Did you feel that? That tiny, little wobble in the Earth’s axis? That was the passing of a milestone: yours truly accumulating 1,000 followers on Twitter.
Since leaving the newsroom at the end of 2015, I’ve pretty much disengaged from Twitter and put more of my social media energy into Facebook and my own Rough and Rede II blog. Only makes sense because those two sites are where I’m more likely to encounter friends, relatives, former co-workers — people I actually know and care about.
(Not that I don’t care about folks on Twitter. It’s just that people in my demographic generally are more comfortable on Facebook and R&R II.)
In any event, reaching the 1,000-follower threshold sneaked up on me. And it gave me pause. What does this mean? Who are these followers? Why are they following me? Should I be following them? What do I get from Twitter anyway? What purpose does it serve?
Now, I’m well aware there are folks (including some living under the same roof as me) who believe Twitter is basically a waste of time, just one more place for people to draw attention to themselves by sharing wry observations, TMI about their personal lives or links to arcane material, all in tweets of 140 characters or less. (Hmm, not much different from a lot of what we see on Facebook.)
There’s some truth to that criticism. I mean, really, what does it say about our times when Kim and Khloe Kardashian count more than 60 million followers between them? Why does anyone care what various celebrities and athletes have to say? Why do we put so much weight on what politicians are tweeting about themselves and others?
I suppose what we’re seeing is just a manifestation of celebrity gossip leaping from the magazine rack at the grocery checkout line to the internet. Likewise, it’s publicity agents and presidential candidates alike tapping into a cyberspace with no limits on what, when or how you say something. The days of media organizations acting as chief arbiters of news and taste are pretty much long gone.
But consider this.
Justin Fox, in a 2014 article for the Harvard Business Review titled “Why Twitter’s Mission Statement Matters,” argues that Twitter Inc, has a “perfectly respectable” mission statement:
“Our mission: To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.”
Now that is a pretty potent objective. Twitter itself is an empty vessel. It’s up to the user to give meaning to his or her tweets — just as it is in every other form of communication, spoken, written or digital.
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) March 3, 2014
At one extreme, we’ve seen people in the Arab Spring protests use social media and other digital technologies to share information and build support for pro-democracy movements.
At the other extreme, we have images of Kim K’s bare ass and a new set of Kimojis.
In between those two, there’s plenty of room for self-expression. Take my newest followers, for example:
No. 1,001 is an author, entrepreneur and frequent commentator on Fox News and other media outlets.Why this high-powered CEO (@ericshiffer) is following me is a mystery better left unexplored.
No. 1,002 is a local journalist, about to make the move from Willamette Week to The Oregonian. Unlike the CEO, whose profile tells me he’s a member of Mensa and “prominently listed as a Top Bachelor in Cosmopolitan Magazine,” @lizzzyacker is smart, funny, irreverent and self-deprecating.
Her column, “Lady Things,” has just been nominated as Best Column in the 2016 Association of Alternative Newsmedia Awards. Spend a little time on her Twitter feed and website and you can’t help but be impressed by her deft handling of subjects both serious and silly. We’re talking about sexual assault, a suburban school board denying students access to birth control, and whether a laxative tea can make you look like Kylie Jenner.
Granted, both of these folks are promoting themselves and a public persona. For me, though, there’s a lot more appeal in learning more about someone who travels in the same circles (we have a lot of mutual journalist friends) than joining a flock of sheep following a business executive with an inflated ego.
Twitter turned 10 years old in March. It’s given us memorable images, like the selfie photo from the 2014 Oscars, featuring Ellen DeGeneres and a host of beautiful actors, that became the most retweeted of all time.
But, like Reddit and Facebook, it’s also increasingly become a tool for people to get their news. According to a Pew Research Center study done earlier this year, roughly 6 in 10 Americans get their news from a social media site.
“Two-thirds of Facebook users (66%) get news on the site, nearly six-in-ten Twitter users (59%) get news on Twitter, and seven-in-ten Reddit users get news on that platform.”
The implications of that trend are sobering and too numerous to explore in this post. Let me just close by circling back to the top.
While there’s good stuff — and good people — to be found on Twitter, one shouldn’t take too seriously the trivial milestone of accumulating 1,000 followers. Not when that list includes: dcswimweek16, Wycliffs Kitchen, Dylan Bostic and EastmanHouse.
1000 image: kindersay.com