Twitter is having a bad patch. Its share price is down, there have been redundancies and rumours that a takeover is on the cards. Beyond that, it has acquired something of a dodgy reputation. People are sniffy about it – they usually like to tell you they don’t use it before they tell you what’s wrong with it. They say it’s a shouty place, full of trolls, showoffs and self-obsessed celebrities #hashtagging #themselves #into #oblivion. They call it a life-sucking habit that takes us out of the moment and away from what’s “real”. A facile pursuit that is shrinking our vocabularies one emoji at a time.
They’re right, of course. A little bit right. It is all those things, but (surprise!) the reality is more complicated, because it’s also other things. Twitter at its best is funny, interesting, affirming, life-enhancing and horizon-broadening. My favourite thing about it, though – the reason I still love it and that I hope it weathers the storm – is that its heroes are women.
This occurred to me the other night as I watched JK Rowling calmly hand an MP their arse on a plate (from my sofa while my husband fired up Netflix – tell me again how horribly “unreal” technology is?). Twitter is the perfect place for brainy broads. It’s a counterintuitive thought in some ways. The received wisdom is that women have a terrible time there, and – of course – this is partly true. Female tweeters suffer appalling abuse because of their gender and it’s frankly amazing that the company waited until December to do something about it. All the same, (to paraphrase Beyoncé) who run the platform?
Twitter is one of the few places a woman can go where all anybody’s staring at is her wits
Of the top 20 most-followed Twitter accounts, 11 belong to women, 5 to men and to 4 corporations, including Twitter itself. Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Ellen DeGeneres are top of the tree, but this isn’t just a question of reach (the amount of eyeballs that may pass over a message without necessarily engaging with it); it’s also about influence. Women get a lot of shit on Twitter, but they also make the weather. Rowling is a fine example but there are many more. Emma Watson, Roxane Gay, Caitlin Moran, Laura Bates (of @everydaysexism), Mary Beard, Lindy West, the No More Page 3 women…. In a media landscape that is distinguished by a lack of diversity, Twitter stands out as a place where all kinds of female voices can cut through.
The discussions begin on the site but frequently spread beyond it, changing the conversation around the world. As a user, Twitter has allowed me to get to know an inspiring mix of people in a way I wouldn’t have been able to before. I can drop in and find out what they’ve been up to, have a laugh, ponder an idea they’ve been chewing over, or (best-case scenario) watch them win an argument with an idiot.
One of Twitter’s biggest obstacles to growth is that most users “lurk” without posting, so it’s essentially a spectator sport. This is such a shame. In the main I follow people who I don’t know much about other than that they make me laugh, cry or think differently (we’ve been able to persuade some of them to write for us here at The Pool, like the brilliant @lucytweet1, @missellabell @we_are_food and @NotRollerGirl). If you’re a lurker with something to say - join in! It’s one of the few places a woman can go where all anybody’s staring at is her wits.
Of course like any social media platform, how you use it colours your view. For me, Twitter is still a place where new ideas can grow, and where stories that wouldn’t usually make the front pages can be spotlit. I had suspected that this was confirmation bias – a reflection of who I follow and the kind of content I look for – but in fact a look at Twitter’s biggest news stories of 2015 shows that equality and diversity are the dominant talking points. The ten most popular hashtags of the year included #blacklivesmatter, #marriageequality, #refugeeswelcome, #lovewins, #IstandwithAhmed, #CaitlynJenner and #WomensWorldCup. Twitter is still somewhere people are talking about things that really matter. I hope the blue bird keeps flying.