Saturday, 20 August 2016

Are the abuse scandals finally catching up with Twitter?



One thing I’ve noticed over the past few months is the decline in actual people using Twitter to engage and to get in touch with you. Is the platform staring to lose it’s credibility? I believe so. The reason? Abuse, the negative stories around abuse, and Twitter’s reaction to it.

The story last week in Buzzfeed highlights this, and was followed up by this article in the influential B2B site CIO.com.

This is not a new problem. Social media sites have had trouble with this before. But there are similarities and parallels between Twitter and Reddit’s reactions to trolls initially. Publicly, when condoning it, they cling to the hallowed principles of freedom of speech. Privately? I would argue that it’s more a question of wanting to have a healthy amount of active users to sell to advertisers. 

Reddit, to it’s enormous credit, has started working on fixing this issue. Since the ousting of Ellen Pao last summer, they’ve started cracking down on hate-speech. Some would argue that this volte-face was more about revenue than about the fears of being the victims of another expose similar to Adrien Chen’s ViolentAcrez expose in 2012 (that long ago?), but we're looking at the effect, not the cause here. If it makes for a better experience on the whole for users, then I'm all for it.

But Twitter? They’ve been a lot slower. In fact, it took until the @Nero scandal for them to act decisively. And why? Because Twitter without outrage removes it's reason for being. Twitter are reliant on press from an obsessed, click-driven media which relies on Twitter for hot-takes and stories about who follows who, who's blocked who, and who said what to who.

On one level, the democratisation of media can be seen as a good thing. But as soon as the media cottoned on to it, that soon changed.

Users who aren’t reliant on the network for their income don’t give a shit about the broad, willy-waving numbers of people using a network - they care about whether their friends are using the network, and if they can get in touch with them easily using that network. 

Does Twitter scratch that itch any more? I’m not sure - and I don’t think it has for a long time. More and more celebrities and influencers are moving away form the medium, and forgoing this for a more intimate (Snapchat, Instagram) and/or well-moderated (Instagram again, Facebook and it’s ‘real name’ policy really helps in this respect) presences. LinkedIn, despite it’s many faults, is actively embracing and committing to growing their B2B influencer base by offering services that their users actually want - a platform to share their opinions with fellow though-leaders.

I’ve noticed a growing trend on Twitter with power users: more and more of them are starting to switch to broadcast, rather than engage mode - which suggests to me that the amount of time they’re spending cultivating their network is no longer worth their time. Could this be a problem for Twitter in the long-run? Potentially. There will be other networks to replace it - but until then, and until Twitter acts more decisively, I can see this trend continuing, which is a shame, as at it's core, it's an excellent network.

But the cost/benefit analysis is starting to come up wanting on Twitter. Add into that am advertising model that just doesn’t work, and I can see trouble ahead for them. 

Twitter as a company are at a crossroads at the moment, and the choice to me is pretty stark: continue down it’s current path and become a sad joke, a village square in disrepair, or kick on, make some reasonable changes that it’s users want. 

The ball is really in their court.