleverly comment on many important aspects of social and political life most other mass media found too hard to swallow. From government agency leaks, to political extremism, from the more in-depth analysis of the economy, to the Boston Marathon attack, and of course, the state of the media in this day and age, both traditional and new, while always trying to educate its viewers.
This is not an article about the show, however may I be obsessed with it. I wanted to use the context given to prove my own point.
So, why do I find this quote so attention grabbing?
Well, it pretty much sums up the ever-growing power of Twitter and its reach. One single tweet can ruin a life, a career, set an unstoppable movement in motion, or it can go the other way around, make a star or even a hero out of someone. Alas, we all know that it takes much less time and less effort for negative consequences to kick in than with the positive ones.
Twitter is an organic collection of thoughts and thoughtless sentences.
When I say organic, I refer to its nature of continuous growth and its constant movement towards the current. One’s timeline is supposed to fit the user, the follower, offering the latest content, also organically.
The Twitter timeline can be tailored any way you want to. One can follow their friends, with all of their everyday thought and doings shared with everyone. You can follow the media, writers, journalists, celebrities, comedians or athletes. You choose who and what you will read. You can even follow the Anonymous or Julian Assange. Most usually, it is a mixture of all of the above mentioned, in a certain ratio or another.
So, you choose who you follow and consequently you choose what sort of content you are exposed to.
However, you cannot really stay protected from all the unwanted content, or any of the big stories that hit Twitter, whether you want to or not. You will have to read at least one tweet that is commenting on something that just happened and is becoming a trend worldwide. Or it will be so big that everyone you know is affected. Like a riot in your home country. Or a death of huge star, like Michael Jackson.
But even if it not something as big, some people on Twitter tend to comment just for the sake of commenting. Tweet for the sake of tweeting. All they need is a nudge. And a single Twitter micro-universe of your followees can produce several tweeting trends throughout an average day. Those are mostly just passing trends, but people will still be sucked in by them.
Sometimes a trend is so strong that it can last for days. But those are rare.
In the last few days, a few of those have really attracted the attention of many. Like Kim Kardashian’s behind.
I am not a fan of Mrs. Kardashian West myself, nor do I follow her or her husband, Kanye West. And yet, I have seen innumerous tweets concerning her backside. Some of those tweets were written in disgust. Some were making fun of her in a crude way. Some people were commenting their constant seeking of attention. Others used it as a jumping point for feminist and misogynist-related series of tweets.
Yet, sometime around all that Kim’s derriere business, and the feminism/misogyny conversation, a NASA scientist, Dr Matt Taylor, chose to wear some non-traditional apparel to a public event. He wore a shirt covered with images of semi-naked women while being live-streamed as a leader of the team responsible for landing a spacecraft “Rosetta” on a comet, for the first time in history. This event was gathering attention of media around the globe, and it was deemed highly successful.
Again, many people praised the team for the scientific success. It is the most important thing about the event. However, it took a turn very quickly. More and more people tweeted about his looks than they did about the achievement. Some thought that he was cool, not conforming to the old boring image of a scientist. Many more of other thought otherwise, that Dr Matt Taylor has shown disrespect to the female sex in general by wearing such a garment. A special hashtag #shirtgate was employed. Big media outlets picked up on the story and ran with it. Later on, even Boris Johnson, the mayor of London got involved, by defending the scientist.
It all happened very quickly. Having the possibility to be somewhat anonymous, people have no limits to what they say about others. And the sort of feedback they get from their followers, in form of retweets and faves, just encourages them to continue to do so.
Twitter content, when controlled, can help a person or an organization do a lot for their public image.
An example of that is Solange Knowles’ wedding. For those who don’t know who Solange is, she is Beyoncé’s baby sister. She published a photograph with all the women in her family in one place. It gained a lot of traction. And people talked and tweeted about it. She is becoming more and more famous, because she used her family ties with Beyonce’ and gained more public attention.
Another fine example of doing a great job is Obama’s team, who published a photograph of the US president hugging a koala bear. Animals bring out the soft side in people.
And the most unexpected turn of events on twitter happened when a girl took a candid picture of a cute boy working at Target. A series of tweets about #alexfromtarget made him an instant Internet celebrity, so big, that he ended up as a guest on the Ellen Show.
If you are new to Twitter, and you have no idea what I was just writing about, you should maybe check out some of the more interesting Twitter pages.
Mostly, there are many article about the most interesting twitter celebrities on Buzzfeed, or you can check out the list of the most followed people. My advice would be to follow anyone you enjoy watching as a guest on a late night show, or someone whose article or books you like to read. Or you favorite comedian. Follow someone clever and funny, leave the vapid types for Instagram.
One great way to find someone interesting to follow is seeing what your friends like in the #Discover tab. The tweets with the most faves and retweets will appear there in real-time, so you get the most interesting content right away.
Another way is to peruse through a webpage called favstar. It collects the best most popular tweets in one place.
So, do you tweet?
I do, all day, every day. It is not something I spend time and energy on, but it is my primal source of information. Why? Because it is the most current, the most uncensored and the most unfiltered mass medium. Yes, there are possibilities of manipulation of unconfirmed information, but in this age of control and intellectual suppression, it is a beacon of light, information-wise. Twitter gives the power to the little people.
If you are not on Twitter, my advice is that you should be. Do not be overprotected. Expose yourselves to something new, expose yourselves to unstoppable fountain of information, no matter how important some of the information seemed to you.
Most of the time, I tune in to twitter when I am in public transport, or I am having a break. And most of the time I would read something funny, or just trivial. But sometimes, I will read something that will blow my mind, and I wouldn’t need to wait a day for a TV station to report on it. Honestly, I don’t even watch the news any more.
Stay in touch with the world. Tweet.