We’ll see. Twitter isn’t just frivolous; it is often spiteful. It can make or ruin careers unjustly. Promote the worst influences far more easily than better ones. Or just spread hoaxes quickly.

Spreading hoaxes has even become a research area:

Some rumors are set in motion on purpose just to see what will happen. Take Washington Post sports reporter Mike Wise for example. Wise was suspended after he posted a false news story about Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He claimed it was a social experiment to see how quickly a false rumor could spread throughout Twitter but it ended in a one-month suspension from his job and loss of respect of many followers who trusted him with their sports news.

But some say Twitter is losing influence. Damian Thompson reported at the end of April that  

This has been a catastrophic week for Twitter, the online messaging service used by 500 million people. On Tuesday night its share price fell by £5.2 billion on the New York stock exchange. That’s a quarter of its entire value. And, by a delicious irony, it was all thanks to a tweet. Just one, visible for 45 seconds before it was deleted. But that was enough to spook investors and send Twitter’s stock into one of the most spectacular tailspins in the history of Wall Street.

The stock is still riding low. Getting the Pope and the Dalai Lama on Twitter did not help. I wish I could believe, as Thompson suggests, that Twitter has lost its magic:

The American pop star Katy Perry has 68 million followers, making her the world’s number one tweeter. Sample tweet from this week: ‘My heart breaks w/the rising toll from the #NepalEarthquake’ — a shocking tragedy indeed, but also an opportunity for our Katy to cash in by showing off her boundless compassion. Celebs love using Twitter for this purpose.

Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it? The gimmick works. A fundamental rule of media is: It’s not who is saying it; it’s who listens. Celebs only have attention because they are granted it. That’s why I think Twitter will be around for a while. One can do a lot of damage in 140 characters or fewer. And that’s the big problem with Twitter. There is no social penalty, when alone at the screen, for listening to rubbish, the way there might be if one were part of a conversation with witnesses.

But 16% of adults use Twitter. Many of course may be, like me, just posting notices of news stories.

(By the way, if anyone cares, Twitter’s saddest day is Tuesday.)


Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...