Is Twitter going backwards?

Posted on May 17, 2017

 

My personal relationship with Twitter has always been something of an up and down one. It took me a while to ‘get it’ at all, then I finally embraced it and started to find it a great place to discover breaking news and hot topics, even if I’ve never tweeted much myself.

I now appreciate that Twitter is a unique social media site and something many of us can’t imagine living without, but recently I’ve started to find it a bit like a playground on another planet, where the emptiest vessels not only make the most noise, but seem to have the most appreciative audience too. It seems like a world where being as brazen and bolshie as possible is rewarded, with little regard for any quality or meaningful discussion.

You will probably have heard by now about Carter Wilkerson, the Nevada teenager who successfully blagged a year’s supply of chicken nuggets from fast food restaurant Wendy’s by getting a record number of retweets. It’s a story that seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people – at the time of writing, 3,605,534 people to be exact.

The story does show some of the positive sides of Twitter. It shows that anyone can use it to get what they want and achieve worldwide fame with a bit of dedication and knowhow. It also shows that companies can go ultra-viral if they get involved in a social media phenomenon, which is always encouraging in an increasingly competitive and digitalised business world. Perhaps best of all, a $100K donation to foster care charity The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption came out of the whole affair.

Away from a marketing and financial perspective though, what’s the moral of this story from a societal point of view? Don’t ask, don’t get? The squeaking wheel gets the grease? Or is it that the best way to get people behind a campaign is to come up with one that requires the absolute minimum of thought and effort from them?

What I’m getting towards is that, personally, I find the story a little empty. I mean, good luck to young Mr. Wilkerson and everything and I commend his effort, but I really couldn’t care less whether he gets a load of junk food or not. The story doesn’t give me a warm feeling inside, or a sense of “ha, that showed them!” It just seems, well, a rubbish story.

In a world of so much injustice, hardship and corruption, it’s an odd reflection of 2017 society that the cause more rallied around than any other in Twitter’s history is this story of first-world gluttony. A story about convenience food. A story that doesn’t require us to think too hard.

And if you don’t think too hard, you might think that supporting a cheeky young scamp in his attempts to get free scran off Wendy’s is a great way of ‘sticking it to the man’. One thing I’m pretty sure of though is that, except for Wilkerson himself, nobody will be more delighted at the way this whole campaign panned out than Wendy’s. Rustling up a few chicken nuggets will be a small price to pay for the exposure they’ve got from this. This was a huge online marketing drive for them, and they barely had to lift a finger for it. Wilkerson set it up, 3.6 million people helped promote it, and Wendy’s basically just sat back and watched.

From a business point of view, that really shows the immense power of Twitter and is something that should excite me, but this particular example just seems so devoid of meaning and is almost vulgar. Wilkerson didn’t need all those chicken nuggets, and nor did Wendy’s need this level of publicity. I much prefer stories like the one of The Big Green Bookshop spamming Piers Morgan because there’s a lot more humour and karma there. Genuine points are being made and lessons, you would hope, are being learned.

On a 2015 episode of his ‘Modern Life is Goodish’ programme, comedian Dave Gorman spoke about people who use Twitter as an ‘online wishing well’. The site certainly can become a madhouse of fist-banging, attention-seeking spoilt brats whose entire Twitter output can be summarised as “look at me, I want this and I want that!”

That brings me neatly to US President Donald Trump, a man who seems to spend all day every day tweeting about himself and his own warped view of the world to his almost 30 million followers. Would he ever have got into the White House without Twitter? What about people like the appalling Morgan and Katie Hopkins, who seem to be making a living out of bashing out constant hurtful and ignorant garbage 140 characters at a time? Is this really modern communication? It seems extremely regressive.

Perhaps the problem is not Twitter, but society. Everyone is either old and cynical (like me), or young and apathetic, but the upshot in both cases is that little of any value ever gets done. For crying out loud everybody, shape up! There are all sorts of crazy things going on all over the world. Get angry! Get an edge! Make a difference in this world! The UK is weeks away from possibly its most important election in a lifetime and staggering numbers of young people are not even registered to vote. Are we all just going to chicken out?

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.
John Murray
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