Flipping the Bird: 6 Ways Twitter Will Never Last

RealClear Staff


Twitter debuted 10 years ago with a first tweet by CEO Jack Dorsey (above). But will there be a last tweet? It has given voice to political movements, allowed everyday people to connect with presidents, public figures and celebrities; it has forced companies to completely rethink customer service. But is it sustainable?

1. It Hasn't Made A Dime in Profit

Here's the cold, hard fact, in less than 140 characters: Twitter has never turned a profit. In fact it has lost $2 billion since 2011. The company went public on November 7, 2013, but shares have fallen by 77 percent since they reached their all-time high the day after Christmas in 2013. That is not a sustainable business model, no matter how popular it is with users. In October 2015, CEO Jack Dorsey laid off 8 percent of Twitter's workforce.

2. It Will Never Dethrone Facebook

Unlike Twitter, Facebook actually makes money -- nearly $4 billion in 2015 alone. Also, Facebook has five times the users as Twitter. While Facebook is actually adding users (46 million in the last quarter of 2015, up to more than 1.5 billion worldwide), Twitter (305 million users) lost some 2 million users in the last quarter of 2015.

3. Censorship

The 2011 Arab Spring was largely credited to the immediacy of Twitter. It showed the power of the app for ordinary people to come together for a common goal. That's good. And certainly Twitter can't be blamed for that fact that things have largely gone wrong in the Arab world where there was regime change, such as Egypt, after initial success. But it has led to Twitter essentially advocating censorship. In 2012, Twitter announced new changes in which it hides tweets in countries with differing interpretations of “freedom of expression.” Thus, the totalitarian governments win.

4. Things You Can't Unsee

The gunning down of two former co-workers by a gunman on live TV in Virginia could be a watershed moment for social media. Although this occurred on Facebook as well as Twitter, Twitter has in particular been trying to get the edge on Facebook as a more immediate experience. 

On August 27, 2015, many took to Twitter to share condolences for reporter Alison Parker, 24, and photographer Adam Ward, 27, of Virginia television station WDBJ-7, but many were bombarded with graphic images of the attack through the company’s autoplaying video. "I just watched a news anchor be shot to death on camera," one Twitter user complained. "Without warning. Without a choice." The tragedy renewed calls for social networking companies to revisit how they police the autoplay feature, which is known to be used to increase user engagement and boost views for advertisers.

To Twitter's credit, it took only 8 minutes to disable the account tweeting the videos. A year earlier, it took several hours for Twitter to remove a video posted by ISIS depicting the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley.

Nonetheless, this could eventually be to off-putting for users.

5. It Is Struggling With Diversity

Like CEO Jack Dorsey, Twitter is mostly white and male. The company came under fire in late 2015 when it emerged that it was struggling with diversity and didn’t have any managers, directors or VPs of color in both engineering and product management.

It isn't just a PR concern. Businesses generally understand the benefits of having a workforce that reflects the diversity of consumers. That helps in designing products that make sense for those users, while keeping their own employees engaged and motivated.


6. Haters Gonna Hate

Bottom line: Twitter is way more negative than Facebook. Unlike Facebook, which requires that users create accounts using their real names (that's why many media sites require logging in via Facebook to post comments), Twitter allows anonymity. That's why Twitter is sometimes the forum preferred by people who want to harass others.

Yup, we're talking haters, trolls, whatever you call them. Twitter has taken steps to more swiftly respond to reported incidents of hate tweets and are reviewing accounts more closely. But the fact remains, if you want to anonymously harass or shame someone on Twitter, you can do it.

But A Pew Research Center study found that Twitter users' most consistent bias was not toward liberals or conservatives. It was a bias against, well, almost everything. "At times the Twitter conversation is more liberal than survey responses, while at other times it is more conservative. Often it is the overall negativity that stands out."



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