Twitter’s second quarter earnings release last Thursday sent its stock tumbling as the market reacted poorly to the news that net user growth was flat. The stock dropped more than 16% on the news, and the lack of user growth seemed to confirm the long-running skeptics’ narrative that Twitter is doomed to join Myspace in the social-media-platform graveyard.
The argument has always been that Twitter is too arcane with its @-mentions and hashtags, and the character limit means that it’s just for people with short attention spans who want to chase celebrities. But does that argument really hold up under greater scrutiny? Snapchat, beloved by adolescents everywhere, is actually more confusing to master, and the interface is disorienting to new users. Instagram, the other fast-growing social media platform, has borrowed the hashtag and @-mention vocabulary from Twitter, and is in fact more #-ridden than Twitter.
Twitter’s lack of growth may actually be explained by a narrative that is paradoxically the opposite of the one that dominates the conversation: The platform is too full of intellectual and literary depth, despite the much maligned character limit, too appeal to the lowbrow masses.
While my Facebook feed is mostly full of memes, links to YouTube videos that I won’t follow, and uninformed political opinions from acquaintances who were never really my friends in the first place, Twitter brings me the latest thoughts of Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates), Simon Schama (@simon_schama), Atul Gawande (@Atul_Gawande) — you know, actual writers. The platform makes it easy to follow leading intellectuals in any field, plus serious journalists whose opinions on current events aren’t nonsensical bloviating. Anyone can join in the conversation on Twitter, but unlike the walled garden of your selected friends on other platforms, your shallow and ill-informed opinions, when broadcast on Twitter, are free game for mockery and derision from the quickest-witted wags in the world, and yes, they can demolish you while using only 140 characters. The Twittersphere is a hostile place for illiterate morons. (Not that that stops them from tweeting, but you can block or filter them out, or create lists, etc.)
The pessimist in me worries that society’s anti-intellectualism does spell bad times ahead for Twitter. Their new plans to monetize the platform sound horrid and could ruin the service, so hopefully the rumors will finally prove to be true and one of the tech behemoths (Google?) will swallow Twitter and hide its lack of earnings growth inside their massive, synergistic whatnots.