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Knight Center


#Twitter7: Reflections on Twitter's role in the media

TwitterTwitter might just be the most influential seven-year-old in the world. On Thursday, March 21, the micro-blogging service celebrated its “birthday” seven years after Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey sent the first tweet. While some maligned the service at its inception, Twitter has grown into one of the most important news platforms in the world but its success has not come without some growing pains.

just setting up my twttr

— Jack Dorsey (@jack) March 21, 2006

Today, Twitter claims 200 million active users who send 400 million tweets every day, according to National Public Radio and The Washington Post. Twitter’s following is global and several Latin American countries rank among its heaviest users. At 41 million Brazil has the second largest number of Twitter users in the world, after the United States, which totals nearly 142 million, according to Semiocast.

Latin American political leaders are also some of the service’s most influential users. The late Hugo Chávez was listed as the second most influential head of state on Twitter after U.S. President Barack Obama, according to a report from the Digital Policy Council. The presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Argentina were also named among the service’s power users, according to a report cited by the Americas Society/Council of the Americas Online.

Twitter’s role as a major news and political platform came to fruition during the Arab Spring when pro-democracy protestors relied on tweets to organize. NPR’s Andy Carvin received acclaim in the United States for his pioneering work in news curation on Twitter, using the torrent of tweets from places like Tahrir Sqaure to question, verify and report news live as it happened.  Twitter was also hailed for its role in reporting the Aurora, Colo. movie theatre shooting and other breaking news stories.

Netizens in Mexico use Twitter as “informal correspondents” to share information about violent crime and drugs in the country, filling a void left by traditional media under fire from organized crime, according to a study by Microsoft Research.

Success stories aside, many are wary of the service’s ascendant role in the media. Twitter’s strength became a weakness during Hurricane Sandy and the Newtown, Conn. school shooting, when false information and rumors spread like wildfire across the service, tarnishing its role as a reliable news source.

The company’s steps to monetizing the service also stirred debate from critics who alleged the service’s new terms threatened its objectivity as a news source. Last fall, the company’s new API terms were derided for potentially shutting out newspapers and other organizations that integrate Twitter into their news and storytelling apps.

Last summer, Twitter infamously censored a tweet from a journalist who lambasted NBC, with whom the company had partnered to cover the Olympics, and tweeted the email of one of the network’s executives. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo told NPR that the decision was a mistake that they “won't make again.”

Growing pains aside, PandoDaily wrote on Friday that Twitter, “with all its warts,” is still indispensable for journalists and news junkies.

Watch a video from Twitter chronicling its development over the years:


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