I write about digital strategies and communications — and their intersection with culture, politics, journalism and social activism.


Twitter Minutes on Mobile

Twitter is repeatedly in the news—or at least the news that digital marketers and social media strategists pay attention to—for being on its death bed. The reasons vary (poor revenues, declining user base, failure to innovate, boring logo, you name it). 

Here is a recent chart evidencing Twitter's "stalled" growth:

Infographic: Twitter Struggles to Reignite Its Growth Engine | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista

Now mobile user engagement with Twitter apparently also sucks. Mobile user data aggregated by Statista tells us that monthly active users spend only 2.7 minutes on Twitter daily, compared to leader Facebook at 30.3 minutes.

Infographic: Twitter Falls Behind in Terms of Mobile Engagement | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

But such numbers don't tell us much about who is using Twitter and how.

They tell us nothing about the relative social, cultural or political value of Twitter content compared to Instagram or Snapchat for example, or how influential Twitter is as a pathway to news, ideas, cultural experiences, cutting edge comedy or causes.

And how about the role Twitter plays in necessary social activism — exposing abuses of power, focusing attention on hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter, coordinating protest and building political support (#FeeltheBern). 

I wonder of that 2.7 minutes a day spent on Twitter what part is devoted to seeing breaking news, watching video clips of emerging music or visual artists, tracking causes or exchanging points of view.

Maybe it's not so bad if Twitter lets Facebook and the others have the product pitches, the superficial and routine, the mundane and banal to fill up the other 57.9 minutes of social media time per day.


The Public Square


Sherry Turkle's uses this from philosopher Allan Bloom in her admirable book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age to talk about the echo chamber effect: 

Freedom of the mind requires not only, or not even especially, the absence of legal constraints but the presence of alternative thoughts. The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity, but the one that removes awareness of other possibilities.

The argument goes that our social networks have us talking only to people like ourselves, people with whom we usually agree. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram homogenize ideas and limit our awareness of differing points of view. (Sherry Turkle is worried about it anyway—an unfortunate misstep in her book.)

But echo chambers are not simply, nor even predominantly, a technology problem. Moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt has written about how our 'groupishness' or hive behaviour pushes toward similarity rather than difference — hence the subtitle of his most recent book 'Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion'

This leads me to two points:

  1. Social networks are no more to blame for our susceptibility to 'group think' than religious or political dogma. Take a look at how easily some are swayed by Donald Trump's frightening demagoguery.
  2. The stories we tell on social, and the causes we take up even if only on social and not in the streets, do raise "other possibilities".

We are better off as a society knowing about and supporting #BlackLivesMatter, a social network phenomenon, than we are never using the hashtag or expressing our support even just in a tweet.