The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Twitter

on October 18, 2017

Last week, actress Rose McGowan’s Twitter account was suspended for 12 hours after she wrote a series of tweets accusing Hollywood’s producer Harvey Weinstein of raping her. When she said she was being silenced, Twitter responded that her account was suspended as one of her tweets included a private phone number, which violates the code of conduct. This explanation did not convince many, however. At a minimum, it raised questions about the timing of it all. CEO Jack Dorsey took to Twitter to admit that his platform “needs to do a better job at showing that we are not selectively applying the rules.”

It is not the first time that Twitter is under fire not so much for lack of clarity on what makes up a violation of the code of conduct but for lack of consistency on how those violations are dealt with when reported. Over the past year, as harassment increased, Twitter deployed a series of measures, like the ability to mute a conversation or a user, that seemed to be aimed at hiding the issue rather than addressing it. Just because I no longer see the abuse and harassment, it does not mean it has gone away. More importantly, those users who are harassing and abusing others feel that their behavior is condoned.

Fresh off the press there is a Twitter internal email obtained by Wired that outlines new rules Dorsey is readying to release but I will wait for an official communication before commenting.

Social Media Engagement

Social Media drivers differ from people to people and from network to network. I was a reluctant Twitter user. I started using the platform for work in 2009 but did not do so consistently until 2013 when I changed job. Twitter quickly became a useful tool to keep on top of the news. My initial passive networking experience turned into an engaged one as I came to appreciate being able to share my thoughts on the tech world and actively engage with fellow tech watchers. As my engagement grew, I set some rules for how I wanted to use the platform:

– Never say anything I could not stand behind in case it was published as a quote in the press

– Keep it clean-ish

– No Religion

– No Politics

Pretty simple stuff, right? Eight years on, I am proud to say that except for the last rule I have been quite diligent in following them. I am sure that, given the current state of affairs in all the countries I lived in over the years, being silent rather than breaking my own politics rule would have been the real crime!

In a recent report published by GWI, I discovered that I was not alone in my reliance on Twitter for news. Twitter users are first engaged in reading news stories (57%) followed by liking a tweet (40%) and watching a video (34%) Direct actions such as tweeting a photo or a comment about my daily life only make up 23% and 22% of activities, respectively.

Overall engagement on Twitter has been declining since 2013 (-5%), a problem that the company has been trying to address without much success. That said, engagement on Facebook over the same period has been declining even more rapidly (-16%) as consumers seem to lean more towards more videos and pictures focused platforms such as YouTube and Instagram, up 2% and 14% respectively.

It would be too easy to blame the lower engagement to harassment alone, but I am sure nobody would argue with the fact that harassment is making Twitter less appealing as a platform. Quite a few celebrities have found Twitter too ugly, and either left like Kanye West, Lindsay Lohan, Emma Stone, and Louis C.K. or took breaks and returned, like Leslie Jones, Justin Bieber, and Sam Smith. For now, the return of investment the platform is providing me is still positive. The question is, for how long?

Disasters, Emergencies, and Hashtags See the Best of Twitter

Over the past few months, we have had our share of disasters and emergencies to deal with both in the US and internationally. It is at those difficult times that I tend to see the best of Twitter. From breaking news that allows people to keep up to date with a fast-evolving situation to people coming together to help by sharing stories or ways to donate.

But even in those good moments, trolls accounts creep into the conversation to dismiss, offend or sabotage the effort.

On the back of the Rose McGowan’s incident, two hashtags emerged bringing attention to harassment on the platform and sexual harassment across the board. On Friday the 13, a #WomenBoycottTwitter started calling on women to walk away from the social media platform for a day. Many users, including celebrities, joined in. Not everybody though agreed that silence was the best tactic to make a point in this particular situation. I for one decided not to be silent and went on Twitter to condemn abuse and do what I do every day: talk tech. I thought that at a time when many women are being brave in speaking up against abuse, remaining silent was not something I was comfortable with. Also, when it comes to Twitter it only matters who is on it not who is not. In other words, you do not notice who does not Tweet. Some also were uncomfortable with the fact that the uproar against abuse was somehow limited to white women when minorities and the LGBT community have been victims of abuse on the platform for a long time.

The original intent was clear and deserves the utmost respect, but the execution was possibly not the best. So by Sunday night, Alyssa Milano encouraged people to reply “me, too” to her tweet about being a victim of sexual harassment or assault as a way to show how pervasive the problem is. A new meme was born: #MeToo. Voices were heard from women, men, straight and gay across countries like the US, UK, Italy and even more conservative France. The conversation was not limited to Twitter; it took over Facebook as well engaging more than 4.7 million people.

Burst Your Bubble…Read Some comments

Twitter succeeded in giving a voice to so many people making it clear that sexual harassment is not just a Hollywood or Tech industry issue and impacts individuals across the world. But even in that strong testimony, the ugliness of Twitter came through. Just take a look at some of the replies posted to comments of more famous women like Italian actress Asia Argento, and you quickly have a feel for how ugly people can be when they can hide behind a Twitter handle.

Very often we live in our cocoon of lists of people we follow because we respect them, share their views or are interested in what they do or say. Without knowing it, we are sheltering ourselves from all those individuals who more likely than not do not share our views, our believes, our values. And I am not talking here about which smartphone ecosystem you prefer but big stuff like politics, religion, sexual orientation.

Sometimes that bubble bursts as we get trolled or right out attacked for our views. Others, we are lucky, and we just never see the ugly side of Twitter. That does not mean it does not exist. Like we have seen since Sunday just because you do not have a story to share under the #MeToo meme it does not mean millions of people in the world don’t have one to share.