Francesc Pujol Torras, Professor of online reputation and crisis at the University of Navarra
Twitter: Noise and Harmony
For some, it’s the perfect channel for propagating false stories with a destructive political purpose. But there’s so much more to it: analysis, commentary and shared external content
Those who only know about Twitter from the outside, whose only contact with it is through media reports, will be aware that it constantly mired in controversy. ‘Twitter is erupting’. We’re always hearing about slips of the tongue, gaffes and unfortunate or offensive statements by celebrities and politicians. Twitter and other social networks can also be weapons of mass destruction. A reputation can be permanently destroyed by an unfortunate tweet that goes viral and turns into a full-on attack. Such harassment can even lead to death, as in the high-profile case of the Italian Tiziana Cantone, who ended up committing suicide because she couldn’t tolerate the further spread of a private sex tape of herself. Twitter is a place where undesirable and fanatical types congregate in packs to express themselves using aggressive language and attack people who think differently, no matter what they say or do.
Twitter as pure noise. In addition to all the disruption it has caused, some blame social media platforms for Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States. Because the social media has become the perfect channel for propagating false stories with a destructive political purpose. For example, a story in the Denver Guardian that attacked Hillary Clinton went viral and was shared 570,000 times. The problem was not just that the news story was untrue. It was that the Denver Guardian doesn’t even exist.
I recently shared a proposal for moderating hatred on Twitter, whereby an algorithm tags each user on a scale of 1 to 10, depending on the offensive tone of the tweets. It would let each user rank the noise level that he is willing to put up with on Twitter. We’ll see.
The Twitter of 2016 is not the same as the pre-2014 Twitter. Meaningless conversations between users have almost all transferred to WhatsApp. Tweets with intimate photos are now on Instagram and Snapchat. Content is shared among close circles on Facebook. Twitter is no longer and can never aspire to be a platform for universal use, although Twitter bosses are finding it hard to accept its new personality. But Twitter is so much more than a breeding ground for social dysfunction.
Because Twitter is not just noise. It’s also melody and harmony. What remains of Twitter above all is analysis and commentary and shared external content. The quality of the analysis does not depend so much on its reach, as on the intellectual worth of the author. And this is where Twitter retains a unique competitive advantage: Twitter is the social space for experts and analysts. Do you know what Twitter’s key strength is? That practically all journalists are active on this social network, on a massive scale. It is their natural space. They know how to avoid the pitfalls of hoaxes and dubious sources: it’s their bread and butter. And they share much of this high-quality content on Twitter, because they need to protect their own personal brand on Twitter. Hundreds of journalists in Spain have more than 10,000 followers on Twitter. I know, because I’m writing a report on them. Give Twitter a shot. And if you’ve already tried it in the past, give it a second or even a third chance. Because if you’re reading this newspaper and this piece, whether on paper or online, you belong to the minority who are interested not only in learning, but also in staying up to date with the latest news and exploring the whys and wherefores of the latest news. Twitter is your Mecca. Allow me to give you some tips if you’re looking for quality information. Don’t follow celebrities; they became famous away from Twitter, not because of their tweets. Don’t follow politicians; their discourse is the same on Twitter and away from Twitter. Don’t follow lots of acquaintances; you’re already friends with them on Facebook. Don’t follow brands; they don’t have anything to say. Follow the media sparingly; just the bare minimum: perhaps the local press and one other outlet you consider important. And follow journalists. As many as you can. Follow television and radio journalists, since they’re also on Twitter. Avoid vociferous talk-show hosts, because they shout on Twitter too. Read relevant, filtered, carefully selected content. You’ll benefit from insights and reasoned analysis. These journalists will lead you to other journalists and to experts and academics who are active on Twitter. Following professionals and experts from the most varied range of fields will pave the way for discovery. If you want to be informed, if you love and value the role of the press, if you want to access the best sources and content, it’s time to rediscover the old Twitter. It changed my life.