There’s no denying that our current information landscape is dominated by social media. Most, if not all, of the information we receive about the world usually comes via our internet outlets. Even legitimate sources of news, like articles and videos from accredited news outlets, are usually shared on these social media platforms. And at the forefront of the group is Twitter.
Of all the major social media outlets we have (Facebook, YouTube, etc) Twitter is probably the one that has the most notorious history around it, especially recently. And part of that is because of the way the platform works. Unlike Facebook, which requires you to use personal information and makes information available to your friends, or YouTube, which requires some effort if you want to grab people’s attention, Twitter is a place where anyone can say anything with ease and little accountability. And, boy, is that a double-edged sword.
We can see what this type of platform is capable of by looking at the 2016 Presidential election. Republican nominee Donald Trump often used Twitter not to explain policy or social agenda, but to attack opponents and brag. He was able to spread his vitriol to a captive audiences with minimal effort, and it might have given him enough exposure to win the election.
All this makes it more surprising that Twitter is failing. And not only failing, but failing badly. Not in terms of exposure. If anything, the past year has brought Twitter into the forefront of many people’s minds. This kind of publicity is moot though if you can’t make any money off of it. The biggest hurdle Twitter is facing right now is that it’s not making money. And though it has a large user base, Twitter is pretty much tapped out on its influence. There’s not much room for Twitter to expand.
This wouldn’t be such a problem if Twitter wasn’t a business with stiff competition. The site’s main adversary is Facebook, the other incredibly popular social network. Facebook, in order to compete, thrives on innovation and continually offers new experiences to its users. Every change Facebook makes is partly due to keep the site relevant, something Twitter failed to do as well.
Compounding the problem, Twitter has a harassment issue. Putting aside Trump for a moment, Twitter has been the host of many different harassers. For the most part, Twitter refuses to act on this, citing free speech as a defense. Because Twitter looks the other way so much, or at least often enough, people have associated the website with enabling bullies and harassers. It also gives a platform to hate groups like Neo-Nazis and ISIS.
We can already see the symptoms of Twitter’s disease. Vine, the six second video app Twitter owned, was shut down earlier this year. Twitter had no money to run it and wasn’t making any off of it, so Vine had to go. The company also made cutbacks elsewhere, by laying off nine percent of its employees. These cost-cutting measures are prophetic. Any company that shuts down one of its popular outlets and lays off a tenth of its staff in the same year is in very dire straits.
Is there hope for Twitter? Well, the prognosis isn’t good, and the treatment won’t be easy. Like its competition, Twitter needs to adapt and offer its users new, interesting, and useful interface options. It could stand to clean up the dark side of the user base, though I understand their commitment to free speech. Most importantly, Twitter has to reinvent itself and find new avenues of income. Whether that means finding an untapped group of users or by expanding its platform for other types of commerce (imagine being able to shop by tweeting), Twitter has a long road to recovery.
But it needs to recover, because it has no choice. Twitter is dying.