Stargazing or Why is Twitter thriving?

Four months ago, when Former President Trump was finally removed from the Twitter platform, the question of the day: how will Twitter survive with out it’s biggest attraction, the star that makes it day right than night?

The answer was yes. The stock performed much better right away and four months later, clearly they are doing great. This post is your quick three point as to why…

  1. There was nowhere to go, Twitter is the game.

Even when Parler was functioning, users were not moving over. There are lots of reasons, mostly that moving to a small echo chamber made no sense. Then January 6 happened and all moderation free platforms went extinct. Actual violence organized via social media was the asteroid for dinosaurs. Reactionaries are defined by that which they oppose. In this time period, they are also defined by those who react to them. They simply can’t leave the main flow of content. If you clicked on the first link, there was a lovely story from a Parler user who hoped that an un-moderated public sphere would be the key to deep civic dialog. This is the opposite of how the world works: leave a thousand megaphones in a park full of angry, bitter people and you don’t get a quiet afternoon.

Longitudinally, Reddit already proved this: banning subreddits worked. Hateful users did not migrate within platform. Twitter is there primary temporal network in the United States, even the most confrontational conservative users would still use the platform to establish their timing and events. Another way to think of it: the coffee shop survives because of all the people buying coffee, not because of the writer who gets one cup and stays camped out for hours.

Communication researchers will tell you that the public sphere is a process of publicity, not a singular place. The public sphere that we all talk about is where all sorts of different groups and arguments collide, it can’t exist just for one group and only exist when managed.

2. The Conservative Twitter world was not healthy, real.

If you have not already, check out Barrett and Sims work on social media bias: there is no bias. At the same time, Conservative stars constantly scream about bias and changing follower numbers. Would you ever see Rachel Maddow talk about her follower count? Even if you don’t care for her, you can agree the answer is no. Conservative social stars are vain and insecure, constantly checking their key metrics, and telling you about it. Back to the specifics of Barrett and Sims: the right and left social worlds are relatively equal in total activity volume, which is interesting because there tend to be more Democrats among the user population. In short, the right wing social ecosystem is ultra-concentrated. There was Trump himself and a few stars all of the attention and energy pointed inwards toward them.

When social media companies do normal things, like purging low quality accounts, the star’s reach drops, even Fox News acknowledged this, although they chose to take the stenographic approach repeating the complaint at the top with the facts at the bottom. I would never post such a claim, how embarrassing to join the claim that one was unjustly deprived of fake followers. Purges of low quality accounts happen all the time, and even after that the highly central Conservative nodes are still the powerful core.

There is a body of research that suggests that human social media strategists know what will work through their intuition and that people often vastly overestimate the importance of performance indicators. Just looking Conservative Twitter you could see that it was not healthy, and you were right. It wasn’t really social media, it was really a network designed to promote a few stars.

3. Trump suppressed other uses of the platform

If you used Twitter during the height of the Trump era you feel me here: it was not fun. The app was a reactionary mechanism used by a narcissistic sadist to prove his ability to inflict pain and shape the world to prove his importance. The way that Twitter was during that time was not creative or even particularly interesting. Trump drown out was documented for years. What I have noticed is that Twitter has so many more interesting trends now. During the Texas blizzard, fact checking functions absolutely blew propaganda out of the water. Twitter was back. As different communities rebuild and refocus on their own needs the healing will only continue.

Trump was the sun, he was bright and hot, parching the surface of Twitter. It turns out that Twitter was not a daytime platform. People live in the media day, at the peak of his use Trump was only ever a few hours from tweeting again. Much of what makes Twitter great is not basking in the sun, but staring up into the milky way and sometimes using a powerful telescope to look at all the life on Mars (which there is in this metaphor). The creatures that thrived in the heat of the scorching day are now damp, cold. Letting the world live in the cool twilight, Twitter thrives.

Associate Professor of Social Media, Oregon State: These are my opinions, not theirs. Read my book: Selling Social Media (Bloomsbury Academic), 2018.

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