Marked by a new staff cut and the return of Donald Trump’s account, the question arises more and more frequently: what would a world without Twitter be like?
With approximately 237 million daily users, according to the last record from the end of June, Twitter is quite far behind the numbers of Facebook (1.98 billion), TikTok (more than 1 billion) and even Snapchat (363 million).
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However, in a little over 15 years, the platform has become an essential space for leaders, companies, celebrities and the media, who often have Twitter as their only direct channel to communicate.
Twitter “is nothing essential,” Steven Cohn, a New York businessman, wrote on Twitter. “The world would be fine without Twitter,” he insisted, convinced that the universe of tweets is just a microcosm with little real importance. “Most of the tweets come from the 1%” of users and “most normal people never log in,” he said.
On the contrary, for Karen North, a professor at USC Annenberg University, “Twitter’s real strength is that anyone can post something there that everyone can see.”
In the event of a conflict, a social movement or a wave of repression, “Twitter has become a key platform for reporting the reality of what is happening on the ground,” says Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute, a think tank. studies in Washington.
Like most other social networks, Twitter is also used to spread propaganda and false information. The company has developed moderation tools to combat these issues.
A study published in 2018 showed that false information circulated faster than verified information.
“It is an unrealistic expectation to think of a platform where misinformation is impossible,” warns Charles Lister. “Seeing information disappear, both good and bad” before a possible disappearance of Twitter, “is by definition something bad.”
“Authoritarian leaders or anyone who doesn’t want to share information could benefit from a world without Twitter,” said Mark Hass, a professor at Arizona State University.
“It would be terrible for journalism”, adds Karen North, because “Twitter is not a social network”, but “a news and information network, the meeting point where journalists go to update themselves, to look for an idea for a story, a source or a quote.
With the reductions in staff and the reduction of budgets in the press for more than a decade, “there are no longer enough resources to go looking for sources in the field,” argues the academic. “Twitter is the place to go to start an article.”
Another perverse effect, according to her, is that “without Twitter, the people who will have access to the media will be the ones who are already important enough for the press to listen to. With Twitter, anyone can tell a story.”
I’ve been reading for days on my tl that Twitter closes, in fact, #RIPTwitter #CloseTwitter, Twitter 2 and Elon Musk have been TT since yesterday. Since I see that no one finds out what’s going on, I’ll open a thread explaining why he’s getting involved and what will happen to Twitter 🧵☟ pic.twitter.com/A8Mz5Hs2Zj
— Ainn ❤️🔥 (@blabbergirl_)
November 19, 2022
Another of the functions of this collaborative space is that it has become “a vital source of information, advice, mutual aid during hurricanes, forest fires, wars, terrorist attacks or epidemics,” Caroline Orr, a researcher at the University of Maryland, tweeted. “It’s not something you can replace with existing platforms,” she cautions.
In general, when asked what are the possible alternatives to Twitter, there is still no obvious answer. “Facebook has its uses, but it’s a bit outdated,” says Charles Lister.
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“Twitter’s competitors will undoubtedly recover users,” predicts Mark Hass, who mentions the Mastodon social network, “but they will probably remain niche. None of them will become the public square that Twitter has sought to create.”
Hass believes more in the potential of a community platform like Reddit, as does Karen North, for whom this social network is however limited by its minimalist and cluttered appearance, nothing comparable to the pleasant user experience of Twitter.
“I don’t think there’s anything today that offers the same added value as Twitter,” Lister insists. “Could it be replicated? Sure,’ he says, ‘but that would require enormous resources and a significant amount of time.’