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The Scary and Wonderful Power of Twitter: Good and Bad

When Twitter was founded in 2006 in San Francisco, California, key founder Jack Dorsey probably had no idea about the power it would wield only 9 years later. If 2015 has shown us anything, it’s that Twitter, while fast and easily digestible, also holds incredible power.

In 2015, Twitter’s power was both good and bad and the below examples can illustrate why brands need to be using Twitter and be aware of how they are doing it and what they are saying. A tweet may have a 20 second lifespan if it’s meaningless, but as we can see below, a tweet with power can go viral in seconds.

Let’s start with a positive example of Twitter’s power, which ironically came from one of the most negative events of 2015: the ISIS attacks on Paris. Twitter played a positive roll in the following ways:

  • #StandwithParis emerged to unite the world in caring, love and support. The hashtag was trending with tweets offering love, support, prayers, help and information. We saw the Eiffel Tower drawn in a peace sign and global landmarks lit up with the colors of France in support, something the world has not seen since the attacks in New York on 9/11. Twitter enabled the world to beat ISIS’ intent to shake and scare by offering a platform where the world could come together and say we are united and we are strong.
  • Twitter also served as an important news outlet, with tweets offering immediate updates on the event from the first attack to days later. News was by-the minute with updates on attackers, survivors, and more. Twitter essentially served as a new age radio, the hashtag “#StandWithParis” helping people to identify the latest stories as well.
  • Finally, the other positive occurrence we saw with Twitter and Paris was the ability of users in Paris to let survivors and displaced citizens know where they could go for help. People opened the doors of their homes and business to offer shelter and support, and #PorteOuverte –French for “open door”—was trending all night to offer save havens to stranded strangers. See more here from NBC.

There were other instances throughout 2015 where we saw Twitter positively impact the world (Syrian refugees, Planned Parenthood support, etc.), but Paris was one of the most powerful, positive social media instances since 9/11.

On the flip side, we have also seen Twitter produce some seemingly negative consequences including national fear and immediate embarrassment.

When graduate student Jonathan Butler went on a hunger strike at the University of Missouri in an attempt to remove University President Tim Wolfe, no one really cared, at least not until the football team decided to get involved. The team declared they would stand with Butler and the group Concerned Student 1950, who coined the hashtag #ConcernedStudent1950, and would boycott all remaining games until the demands had been answered. Coach Gary Pinkel tweeted his support of his team’s decision and not three days later, Wolfe resigned.

While we can debate the pros and cons of the Concerned Student 1950 group for days on end, the real takeaway here is the power Twitter played. The groups account now has 11.2K followers with only 692 tweets (as of 1.11.16), but over the next few days after Wolfe resigned we saw Twitter result in the following:

Twitter here served as a platform for protesting, demands and threats; it essentially helped to vividly divide the world by race.

We saw Twitter create immediate and eternal embarrassment as well. Donald Trump’s insultes of Muslims, Mexicans and Latinos became permanent fixtures on Twitter with hashtags, gifs and memes. He lost quite a bit of business after that as we can see with ABC News’ “The Companies That Have Dumped Trump.” We saw the same thing again when Steve Harvey publicly announced the wrong winner of the Miss Universe contest and was immediately shamed and ridiculed. Fortunately, Harvey was able to make a comedic pun out of the mistake and other celebs have taken to laughing with Harvey at the event. (“Jamie Foxx Pulls a Steve Harvey and Pretends to Announce Wrong Winner Golden Globes.”)

Social media has always been a forum for open discussion and free speech, but we have learned from 2015 is it’s incredible power to create both positive and negative change, make a moment eternal and essentially make or break a person, institution, career or event.

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