When bar talk became a trending topic

“Just setting up my twtrr.” With this brief phrase, the co-founder and CEO of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, inaugurated the microblogging social network on March 21, 2006, or in other words, short messages on the web. This Sunday, at a public auction, two million euros were offered in the bid initiated by Dorsey to sell the ownership of the first tweet in history. 15 years have passed and few could recognize that social network born to share SMS.

«When I was introduced to Twitter, the ease of sharing a message with several users at the same time stood out. For example, if you wanted to meet with a group of friends, or the place changed or you arrived late, it was commented on the channel,” recalls Silvia Martínez, director of the Master of Social Media at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.

But the little blue bird’s network exploded. Today, with more than 350 million users worldwide, Twitter almost seems like bar chat. Universal size. It is full of quick dialogues, occurrences more than reflections and points of view that escape moderation. And whoever shouts the most becomes a ‘trending topic’, the term the platform uses to define the most popular topics. And that dialogue is anything but angelic. “Social networks sometimes bring out the worst in us,” says Miquel Pellicer, professor of Communication at the UOC.

Pellicer points out that Twitter cannot be defined only as a dumping ground where hate speech and misinformation predominate. The author of the book ‘Communication in the Trump Era’ also uses cyberactivism to explain it, a term “that Americans seem to have discovered now but that already existed ten years ago.” Pellicer uses two historical events to show the positive or negative use that can be given to a social network.

A decade ago, social media, especially Twitter, was instrumental in organizing and disseminating the demonstrations and protests of the Arab Spring. While authoritarian governments tried to control information, demands for freedom crossed borders with a tweet. It is no coincidence, for example, that one of the first decisions of the rebellious military after the coup d’état last February in Myanmar was to block social networks.

But not all the mobilizations supported by Twitter are benign. In January of this same year, Jack Dorsey’s company suspended Donald Trump’s account for another type of mobilization: the one that ended with the assault on the North American Congress. And in Spain it closed the Vox account for alleged incitement to hate.

Discourse polarization

When Twitter was born, phone companies only allowed 140 characters. Thus his iconic writing limit was established; In 2017 it was expanded to 280. In 2007, one of its users, Chris Messina, proposed creating hashtags: an expression preceded by a ‘#’ symbol that allows tweets or messages to be grouped together. Two years later, a user was tweeting from a ferry when a plane landed in the Hudson River. It revealed her strength for immediacy.

The brevity, the union of the conversation and the speed define Twitter but at the same time they have made it easier to polarize the discourse. “The very limitation of characters means that it cannot be argued,” explains Silvia Martínez. This simplicity corresponds to some of the characteristics that have attracted populism, hate speech and hoaxes.

Is Twitter really a reflection of the agenda of authentic social concerns? According to a report by Social Media Family, there were 4.1 million accounts in Spain in 2020, 300,000 fewer than the previous year. It would mean one in ten Spaniards. But only 21% of those accounts have tweeted at least once in two months. Its impact is amplified by the echo it finds in traditional media.

In recent times this social network is finding its niche as a complement to television. In 2020, globally, there were more than 7,000 tweets per minute about television programming, according to Twitter spokespersons. For its future, the platform is studying new functionalities such as audio rooms where you can discuss out loud. In short, getting closer and closer to an authentic bar chat, but online and global.

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