Twitter’s Jack Dorsey has laid out his plan to bring growth to Twitter, predicting it will be around for another ten years. There’s only one problem… user growth has stalled out.
But even as Twitter’s annual revenue soared last year from $1.4 billion to $2.2 billion, the company lost $507 million. Its user base has stalled at roughly 320 million monthly active users. That’s a big audience, but nowhere near as big as the following of some important competitors—Facebook, for example, has 1.6 billion users. In the weeks after Twitter’s initial public offering in 2013, shares reached $73.71. Now the stock is at $17.03. “Their ad model and their advertising is not the problem. It’s the growth of new users,” says Carrie Seifer, president of digital, data, and technology at Mediavest USA, an ad buying agency. “Fresh customers are extremely important.”
Dorsey says he has a plan to get Twitter’s audience growing again. “There’s a whole discussion about virtual reality and augmented reality, and Twitter has been augmenting reality for 10 years,” he says. “You watch any game, you watch any live event, you watch any political debate, Twitter makes it more interesting, funnier, and more entertaining.”
The question is, how will this plan work when Twitter has begun censoring Tweets and banning users it doesn’t agree with politically?
If you think it’s only crybaby students who set up safe spaces in which they might hide from gruff words and ugly sentiments, think again. More of the world beyond touchy campuses is being safe-spaced too. Consider Twitter, which this week announced the establishment of a ‘safety council’ — Orwellian much? — to ensure its users will be forcefielded against abusive, hateful or unpleasant blather.
Yesterday, on Safer Internet Day — which promotes ‘safe, responsible, positive and boring use of digital technology’ (okay, I added ‘boring’) — Twitter revealed that it has anointed 40 organisations to advise it on how to make sure tweeters can ‘express themselves freely and safely’. This Trust and Safety Council, to give it its full, somewhat ominous name, will discuss what kind of ‘tools and policies’ might be required to allow users to report ‘hateful’ commentary, and potentially have it extinguished.
Given the censorious instinct of some of the group’s Twitter has entrusted to devise its safety policy — the Internet Watch Foundation; the Safer Internet Centre; Feminist Frequency, which campaigns against rough, sexist speech online — we can be sure the final policy won’t be to allow people on Twitter to say whatever the hell they want and everyone else to engage with, ignore or block them as they see fit. No, we’re likely to see the development of tools that allow for the flagging and maybe even squishing of dodgy or just unpopular viewpoints.
Breitbart has noted that Twitter is even censoring fellow leftists who support the wrong political candidate:
Conservatives, especially anti-establishment conservatives, have been complaining for months about Twitter’s political biases. Now there is mounting suspicion among anti-establishment progressives that Twitter is no longer a politically neutral platform.
Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) allege that the company removed #WhichHillary, a hub for critical tweets about Hillary Clinton, from their list of trending topics. In response to the alleged censorship, another hashtag, #WhichHillaryCensored, was created — but despite a high level of activity, this hashtag also failed to trend.
Twitter’s major problem is that they’ve begun censoring content based on the political viewpoints of users. If conservatives are unable to post content on Twitter without it being flagged as “hate speech” by left wing social justice warriors and political activists, they are going to eventually move elsewhere, and new conservatives aren’t going to sign up to use the service. A bad reputation like this will discourage anyone on the right from signing up and it will encourage existing conservative users to take their clicks elsewhere. About half the country is conservative, so that’s a gigantic pool of potential users Twitter is chasing off.
A potential problem for Twitter, that they clearly don’t see coming, is a cascade effect where conservative writers and celebrities of note pack up and leave and take their followings with them. How many tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of users would Twitter lose if this happened? Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulous, who Twitter has been harassing because he has attracted the ire of angry internet feminists, has nearly 200,000 followers alone. How many would remain on Twitter if he left? Lest you say that would never happen, I am sure that many of those reading this post will recall a certain website whose writers alienated their readers and caused them to pack up and leave for other places.
Twitter is a case study in why businesses need to at least maintain the appearance of being above politics. They risk alienating customers and/or users otherwise.