I’ve criticised Twitter extensively on this blog, and I’m not about to retract any of my whining episodes. But I wouldn’t be complaining if I didn’t care, and the reason I care is that Twitter is not only the best social media platform; for many people it’s the only social media platform. I’ve looked at the many other options in Finding The Best Alternative Social Media Platform, but in this post I’m going to document why for me, Twitter beats them all. Please be aware that the following points apply at the time of writing, but that policies can change…
TWITTER LETS USERS POST IN ANONYMITY
Oppressive social sites insist that users publish under their real names, because it increases the value of people’s personal data. The platforms claim they make the real-names-only insistence for safety reasons, but there’s nothing safe about forcing everyone to identify themselves in an unvetted public place. How safe would it be if everyone who walked into a night club was forced to wear a T-shirt with their legal name on it? Clearly, it would be a stalker’s, burglar’s, mugger’s, blackmailer’s and rapist’s charter. That’s the reality of real-name-only policies.
Real-name-only policies also inhibit humour, and other fundamental bases for online entertainment. Broadly, they stifle fun and promote an environment that’s little different from being at work.
Twitter has benefitted enormously from its freedom of identity. Not only does it have a fun and progressive vibe – it’s also become a home to major communities who, precisely because of their dependency on anonymity, cannot legitimately exist on Facebook or other oppressive sites. Yes, anonymity assists cowardly trolls to an extent, but the vibrancy and life it encourages almost infinitely outweighs the negatives.
Twitter has the most interesting and entertaining userbase on any social media site, by an exceptionally wide margin, in large part because it does not enforce the hazardous and stifling protocol of real names only.
TWITTER IS A RELIABLE GOLDMINE FOR RECENT HISTORY
Twitter combines a powerful, date-sensitive search facility with strict opposition to tweet editing, to create an incredibly reliable reference resource for news, events and cultural evolution. Unlike Google, Twitter will, within the bounds of its own lifespan, conclusively tell you when a trend began, when an event happened, and how real people reacted.
Facebook carries an enormous trove of recent historical data too. But Facebook is nothing like as easy for the average user to search as Twitter, and it insists on users logging in, so it can monitor everything they search for. Whilst, since March 2017, shadowbanning has begun to threaten Twitter’s cultural integrity, there’s still no other site on the Internet that offers as full, reliable and accessible a picture of recent historical news and trend as Twitter.
TWITTER IS THE FASTEST SPREADER OF INFORMATION
You can say it’s down to the simplicity of the retweet system, or the trend analysis, or the bite-sized format that keeps all information sharp and to-the-point. But none of these things would mean much without the breadth and size of Twitter’s userbase, or the confidence Twitter’s anonymous enclaves give users to actually spread information without fear of losing their jobs or otherwise paying a price. When news organisations want real-time updates on events as they happen, they don’t prioritise Facebook, or LinkedIn, or the remnants of G+. Or any of the small social platforms that claim to be the future of social media. They go to Twitter, because Twitter spreads information fastest, and best.
TWITTER IS NOT A WALLED GARDEN
[UPDATE – January 2021: Twitter has since dramatically decreased the amount of its site accessible to logged-out users, and is probably now best considered a partial walled-garden. For example, it’s no longer possible for logged-out users to see the contents of a profile page’s Likes tab, its Following/Followers lists, or its Media tab. Twitter is also hiding an ever greater number of Tweets for seemingly spurious reasons.]
Some social networking platforms deliberately conceal all their content from anyone who isn’t logged in, so as to force non-members to sign up. This closed ecosystem is normally known as a “walled garden”, and it’s bad for anyone who wants maximum online reach. The walled garden strategy is fine on platforms where it’s in members‘ interests to regulate access to their content (subscription sites, for example). But if members’ work is being boxed in purely so the site owners can harvest other people’s email addresses, the system is extremely selfish.
Whilst Twitter does limit the visibility of some areas and some content to logged out users, the majority of public tweets can be read by anyone, regardless of who they are, or whether they have a Twitter account. Twitter’s search functions are fully available to logged out users and non-members. Although without a login, search preferences cannot be set, and sensitive or shadowbanned content will not be shown.
TWITTER IS ACCESSIBLE WITHOUT COOKIES
- Precise timing of your page visits.
