By Lindsey Challis
I read an article last week that weighed up if Twitter is good for democracy – whether it’s a forum for debate that allows the wider populace to be heard, or a cluster of #sheep repeating the same sentiments.
Admittedly, there is a lot of repetition on Twitter and the nature of the retweet only adds to this. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. However, as Reddit pushes the most popular things in its community towards the ‘front page’, popular Twitter topics start trending. Redditors and Tweeters can instantly see the conversations shaping public discourse, whether that be an X Factor strop or the latest revelations regarding a shamed television presenter.
It is foolish to believe that everyone reads the papers cover to cover, and as the pace of life increases and the volume of news content increases, the need to absorb information quickly is shaping how we consume and reflect on the news. Twitter’s popularity is, in my opinion, indicative of how we want to know what’s going on around us – quick, to the point, and above all current.
By the time news has hit the papers it’s often no longer new, the articles increasingly take an analytical approach, as they leave the breaking news for Twitter streams and websites. But, rather than swaying the headlines and giving a disproportionate amount of attention to a single view, I would argue that Twitter brings more people into a discussion and makes more people think about a current affair. It is far easier to overlook an article in a newspaper than ignore something all your friends and followers are tweeting about. If more people know about the EU getting the Nobel Peace Prize for example, then it naturally follows that more people will have an opinion on it.
Twitter also maximises the exposure of news around the internet. In a conversation among friends it’s often difficult to get into a conversation you know little about, and it is certainly easier to be swayed by those discussing it, particularly if they are the ones to explain the issue in the first place. With Twitter, the simplicity of being able to click on a link directing Tweeters to a news site and the ability to ‘Google it’, means that it is much more likely for the Tweeter to form their own opinion based on balanced information. Crucially, although the subject of an article may be dictated by its popularity on Twitter, the opinions generated, in it, from it and from the issue itself is more than ever likely to have a variety of influences.
It’s true that this does completely depend on which Tweeters you follow, what Tweets you pay attention to and how much you think before you Tweet – but at the very least, Twitter makes it easier for users to be aware of news, to understand the issue in question, and far quicker to form an opinion on that debate. Admittedly, people may be too quick to comment in some instances but that’s something which we’ve all been guilty of at some point! Like it or loathe it, no-one wants to be left in the dark and Twitter is shinning a light on many of the conversations that are shaping society today.