Ten million people in the UK use twitter. They don’t just use it, they are ‘active’ on it. Only nine million people buy a daily newspaper. The former is growing rapidly, the latter is falling. As John Prescott says at that last link, twitter is our media. We regulate it. We dictate what’s popular, we spread the news ourself. All this, despite being privately owned. Who would have imagined that such a thing was possible a decade ago? Surely not the alleged criminals inside the Murdoch empire. Certainly not the the politicians at their command.
To some extent, twitter’s popularity is precisely due to the contemptuous manner in which most of the established media has treated its public. Even those addicted to celebrity tittle-tattle disliked the way in which their papers harassed, bullied and hacked their way around. Once the celebs and anyone standing near them obtained access to immediate mass communication, they used it instead.
Beyond that, it has overturned the way we allowed ‘our’ newspaper to curate the news for us. Instead of receiving information on our chosen subjects in a way chosen for us, we can choose to follow people who we don’t agree with. I do. People who certainly don’t agree with me follow me too.
For many years, I’ve been surprised that the yellow pages survives. I refuse to give my business to a business without a website. Yesterday I phoned my local B&Q to ask them if they stocked a particular type of long screw. They said they would phone back. They never did. If someone refuses to reply on twitter, this can be made public. Consequently, @VirginMedia was bounced into replying to me with confirmation that I would receive credit for all their internet outages. On the way back from B&Q this morning, I walked past some street art.
Right next door to it, there was some more.
This enterprising artist has thoughtfully included his twitter name (@lushsux). I checked him out. I didn’t like it that much but so what? Previously, if I liked some graffiti and had wanted to employ the artist somewhere, I’d have stood no chance in making contact. Twitter has made it possible to talk directly to one another, without the difficulty of tracking down contacts or using third parties.
Increasingly, the mainstream media is reduced to what is happening on twitter. We are constantly informed by BBC Radio 4 News about what is trending on twitter. Despite having listened to it all my life, often I abandon the radio news part way through because I’ve already heard it all. On twitter. In greater detail than the dumbed down news, with better analysis and with more points of view reflected. We are left with the impression that the radio news now serves the part of the public which is not on twitter, in order to tell them what is going on.
There is a danger in so much information being disseminated through one organisation, which is commercially driven. However, the age of the internet has got people used to the idea that they can rapidly change the way they use services. If twitter was discovered to be manipulating the trending topics or censoring people, it would be abandoned in favour of something that did not. That is why, when David Cameron called for twitter to be closed in times of public emergency, twitter’s boss Dick Costolo declared that the service would never be shut down, no matter what the situation. Cameron was wrong, of course. Twitter did not play a role in organising the riots. However, twitter does censor tweets on a country by country basis, apparently in order to comply with local laws. That might not affect those of us in the UK but it is indicative of the difficulties of living in a global village still constrained by smaller jurisdictions.