Twitter’s role in a time of global pandemic

There's a backlash growing against Twitter, fuelled by the pandemic.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

One thing I’ve noticed very strongly in the last few days is a really big backlash against Twitter. But it's not in an angry, asssertive way. It's more in a tired, "let's distance ourselves" way. And I understand why. I’ve noted problems with it myself. There’s an uncomfortable mix of highly charged politics and occasional burst of forced positivity that I found difficult to deal with. I’ve spent very little time there in the last few days.

But the hostility seems to be everywhere, from The Spectator:

[…] social media has the power to disseminate baseless fears, incite panic, and do tangible damage to public health or public order. Running an unedited, unregulated instant publishing platform in the middle of a global pandemic is like handing an AR-15 and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s to a chimpanzee and hoping for the best.

To Ian Betteridge:

My advice: really, if you value your sanity, steer clear of Twitter right now. You cannot change govt policy. You cannot change scientific advice. Follow the basics. Read the headline stories on a reputable website

It’s already a cliché to say these are unprecedented times, but that’s only because it’s true. And for Twitter in particular to be seeing this sort of backlash — Facebook is getting rather better press — comes at a rough time of the company, and Jack Dorsey in particular, as activist investors have gained seats on the board and are setting new conditions:

Here’s even more challenging news for Dorsey: As part of the deal, Twitter has committed to reach certain growth and revenue goals. It promises to grow its average number of daily users who can see ads by 20 percent or more in 2020. This is not impossible; in 2019, Twitter nosed past that threshold. But it may be tougher this year, what with a pandemic and maybe a recession. Twitter also vows to “accelerate revenue growth on a year-over-year basis and gain share in the digital advertising market.” (This will be tied to specific numbers as yet undetermined.) This bigger share would most likely have to come at the expense of Google or Facebook, which aren’t exactly pushovers. If Jack doesn’t perform, the committee won’t be happy.

There’s no doubt that the pandemic is inflicting incredible social and economic change on us all. And a social network run as a business is bound to be caught up in that. The social media landscape has been remarkably stable for 10 years now. We’ve had a few new players, but the big companies have reminded the same.

Could this be the inciting event for some changes?

X (Twitter)coronavirus pandemicSocial Media

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.