One Tweet at a Time

Twitter has been in the news a lot lately for its possible takeover, live streaming, changing character limits, etc. Seeing so many things changing with Twitter, I started to wonder what it is about this platform that keeps me coming back to it. I think the reason Twitter is my social media platform of choice is because of its unique ability to break news and the ability to start a movement with a hashtag.

6,000 tweets per second, 500 million tweets per day, 200 billion tweets per year. 

Those numbers are crazy! Twitter, a social networking site that lets users send, receive, and read 140 character ‘tweets’ was launched in July 2006. With more than 131 million active users (including all of #IS6621), Twitter is huge! The sheer size of the platform and how often people get on it demonstrates what a powerful tool it is.

As a former journalist, I love Twitter. It’s the only social media network that I use and I check it multiple times per day. When I see something happening in real life (think I’m supposed to say IRL) and I want to know what it is, the first thing I do is look on Twitter. When How I Met Your Mother finally revealed the mothers identity, I had no idea who the actress was, so I got on Twitter and found out instantly. A few months ago, I was sitting in my apartment when I heard a group of people chanting outside. I looked out and saw a large group of men marching down Comm Ave. The roads weren’t closed, there weren’t signs anywhere, it wasn’t in the newspaper. I jumped onto Twitter and saw that it was a local ROTC group doing some kind of drill. I was hoping for something a little more interesting, like a protest with a trending hashtag, but either way, I was in the know because of Twitter.

That’s what is so cool about Twitter to me. People are able to share instant updates and are forced to say it as short and sweet as possible. This obviously has an impact on us and how we hear about news and events. Before Twitter, our main source of news came largely from newspapers (web or print) or TV. While many of us still get detailed reporting from newspapers, we are getting breaking news from Twitter.

Twitter seems to know everything first. Before news of a protest hits the AP Wire, you can find someone posting about it on Twitter.

Twitter’s biggest impact on news coverage is reporters make minute-by-minute decisions on what they publish and who reads it, versus the old days when a small group of editors held that power over what went into the next day’s paper,” said Professor of Business Journalism at the University of Illinois, Alecia Swasy.

screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-10-04-08-pmDuring the Boston Marathon bombing, Twitter was integral for updates. The two bombs went off at 2:48PM, the Boston Globe sent their first tweet about that event at 2:57PM and continued to tweet updates as information came in and was confirmed. Before the bombing, the Globe averaged 40 tweets per day, on April 15, 2013 they sent over 150. There were journalist who were on the scene to cover the marathon and journalist who were running it who immediately took to Twitter to report what they saw was happening. Read the full story about how Twitter was used by the Globe, the Boston Police Department, and Boston residents over the course of this nightmare.

In 2014, 14% of people who used social media posted their own photos of news events. “This practice has played a role in a number of recent breaking news events, including the riots in Ferguson, Mo.”

These are extreme examples, but both illustrate just how fast and important of a tool Twitter can be. People go to Twitter immediately following an event they don’t exactly understand to try to get answers. When people hear noises or see people fleeing, that information hasn’t been published in a newspaper yet, it is more likely it has made it on Twitter. On the night the bomb went off in Chelsea on September 17, I received an AP Alert that it had happened. I got on Twitter and saw live photos and videos of what was happening.

The rapid fire nature of Twitter has had a major impact on how newsrooms run. Most newspapers have interns or reporters whose job it is to keep an eye on Twitter for breaking news. Newspapers have created Twitter accounts and have embedded live feeds on the homepage of their own websites. The structure of putting news into the world has changed, “news outlets often tweet first, then post online, then print,” said Professor Swasy.

Twitter is also great for inventing the hashtag movement. In response to a series of shootings involving police officers and black citizens, the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag was created and became one of the most commonly used hashtags, the second most commonly used in 2015. In light of recent shootings in Tulsa and North Carolina, the hashtag continues to be used to spread awareness.  

Hashtags have been used to raise awareness of social issues, as well as medical ones. For instance, the #icebucketchallenge put a disease, ALS, that wasn’t that well known into the spotlight, and became an unbelievably successful campaign (with results).

The world of breaking news and spreading awareness is forever changed by Twitter and, to me, it seems like a good thing. What do you think? Is the world of Twitter a good or bad tool for distributing news, spreading awareness, starting social movements?



  1. Aditya Murali · ·

    Becca, great post! Twitter has done what no other media platform has done before; they’ve made a huge amount of information available to a wide audience by condensing things into bite-sized, easily digestible tweets. Because of this, general awareness about different issues nationally and internationally has definitely gone up. We are definitely more tolerant, understanding, and informed than ever before. My only issue is that Twitter has made it so hard for us to read anything that has more than 140 characters. In recent years, I’ve found it harder and harder to read articles or essays, because I’m used to reading one tweet and moving on to a different topic. Twitter has definitely made our depth of understanding of any topic or issue a lot more shallow, and that is my only issue with the platform.

  2. Great blog post on a social media platform that is going to through a lot of changes and updates recently! I am not a big user of Twitter myself, but I do see how many people use it on a daily basis to get their news. It is so effective to keep updated on what is happening, especially in emergencies and disasters that you mentioned. Live updates, such as news, is probably the most effective aspect of Twitter as a social network but many other platforms like Facebook and Snapchat can be used for that now so it will be interesting to see how it will evolve and stay relevant!

  3. This is a great post! I particularly liked it because I, myself, have never been an avid Twitter user before this class and having had to form an account for it. It was great to hear a different point of view of how you use the social media platform in your every day life outside of #IS6621 and I found that you gained tremendous credibility with the examples you mentioned such as the Boston Marathon bombing and how Twitter kept people informed and up-to-date within minutes of the occurrence. I have started to come around to Twitter myself and even found myself checking it, too, to see what different news channels had to say on Twitter during and after the presidential debate last night. Maybe I’m starting to catch the Twitter bug too! Great work.

  4. Really nice post. I feel like the popular press spends so much time berating Twitter for what it’s not (i.e. a money making machine like Facebook), instead of appreciating it for what it is. I’m actually hopeful that the talks of a buyout might take some of the pressure off and allow Twitter to chart its own course forward.

  5. vicmoriartybc · ·

    Twitter is also my favorite social network, so I related a lot to your post! Many of my friends have news apps like CNN, but I find myself just checking Twitter when I want to find out about the latest news. The days of turning on the 10 o’clock news to find out the latest stories are over, now that people can just find out about things immediately when they happen on Twitter. It’s ironic that you used the example of the Boston Marathon bombing, because I actually remember being in my high school’s gym after school when I first heard about the incident, via a tweet. Clearly, since that was over 3 years ago now, Twitter has only gotten more and more relevant as a source for news.

  6. I feel bad for Twitter sometimes. It’s consistently seen as one of the lagging social networks, but really, it’s still so important to how modern populations get information. I find it funny that news sources now write things like “The New York Times broke the story last night…via Twitter.” How is it that a seminal American publication now goes immediately to a ten year old social network to report breaking news? I also think that Twitter is great in that it allows for a collective effort in terms of reporting current happenings – your point about local citizens posting about the Ferguson riots illustrates that. Anyone can act as a journalist, and the mass amount of information is great for news outlets, because they have much more material at their disposal.

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