Here's why Twitter's business is actually failing
Once upon a time, I was absolutely obsessed. I love writing and I love connecting, Twitter gave me the platform to follow my passion. Six years and 60,000 tweets later, Twitter gives many an uneasy feeling that I can’t shake. I’m tired. I didn’t tweet much about Sandra Bland or Christian Taylor. By the time their hashtags were projected all over the world, I’d grown tired of the constant reminder of death.
The platform is home to 300,000,000 users and, well, standing. Like two sides of the same coin, Twitter’s ability to perpetuate truth has also been what’s made it so unappealing.
Chris Sacca’s legendary advice to his fellow stakeholders:
- Make Tweets effortless to enjoy.
- Make it easier for all to participate.
- Make each of us on Twitter feel heard and valuable.
Twitter’s gift and curse is that it does make each of us feel heard and valuable. It is easy to participate. But these days, tweets are harder and harder to enjoy. Twitter has been an amazing tool for empowering the disenfranchised. The Arab Spring was front and center, throughout the world because of the stories that were told, despite state-sponsored censorship and terrorism.
Read more by Deray McKeeson
The last 365 days have been an interesting time for our country. We’re experiencing an Arab Spring of our own and it’s not socially or psychologically comfortable. America watched the Arab Spring from afar, in 2010. Tweets became narratives, narratives became stories, stories were amplified in international media. For a few years following, we heralded Twitter for telling the stories of the opressed. Like wildfire, Twitter’s monthly active users grew by 10x. But this time, the camera is on us.
Here we are in 2015 after a year of examining our own country and our divides, biases, and prejudices. Is it coincidence that more and more Americans avoid flocking to the unvarnished truth?
The #BlackLivesMatters movement that began with a simple hashtag (#Ferguson) is evidence that Twitter’s non-algorithmic display of information and trends is wildly effective. It may be too effective.
On Facebook, for instance, a Christian evangelical can rest easy that every tidbit of information that they want to see will be tailored to their preferences: traditional marriage, Dave Ramsey quotes, any headline from the Drudge Report, and every happy moment produced by their closest friends.
On Twitter, our friends and family are confronted by diverse truths with little practice in methods for interacting with diverse minds. It is not easy.
Twitter is truth.
The Columbus, Ohio couple, at home in their quaint suburb, logs in to their laptops while watching a subpar episode of True Detective. While sitting in their 98.2% white neighborhood, they open an app and are confronted with a bubbling up of information reflecting systemic murder, racism, and inopportunity. A friend of theirs retweeted Deray Mckeeson, occasionally referred to at their country club as a race pimp. “I’ve heard of this guy,” they say. They immediately dismiss his commentary. The vessel isn’t right. Fair people, they ask themselves, “Am I racist? I can’t be, right?” They assure themselves that their friendship with Ted (a wealthy black man) absolves them of racism. They look at Twitter a little less, the next day.
The Dallas, Texas youth, at home in her lower income neighborhood, logs in to her school issued laptop. She minimizes her Netflix screen to scroll through Twitter. She’s aware of her own Arab Spring. She sees her teacher subtweet, “I wish they’d just go back home.” Protesters are in town. Honestly, it is a fair thing to say. Who wants commotion? We all have enough stress. After a minute of consideration, the high school student passes along her teacher’s tweet in a group text. Three hours later, the teacher’s message has 1,286 retweets. It makes the local news. The teacher is fined and reprimanded. The comment that garnered 98 likes an 37 friendly comments on Facebook just put her job in jeopardy by saying the same thing on Twitter.
When can the truth be too much?
Twitter is suffering because it is the most accurate reflection of American society today. It’s not just what’s tweeted, it’s what isn’t tweeted. Each day, a new hashtag represents a dead child. Often, there is a filmed murder attached. Often still, we watch it.
Dare I say, that Twitter’s problem is its ability to trigger us. Every death reminds us that, even if we’re perfect, we may die today. Every advocacy of an African lion reminds us that African-Americans are traditionally less important than animals. We watch what’s important to our friends and then ask, why is my friendship not important to you?
Twitter is the most important communication tool of this decade. I love to communicate. But Twitter and I aren’t as close as we used to be, my heart can’t handle it anymore. Americans don’t want another reminder of our deeply-seeded differences or the mortality of people we know.
“So unfollow what you’d rather not read,” you say. I’d respond: you can’t be an advocate for the fruits of diversity while actively opposing it.
It is for this reason that I believe that Twitter can only win by being a lesser version of itself. Either that or the America that Twitter reflects must improve. Which will happen first?
Note: Hopefully someone at Twitter HQ reads this. You guys are in a tough position and your stock price does not reflect your importance to society. When the history books are written about the feats of today, Twitter will take the place of our lunch counters. I root for Twitter.
This post was originally published on Medium.
Web Smith is a husband, father, and tech entrepreneur. E-Commerce and marketing take up the majority of his time.