It’s Twitter’s 8th birthday, and for those among my readers who still don’t use it or see its relevance, today’s headlines may give you a taste of just what all the fuss is about. Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is in the midst of fighting both a re-election battle and corruption allegations, announced yesterday that Twitter would be banned in his country. In a move which has brought both domestic and international condemnation, Erdogan obtained judicial authority to block the millions of Twitter users in Turkey from the social media network, describing it as a “menace to society”.
In becoming one of only a handful of countries to attempt to, using Erdogan’s word, “eradicate” Twitter, Turkey has joined a rather unsavory club. Both the People’s Republic of China and North Korea have been blocking the social media platform for years, and have used tweets by individuals as the basis for imprisonment of those criticizing their regimes. While tech-savvy users in these countries have found ways to get around the blocks put in place by their respective governments, for the average account holder no doubt the prospect of being prosecuted (or worse) for speaking their mind online has had a chilling effect on their level of Twitter participation.
For those of us who live under less autocratic governments, as part of marking their birthday Twitter released an application which allows you to type in a Twitter user name and see what that account’s very first tweet was. It’s been great fun sharing first tweets with my Tweeps, i.e. the Twitter users whom I follow and interact with regularly. Here’s my first tweet, showing what a snot I was – was? – at the time I signed up for an account:
Although I love using Twitter, I’ll admit there are many things about it that are problematic. There is a tendency to gang up on those whom one does not agree with, and repeatedly knock them down, rather than just delivering one solid blow to an ignorant tweet and then moving on. There is smut/foul language galore, although one quickly learns whom not to follow if this becomes a problem. And there are “troll” accounts, which seem to exist solely for the purpose of trying to attack others.
I expect that these negative aspects of the service are what keep some people from using it. Yet when used well, Twitter can be a tremendous resource for good, particularly because of the succinctness of tweets, at 140 characters or less. I have seen, first-hand, what is possible via Twitter which no other social media application, including Facebook, is capable of, at least with anything near the same amount of speed, penetration, or effectiveness.
I’ve seen Twitter provide many people with both material and emotional support during those hard moments in life, such as losing a loved one or a job, suffering from an illness, or just plain loneliness. I’ve also seen Twitter offer practical help on little issues, like trying to find a decent hotel in another city, or figuring out how to fix a software issue. Twitter is always knitting human relationships more closely together, by bringing those with shared interests but little or no chance of physical proximity into contact, whether it is a group of Tweeps watching and commenting on a sporting event together from all over the country, or discovering you’re not the only survivor from the Planet Krypton.
Eventually, I expect that Turkish people will find a way to express themselves on Twitter again. Human beings are far more interested in being able to freely communicate their thoughts to one another, than they are in upholding the ideology of a single person or political regime. Whatever its faults, Twitter has done a great deal of good for a great many people, and so I raise a coffee cup to it this morning and say: Happy Birthday, Twitter.