Twitter and People: the Interaction

Nowadays, we get used to hold our smartphones in hands and then open some kind of social networks or social media apps. We can hardly retrospect what life was like before we have these tiny things. Time goes fast: it’s been a long time since the first day when we created our accounts of these social networking services. As for the one I’m going to talk about, Twitter is nearly nine years old. And obviously, we have many interactions with Twitter. What are these interactions like?

I’m pretty sure that our life has changed a lot since Twitter appeared. Now it’s easier for us to create a new topic and share it with others quickly and conveniently by using Twitter. Just log in, then write a tweet, retweet or share the link. Others may see your tweets and leave messages. Maybe Twitter is one of the most convenient tools for communication ever. The latest hashtags could be older ones just in a day or even in several hours. People now can pursue the latest topics worldwide by using Twitter. We began to spend more and more time on social media such as Twitter because we want to stay “current”. We not only pursue the latest news, but also pursue what happened in another place. One of the most important employee of Twitter, Claire Diaz-Ortiz wrote this in her book Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time: “…I marveled that I was able to connect in real time with others half a world away (Diaz-Ortiz 1).” In all, Twitter plays an important role in our life as a useful way of communicating. We cannot go back to a world without Twitter and other social networks. That’s the most significant change which Twitter brought to us. It’s more convenient than how we communicate in the past and we also obtain a free “archive of feelings” (Cvetkovich 7). Now moments in your life can be recorded just by touching your screen for few times.

Twitter itself have changed a lot since 2006 as well. Now many people use it on their smartphones. Twitter becomes “mobile” with its app. Every day people will unlock their smartphones, click the icon of Twitter’s app and then read tweets or tweet something interesting. The interface is modern and concise now and even the word “Twitter” was removed from the logo (now when we log in we can only see the Twitter bird there). Some features made it easier to share some moments, such as the multiple options for a tweet: people can post short messages, short videos, images or hyperlinks. As for the scale, Twitter now have more users comparing with the record in the first year when it started service. Many celebrities tweet, and many reputable news media are running their official accounts now. It’s a worldwide service now. It goes beyond the boundary of the United States, and every day a huge amount of tweets are created. Twitter become one of the symbols in the social media and social networks. And in order to deal with some problem brought by unwelcome people like trolls, Twitter took many actions.

Is that all for the interactions? I don’t think so. And order to make deeper analysis, in the following paragraphs I will try to apply two examples to illustrate more aspects in these interactions between Twitter and people.

Just several days ago, there was a very interesting topic which was widely and quickly spread through many social media. I remembered what I found when I opened Twitter: it seemed that everyone was talking about “the dress”. On Feb 26, Caitlin McNeill posted a picture of a dress on Tumblr. Then this post was shared by many people soon. This post is about the controversy of the color of the dress. Is it blue and black, or white and gold? People just started talking and sharing their ideas. On Twitter, there were also many people talking about this post, including some celebrities. Tweets about this picture was retweeted for many times and on the next day this picture was still a hot topic. People around the world knew this picture. It was spread just like a “chain reaction”. One told his or her friend, then this friend told others, and this process continued. The result was just like what an article from the New York Times said: “Various theories were floated about why the dress looks different to different people.”(Mahler par.19)

“The Dress” isn’t something big at all. It’s just a topic which may appear in the daily life. However, with the Twitter and other social media, this dress became a very famous dress. When the image of the dress was posted initially, it soon became a typical example about how people interact on social media. From this example, I found that social media brought us some big changes. This change can be pointed out clearly by making comparison among how we communicated in different periods in the 20th and 21st century. In the mid-20th, when people couldn’t meet, they might share some topics by making a phone call. But only two people can talk to each other on the phone and at that time we didn’t have mobile phone so the space was limited—you need to find a phone around you. Then since the 80s, more people had mobile phones. The place where they can talk wasn’t restricted in some specific place any more. Wherever the network is available, they can talk. Nonetheless, still only two people can talk directly. In the early 90s, we have Internet, and we can use emails. It’s faster and convenient but you can’t talk to each other like what we can do on the phones because an email is just like a digital version of normal mails. Emails don’t mean instant communication. People need to wait for a reply and in many situations emails can be formal so the replied may be sent later. Fortunately, we had something like Skype later. Now people can start a chat between two persons. More important feature is the capability for group chats. Now people can talk to each other instantly at the same time with a small group. But the size of interest groups was still pretty small. Finally, we had some apps like Twitter. Just like what we can see from the example of the dress, the group of communication was enlarged to the whole world, and the message was spread very fast. People can share thoughts at the same time, instantly. Twitter actually represent the revolution in the method of communication. Now the communication is instant, people who can join the discussion is all over the world, and people can post what they think wherever the Internet access is available. Today, we can find the accesses to the Internet around the world so we almost have a method to communicate with each other no matter where we are.

