The idea that Twitter is in its death throes has been around for a while. With over 300 million active users every single month, that’s a tough sell for a lot of people. That being said, Twitter, as it was intended by its creators, is dying a very slow death. The platform is changing into something else altogether.
Twitter as it was Meant to Be
Twitter was exactly what its makers intended it to be for quite a few years. People used their Twitter accounts to interact with their favorite brands, celebrities, & news outlets. It was a place to share ideas. From 2006 until about 2012, Twitter was absolutely the place to be in the social world.
What Twitter is Today
Since that golden age, things have changed quite a bit. The level of interaction on tweets is abysmally low. What’s worse is that the more followers you have, the worse it gets. High profile celebrities such as Kanye West, Emma Stone, & Louis C. K. who used to be monsters on the platform no longer use it. And while social media is much more than just celebrities, the ability for the average person to make a personal connection with their role models is a major draw to any social platform.
One of my favorite celebrities, Nathan Fillion, who used to be very active on Twitter now only Tweets once in a while. His Twitter feed has been replaced with the auto-posts from his Instagram account.
So Why is Twitter Dying?
The ongoing demise of Twitter doesn’t have a singular cause, but there are some keys to the drop in its popularity.
Trolls, Trolls, & More Trolls
I once wrote an article about security questions being a weakness to online security which turned out to be a very polarizing idea. I shared my concept with my Twitter followers. While some of them appreciated the change in perspective, others turned downright hostile tweeting replies such as, “You’re the dumbest IT guy on the planet, go kill yourself.” It’s no surprise that many folks share tweets without ever following up on replies or really interacting with followers in an attempt to avoid seeing such negativity.
People have big balls when they can hide behind a computer screen and online bullying is nothing new. On Twitter though, it’s crazy out of control. Why that is the case brings me to the next part of why Twitter is dying…
Too Easy to be Anonymous
One of the big issues driving the online bullying problem is the ability for the bully to hide their identity. Anonymity emboldens the troll. As Twitter marketed itself to brands and companies, it became easier to create Twitter accounts under secret aliases. You only need an email address.
And while other platforms such as Facebook have terms of service that state a user must use their real name, Twitter has nothing of the sort. Twitter is the place for spam, and unbridled anonymity is one of the enablers. This policy also leads into the next section…
As Many Accounts as You Want
A single person can create an essentially unlimited number of free email accounts using Gmail and then create a Twitter account for each of those email addresses. One person could control dozens of separate Twitter accounts (we’ll talk about the bot problem further along in the article). While there might be a legitimate need for 2 or even 3 accounts run by the same person, this open policy makes a Twitter account a cheap commodity. Violate Twitter’s TOS and get banned? Simply create a new email account, and from that, a new Twitter account. A Twitter account is nothing special.
You Can Follow More People Than Necessary
This one might seem an odd thing for me to bring up at first, but let me explain. A brand new Twitter account can follow up to 5000 people right away. Think about how hard it would be to actually read a Twitter feed when the tweets are coming from 5000 different accounts. I mean come on, who really needs to follow 5000 different accounts?
Here’s the biggest problem with high follow limits: it spurs bot creation. Are you confused yet? When someone follows a lot of accounts, they’re less likely to see a specific tweet from any one of those accounts. In fact, research shows most of a tweet’s visibility is lost after about 18 minutes. After that time, it’s moved so far down the feeds of the readers that it’s likely to never be found again. Armed with this information, if I want to get out the word about this article to my followers, I’ll need to tweet it out every 18 minutes for at least a few days. I don’t do that because it would be spam… but there are plenty of other people who do. Many of the bots on Twitter are only in existence as a direct response to this high follow limit.
This brings me to Twitter’s next major problem…
Bots, Bots Everywhere
So what can you do with a few dozen Twitter accounts? Add a couple scripts easily found with a Google search, and each one of those accounts becomes a tweeting, following, & retweeting machine in no time. Now, to be honest, I use some automation on my Twitter account from this site. For example, when I hit publish on this article, my site will automatically tweet the link to let my followers know there’s something new to read here. I can also schedule a blog post to hit Twitter at a certain time. But this isn’t the type of automation that’s killing Twitter.
Twitter bots can follow thousands of users at once, send out hundreds of tweets at a time, and retweet incessantly. They’re completely unmanned & unmonitored. They’re a major source of spam on the platform. A single web server, properly configured, could run thousands of separate accounts. Most prominently, massive bot farms run by Russia attempted to sway American citizens votes during the 2016 Presidential elections. According to some estimates, up to 15% of accounts are bots. And while you can choose not to follow accounts that you suspect are bots, you can’t stop those you follow from doing so and retweeting their garbage.
Not a Simple Fix
While it might be reflexive to say that Twitter can fix these issues by cracking down on bullying, eliminating automation, instituting follow limits, and a one account per person rule, the reality is much more complicated.
Twitter has come to rely on activity numbers, including those pesky bots and trolls, to satiate the appetites of investors. The artificial traffic generated by large networks of millions of bots increases advertising revenue for Twitter. Fixing the issue would cost them money up front and on the back end in diminished numbers.
This is also why Twitter hasn’t made moves to really do much to change the platform. It’s likely the company knows its time has passed and is willing to ride the wave to the beach. Twitter will eventually join the ranks of MySpace and Friendster as social networks that lived their lives and then faded into irrelevancy.
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