When Twitter Makes the Difference… And When It Doesn’t

Written by Nikki Peters

By Rebecca McLeod

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. Especially in relation to badgers, but more of that later.

When does Twitter make a difference?  And when does it just make us think we’re making a difference… but in reality distracts us from doing something that really would make a difference.

Bear with me on this one…

Sometimes Twitter is like a comfort blanket.  You surround yourself with like-minded people and seek reassurance in your homogenous views.  You are indignant at the same things and you are happy about the same things.

In essence Twitter can be a big, comfy duvet of views and people just like you. You can wrap yourself in it tightly, like a giant caterpillar, and conveniently forgot that anyone, anywhere disagrees with you (at least in any meaningful way).

When you are in your snuggly Twitter duvet there is no need to change the world.  Look, it’s just fine the way it is. After all, everyone agrees that reducing the time limit for abortion to 12 weeks as per Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s ‘announcement’ is just plain wrong.  Look at my Twitter newsfeed… oh wait, that’s just my Twitter newsfeed.

But sometimes Twitter is a petri-dish.   It’s where germs of ideas and movements grow. A trigger for people to take action; to march; to sign a petition; or just to annoy their work colleagues about something that needs to change.

So what’s the difference between Twitter inertia and Twitter change? For me, it’s all about what happens in the real world.

Once you’ve been sucked into the world of Twitter, are permanently glued to your iPhone and take perverse pleasure in piecing together the day’s news stories from other people’s comments on them, it can be hard to remember that not everyone is in love with, or even on, Twitter.

There are still vast swathes of people who can’t be reached directly through social media.  And here, more traditional means (newspapers, television, good old-fashioned leaflets and letters) triumph.

And weirdly enough, that’s when Twitter comes into its own.

Look at @NoMorePage3 ‘s campaign, which asks editor of The Sun, Dominic Mohan, very politely to “drop the bare boobs” from his newspaper.  It started gaining traction and support on Twitter, but moved pretty quickly to mainstream media like Newsnight, This Morning and Glamour Magazine.  It got the support of columnists like The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan and Caitlin Moran.  And as I type the petition is heading towards 50,000 signatures.

The same can be said of the anti-badger cull campaign.  At one point it seemed not an hour would pass without someone asking me to sign on Twitter. And that campaign has now far surpassed the threshold of 100,000 signatures needed for The House of Commons to at least ‘think about’ debating it.  But it wasn’t Twitter on its own that did that.  It was the support of animal charities like the League Against Cruel Sports; celebrities like Brian May; and the wide spread appeal the campaign had in the mainstream press.  After all, which newspaper picture editor can resist the opportunity to print a cute badger pic?

Twitter is a great sounding ground.  A great place to test ideas, swap thinking, listen to others more expert than you and come to a better understanding of a topic.  It’s a great place for a campaign to start and be refined.  But it’s not a great place for a campaign to stay. Not if you want real change.


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