Despite The Atlantic’s elegy for Twitter last week, the real-time social network simply isn’t dead. Far from it—instead of dying a natural death, it may be undergoing a similarly natural process: evolving with the times to maintain its relevance. The half-life of the Internet grows shorter and shorter, forcing would-be social media companies to either adapt or fade into obscurity.
Part of the false perception of Twitter’s purported demise is its near-constant comparison to Facebook. From Wall Street investors to the layman who utters Twitter in the same breath as Facebook as though the two companies are partners, Facebook and Twitter are thus paired as the icons of social media. But, as Will Oremus at Slate correctly points out, that comparison is misleading. Facebook focuses on connecting you with people you know in real life; Twitter helps you share content with strangers. You can’t share photo albums, invite people to events, or instant message people on Twitter; it’s a largely impersonal space. Twitter is a portal into public discourse, a tool that allows a glimpse into groupthink, and provides a platform to build your own public persona.
Twitter is indicative of a new trend of communication; its real-time format has expanded the reach of conversations from a handful of people offline to dozens or hundreds at a time. You even can be made or broken by a single tweet: the seemingly innocuous tweet by communications professional Justine Sacco did not only cost Sacco her job, but her company’s shareholders their wealth, at least temporarily. Ellen DeGeneres’s Oscar selfie got over 3 million favorites and 1.5 million retweets. News anchors refer to tweets on the air to either bolster their claims or to get immediate feedback on their shows.
A social media platform that has become an indispensable part of the public discourse will remain alive as long as people value its service. It may have lost its “little platoon” feel, but that is the result of an increase in users, an unfortunate byproduct of expansion. In order to maintain the “good neighbors” aspect of Twitter, users may have to put up some good fences to protect their conversations from the wake of larger-scale shouting matches.
This past weekend, the White House Correspondent’s Dinner had a formidable Twitter presence, and the hashtag #BringOurGirlsHome has been gaining momentum, prompting the Nigerian government to take more action to rescue hundreds of kidnapped schoolgirls. These are not the symptoms of a dead or dying organism. They are the signs of a growing, changing, complex system.