Another example is about a special but common group, trolls. In August 2014, Robin Williams committed suicide. Many fans of him felt very sad when they heard his obituary. However, after his death, two Twitter users sent Zelda Williams (she is his daughter) malicious photos that appeared to be photoshopped pictures of her father, reports gossip blog Just Jared. (Frizell par.3) Zelda Williams was annoyed and then she decided to quit Twitter (Note: she was back to Twitter later). Twitter now also bring another change which may be bad for us: the increase of trolls.

I know what her feeling was like when she saw these trolls. Many people don’t like trolls at all, neither do I. Trolls are just say something very annoying without caring your feelings. They just try to make you feel uncomfortable. I doubt some of them may enjoy do that. Others may duplicate what they say in the daily life in the cyber space. Here I don’t want to try to explain the background of trolls which may drive them to do these bad behaviors. I mainly want to discuss the environment of Twitter and the relations between this environment and the existence of trolls. Twitter created a new kind of space and some people changed because some features of it.

I came up with something I’ve read to interpret how’s the environment of Twitter is like.  Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson said in the article Studying the Digital Self: “some users regard online identities as only virtual, a matter of choice and invention among avatars, roles, and subject positions (3).” Indeed, trolls aren’t afraid to be trolls. On the cyber space, there are less restrictions comparing with the society. In the society, people need to obey the laws and abide by the principles from commonly accepted ethics. However, these things don’t exist on Twitter. There’s only something similar to them but that’s weaker than laws and ethics. What is it? That’s something which was often ignored by users of Twitter and other social media or social networks: the terms and conditions. Twitter created a virtual society without the enforcement of some kind of “laws”. So trolls won’t lose because they don’t have to care too much about the terms and conditions. The cost of disobeying these terms and conditions is just the suspension of accounts. Trolls can sign a new one and continue their behaviors. So I think Twitter actually created an online community without enforcing laws like we can see in the society. That’s really a big change—the online version of community differs from the real one. With the interaction between Twitter and people, Twitter changed itself as well, and for trying to stop trolls, Twitter’s vice president said after Zelda Williams quitted: “We have suspended a number of accounts related to this issue for violating our rules and we are in the process of evaluating how we can further improve our policies to better handle tragic situations like this one (Gross par.2).”

What are the interactions between Twitter and people like—that’s all I’ve talked about. However, in the end I came up with some interesting questions. What I said above is about the current situation. So what will happen in the future? Will it be just like“Alone together” (Turkle 14) in Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other? According to this description, we will get connected by our online identity but lack the communication face to face. But no matter what it will be like, I think some analysis above will still make sense. After all, we create and change technologies and they change us in opposite. We have interactions with technologies. This basic idea won’t be obsolete.

Works Cited:

  1. Diaz-Ortiz, Claire. Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011. Print.
  1. Cvetkovich, Ann. An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2003. Print.
  1. Mahler, Jonathan. “A White and Gold (No, Blue and Black!) Dress Melts the Internet.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 27 Feb. 2015. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/28/business/a-simple-question-about-a-dress-and-the-world-weighs-in.html?_r=0

  1. Frizell, Sam. “Robin Williams’ Daughter Quits Social Media After Being Trolled.” Time. Time, 13 Aug. 2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.

http://time.com/3107180/zelda-williams-robin-williams-social-media/

  1. Smith, Sidonie, and Julia Watson. “Studying the Digital Self.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

http://chronicle.com/article/Studying-the-Digital-Self/145971/

  1. Gross, Doug. “Twitter Reviewing Policies after Robin Williams’ Daughter Harassed.” CNN. Cable News Network, 14 Aug. 2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/13/tech/social-media/zelda-williams-twitter/

  1. Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic Books, 2011. Print.
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