A banner with the Twitter logo in New York, November 7, 2013 (AFP / EMMANUEL DUNAND)
The future of the social network in the blue bird appears uncertain after a week as chaotic as the previous ones, between the new bleeding of workers and the restoration of Donald Trump’s account, a possible source of controversy. One question comes up more and more regularly: what would a world look like without Twitter?
With around 237 million daily users at the last tally, at the end of June, Twitter is more modest than Facebook (1.98 billion), TikTok (more than a billion), but also Snapchat ( 363 million).
However, in just 15 years, the platform has become an important place for leaders, companies, celebrities and media, who are sometimes content with this channel to communicate.
Twitter “is nothing important”, launched, in his account, Steven Cohn, New York businessman. “The world would be fine without Twitter,” he insists, convinced, like others, that the nation of tweets is just a microcosm, with limited real significance.
“The majority of tweets come from 1%” of users, he wrote. “Most normal people never log on.”
On the contrary, for Karen North, professor at USC Annenberg University, “the really strong thing about Twitter is that anyone can express something there that everyone can see”.
In the event of conflict, social movements, waves of repression, “Twitter has become a central platform to report the truth of what is happening on the ground”, estimated Charles Lister, of the think tank Middle East Institute, in Washington.
Like most other social networks, Twitter is also used to spread propaganda and misinformation. The company developed moderation tools to deal with this, but their sustainability is in question after the departure of more than two-thirds of the teams.
A study published in 2018 showed that false information spread there faster than verified information.
“It is unrealistic to imagine a platform where disinformation is impossible,” tempers Charles Lister. “To see information, right and wrong, disappear”, including the eventual dissolution of Twitter, “is, by definition, a bad thing.”
“Authoritarian leaders or anyone who doesn’t want to share information could benefit from a world without Twitter,” said Arizona State University professor Mark Hass.
– “Important resource” –
The Twitter logo and a picture of Elon Musk on a smartphone screen, October 4, 2022, in Washington (AFP / OLIVIER DOULIERY)
“It’s terrible for journalism,” added Karen North. Because “Twitter is not a social network”, he said, “it is a network of news and information, the meeting place where journalists go to update themselves, to find an idea of the subject, source or citation.”
With cuts in staff and reductions in budgets that the press has experienced for more than a decade, “there are no longer enough resources to find resources in the field”, argues the academic.
Another negative effect, according to him, “without Twitter, the people who would have access to the media are the people who are old enough for the press to listen to them. On Twitter, anyone can tell a story.”
Another function of this collaborative space, “Twitter has become an important source of information, advice, mutual help during hurricanes, forest fires, wars, terrorist attacks or epidemics”, tweeted Caroline Orr, researcher at the University of Maryland.
“It’s not something that can replace existing platforms,” he warned.
In general, the question of possible alternatives to Twitter does not raise a clear answer.
“Facebook has things, but it’s a little old,” says Charles Lister.
“Twitter’s competitors will undoubtedly regain users”, predicts Mark Hass, citing the social network Mastodon, “but they will probably remain niches. None of them will be the public square that is sought after created by Twitter.”
He believes more in the potential of the community site Reddit, like Karen North, where this social network is still limited, as it says, by its minimalist and sparse presentation, without comparing the ease of using a Twitter.
“I don’t believe there’s anything today that offers the same added value as Twitter,” Charles Lister said.
“Can it be replicated? Of course,” he said, “but that would require enormous resources and a significant timeframe.”