- In-page tracking (determining how far you’ve read into a piece of text).
- The recording of your mouse movements.
- Periodicity biometrics (identifying you by the way you type).
TWITTER GIVES ANY USER DIRECT ACCESS TO A HUGE RANGE OF CELEBRITIES AND INFLUENTIAL FIGURES
One of the reasons Twitter became so big is that it established a direct line between ordinary people and their idols. There’s nowhere else on Earth that important people pay more attention to the direct thoughts of the voiceless and meek. You may not get a reply, but unless you’re tweeting megastars, world leaders, inactives or bots, you’ll almost definitely be heard.
TWITTER IS THE WORLD’S BEST MEANS OF CHECKING OUT A BUSINESS BEFORE YOU BUY FROM THEM – BAR NONE
[UPDATE – January 2021: This is now debatable, since Twitter currently filters an incredibly large volume of content out of search for one reason or another. Additionally, rogue businesses can now block replies to their tweets, which will reduce the amount of communication and preclude people from responding directly to a false claim.]
A lot of people place their trust in review sites when it comes to checking out businesses. But online reviews are notoriously open to astroturfing, shilling and manipulation. Google search is no better either, since scammers can simply pay for search optimisation plans, which will place their own fake appraisals above complaints in the results.
But Twitter is extremely hard for dodgy businesses to game. The facility to search any business’s incoming public messages on Twitter (just search “to:@WhateverBusiness“, without quotes) means that any consumer can see what real people are saying to them. The consumer not only finds the customer complaints, but also sees how the business deals with those complaints.
Behaviour varies widely. Some businesses ignore complaints entirely. Others invariably respond to complaints from people with over 10,000 followers, but routinely ignore those from people with fewer than 50. Then there are the businesses that respond to complaints for which they can blame the customer, but ignore instances in which they know they’ve fucked up big time. And then there are businesses who respond to all complaints, but immediately try to browbeat the customer into a private DM conversation – basically just a bid to take the issue out of public view. Some even use a bot that’s programmed to suggest DM contact.
It’s a much better insight into how companies treat real customers than can be found anywhere else. Best of all, companies are pretty much forced to have Twitter accounts, and if they don’t, they end up looking suspicious anyway.
TWITTER ENCOURAGES USERS TO *MAKE* FRIENDS, NOT JUST IMPORT THEM
Facebook is aggressively seeking your real-life contacts. And regardless of how much Facebook clone sites claim to care about privacy, they ALL want to invite themselves to YOUR party rather than inviting you to theirs. One of the reasons they do this is that they actually don’t have a party of their own. Not in the way Twitter does.
It’s easy to recognise platforms that want to crash your party, because as soon as you sign up they flip straight into interrogation mode. Some won’t even show you anything until you’ve offered up an entire psychological self-profile on a plate. They don’t like you searching for info – they want you to search for people. And they massively limit or convolute their search options so as to keep you penned into your own ‘home’.
Twitter has a very different strategy, which is to let users roam anywhere they want, keep learning, keep meeting new people, and get involved in whichever pre-existing parties they want to get involved in. Best of all, Twitter users can, if they wish, just sit in the corner and watch other people’s parties, like a fly on the wall. They don’t even need an account to do it.
TWITTER CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE
Okay, so it’s people on Twitter who can change your life – not Twitter itself – but it’s the people you won’t find on Facebook or LinkedIn who provide the best lessons. Twitter is where I learned that I don’t have to endure things I don’t like in order to protect other people’s feelings. That I don’t need to absorb other people’s pressure. That I don’t need to explain myself once, let alone twice. That I don’t owe favours – even to friends… I learned, on Twitter, to stress less, ignore more, say “no” more often, and most of all, stop trying to be perfect, because apart from wasting a lot of time, it’s boring.
Using Twitter has taught me an enormous amount about psychology – my own as well as other people’s. There are communities on Twitter who embrace and celebrate the exact human fallibilities that authority and mainstream media weaponise against us. Communities who constantly reassure us that in fact, virtually NO ONE is anything like the stereotype to which governments and marketing departments want us to aspire. The ‘fake news’ scandal could not have happened on Twitter, because Twitter users know the difference between a community opinion and a bullshit-factory spammer. Facebook users evidently don’t.