Social media has come of age. The space that Twitter occupies within the world has fundamentally changed. I remember joining the micro-blogging site eight years ago and at the time, I was honestly wondering what its purpose might be. My Twitter username sums up my state of mind at the time – @supposeiam, as in, “I suppose I am on Twitter”. Dear readers, please don’t do this!
When Twitter first began, it used to display lists of people who were currently online. I remember these lists making me feel a bit embarrassed and self-conscious. What could I possibly say that would be of interest to others? Who wanted to know details about my life, my thoughts and everyday experiences? After all, I wasn’t using Twitter as a business user back then. I was just using it as myself. Honestly, I had no idea how to extract the best out of it. So, in the end, I admit, I did very little. In fact, I recall the significant moment when I’d clocked up 100 tweets!
But I persevered. As more people joined the platform, particularly public figures and journalists we all began using it as a brilliant way to find sources and break news. Fast forward to today, and it’s an integral part of my daily life. I am one of the loyal band who dread the day when Twitter eventually pulls the plug.
The many faces of Twitter
As a complaints service
Twitter has become the ‘go to’ platform for complaints, shouting and haranguing. If we have an opinion or a message that we want to be heard far and wide, we turn to Twitter. When a company fails to deliver, which happens all too often, I am straight on Twitter publicly venting my spleen – which tends to elicit a better customer service response than any other channel.
Recent statistics suggest that consumers expect a response almost immediately. But how useful is mouthing off when things don’t go our way? Is Twitter the adult form of screaming like a baby? When faced with bad customer service, do we all channel our own internal Donald Trump?
Viral news, rumours and trolling
Twitter can be a viper pit at times. When news breaks, social media can spread those stories around the world with lightning speed, which can often embarrass those at the centre of the storm. Stories can evolve and spread too quickly for facts to be checked. Many people find it easier to hit retweet than do a quick Google search to verify the details. Often, we believe something because we want to believe it.
To add to the misinformation that’s sweeping the web, Twitter is also notorious for trolling. Given the open nature of Twitter, you can write to anyone and everyone, whether you’re friends with them or not. It can leave some people vulnerable to bullying. While authorities have made attempts to prosecute trolls, it’s still just a drop in the ocean against a very ugly underbelly that seems to be flourishing on Twitter.
With these issues in mind, it’s no wonder that a number of influential figures and organisations are keen to curb social media’s powers.
Social media under the spotlight
Social media has become woven into the social fabric in many countries. Mind you, that’s not true of every country – not everyone enjoys the same freedom.
Right now social media is under scrutiny like never before. Twitter levels the playing field, giving ordinary people a megaphone, and a bit of added power. Governments know this.
Just recently, the British establishment has been doing its very best to put the social media genie back in the bottle. Back in December – a lifetime ago in social media terms – the Snoopers’ Charter became legislation. This was quite a significant shift in our right to privacy, but surprisingly, it didn’t spark too much debate or resistance on Twitter.
What is the Snoopers Charter?
So what does the Snoopers’ Charter mean to you and me? In a nutshell, it means that internet service providers in the UK must now retain details of everything you do online for 12 months. They also make it accessible to 48 different agencies. And that’s just for starters.
In the UK, the Investigatory Powers Bill is now on the statute books, and many people are perturbed. A petition demanding that the bill be repealed gained more than 200,000 signatures, however Parliament decided against debating the issue, stating that “the Investigatory Powers Act … protects both privacy and security and underwent unprecedented scrutiny before becoming law.” Many people are deeply unhappy about it.
Meanwhile, in India, Army General in Chief Bipin Rawat has clamped down on army personnel who don’t use “proper, specified channels” to make complaints or air grievances. He said that failure to do this would immediately lead to punishment.
This has occurred after a jawan made a critical video about the Army. This has gone straight to the top. It is inevitably seen as being an example of insubordination and shows how social media is losing its independence as organisations are clamping down on employees’ use of these platforms to complain. People will be directed to ‘the appropriate channels’ – brushed under the corporate rug, as it were.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government plans to fine social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter if they fail to combat hate speech. German officials have accused media companies of being slow to take any action. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union have suggested social media companies should react within 24 hours to stop hate speech or face fines.
We are all being asked to review our use of social media. Once known as a liberated space to say whatever you want, an instantaneous platform where comments are fired off in the heat of the moment, it’s starting to become apparent that virtual world actions have real world consequences. Fleeting words don’t just become fodder for the online masses – they also become evidence.
Social media has officially become mainstream and it seems it’s in need of some regulation. Watch this space in 2017. We predict there will be a lot more to come.
Vivienne Neale is a digital marketer and director of VKN Digital, which is a digital marketing agency in Hertfordshire, UK. We aim to help SMEs overcome marketing hurdles and create compelling digital content that drives results. If you need a leg-up with your content marketing or social media, get in touch via our contact page for a free Skype consultation.