Implications of Twitter Chaos on the Future of Social Movements Revealed

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When thousands of Egyptians marched through the streets during the Arab Spring of 2011, they had a tool at their disposal that earlier social movements didn’t: Twitter.

A key group of activists used the platform to form networks and organize protests against the authoritarian regime, while many more demonstrators used it to disseminate information and images from the ground for the rest of the world to see. Months later, organizers from the Occupy Wall Street movement took to Twitter to coordinate protests in New York and beyond.

Twitter fostered public conversation around the Black Lives Matter movement after the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and again after the 2020 police killing of George Floyd. It amplified #MeToo in the aftermath of the sexual assault allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and catapulted other revolutionary movements around the world to global attention.

In an interview with CNN, Amara Enyia, manager of policy and research for the Movement for Black Lives, emphasized the tremendous influence of Twitter on social movements, stating that it should not be underestimated. Twitter has often been hailed as a catalyst for democratization, giving a voice to marginalized communities and providing a platform for holding leaders accountable. However, alongside its positive aspects, the platform has also been associated with the dissemination of misinformation, extremist ideas, and abusive content.

Since Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter and the subsequent chaos that unfolded, organizers and digital media experts have expressed apprehension about the potential consequences for social movements. They are wary of the impact that Musk’s controversial policy changes and extensive layoffs may have on the future of activism. As the platform’s ownership undergoes significant changes, concerns have arisen about its continued role in empowering social movements.

Activist Concerns Rise as Twitter Transitions Under Elon Musk’s Ownership

While Twitter has long been regarded as a virtual public square, recent moves by Elon Musk have cast doubt on that characterization. The platform has provided organizers and political groups with direct access to policymakers and leaders, enabling real-time updates and promoting messages through algorithms.

However, Rachel Kuo, an assistant professor specializing in media and cinema studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, emphasizes that Twitter’s perception as a source of information and political community has undergone changes. The evolving landscape has sparked concerns among activists about how the platform is now perceived.

Musk’s Pay-for-Play Verification System and Departures Disrupt Twitter’s Role

Elon Musk’s introduction of a pay-for-play verification system on Twitter has led to the impersonation of government accounts and the dissemination of fake images, destabilizing the platform’s traditional verification process. Organizers who choose not to pay the monthly subscription fee for a blue check also face credibility and visibility challenges, as noted by Rachel Kuo, an assistant professor specializing in media and cinema studies at the University of Illinois.

Additionally, Twitter has experienced technical glitches following mass layoffs and departures, causing frustration among users. The “for you” timeline has been displaying content that users are not interested in, further impacting the platform’s role in information-sharing. As a result of these issues, an estimated 32 million users are projected to leave Twitter within two years of Musk’s takeover, according to market research agency Insider Intelligence’s forecast from December 2022. Prior to Musk’s acquisition, Twitter reported having 238 million monetizable daily active users.

Sarah Aoun, a privacy and security researcher working with the Movement for Black Lives, explains that with a reduced user base, Twitter becomes less centralized and the information landscape becomes more fragmented. This fragmentation makes it increasingly difficult for activists to connect, share tactics, and build solidarity as they once did.

Musk’s Content Moderation Approach Increases Hostility on Twitter, Alarming Activists

According to Sarah Aoun, Musk’s content moderation strategy has intensified the hostile environment on Twitter. While the platform has never been entirely safe for marginalized voices, reports from organizations like the Center for Countering Digital Hate and Anti-Defamation League suggest an uptick in hate speech under Musk’s leadership. Despite Musk emphasizing different metrics to counter this characterization, the increase in hate speech remains a concern.

Disillusionment has also arisen over Musk’s decision to reinstate suspended users who violated Twitter’s rules, including former President Donald Trump and GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Aoun highlights the lack of verification, the mass exodus of users, the diminished ability to coordinate, and the impact of content moderation as factors making Twitter a challenging platform to navigate at present.

While Musk has relinquished his role as Twitter’s CEO, the ownership, executive chairman position, and chief technology officer role he retains will continue to grant him significant control over the platform. Linda Yaccarino, a former NBCUniversal marketing executive, now holds the position of CEO.

Activists Reassessing Twitter Usage Amid Platform Changes

The transformations occurring on Twitter have prompted activists and organizers to reevaluate their relationship with the platform. Rich Wallace, the executive director of Equity and Transformation (EAT) in Chicago, noticed a decline in engagement on substantive posts related to social injustice or racial inequity. Instead, he observed more traction on what he considers mundane tweets.

Wallace’s organization, focused on achieving social and economic equity for Black workers in the informal economy, still utilizes Twitter to share information about community events. However, the potential for finding new allies or engaging in meaningful conversations on the platform has significantly diminished. While the shift has altered his perception of Twitter, Wallace remains unperturbed. Instead, it reinforces the importance of grassroots, in-person efforts for his organization.

Social Movements Adapt Amid Uncertainty in Social Media Landscape

Following Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, activists and organizers initially explored alternatives like Mastodon and Bluesky. However, these platforms have not been able to replicate the same purpose or sense of community as Twitter, with concerns over decentralization, limited user base, and privacy and security issues.

While some activists have turned to popular visual platforms like Instagram and TikTok, the shift from Twitter’s text-based medium has impacted interaction and engagement. Although Twitter has been a powerful tool for social movements, it is ultimately just one tool among many.

Recognizing the impermanence of social media platforms, organizations like Enyia’s remain prepared for a reality in which Twitter becomes less relevant. They emphasize the importance of not relying solely on social media but instead engaging in in-person interactions, adapting to new tools, and evolving as needed.

Enyia’s organization continues to utilize Twitter for their work while remaining vigilant and open to shifting strategies and platforms that better serve their goals.

Vic Gonzales III
Vic Gonzales IIIhttps://capiz-news.com
Vicente F. Gonzales III is a professional SEO specialist and a digital marketer. He also happens to be an accomplished content writer, website designer and digital strategist. Vicente's clients love him for his unwavering dedication to their success, as well as his witty, intelligent demeanor. When he's not helping businesses achieve their online marketing goals, Vicente can be found reading up on the latest SEO trends or spending time with his wife and two sons.

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