By Moisés A. Cabrera
In 2006, a group of young software programmers from a company called Odeo created a revolutionary online platform that would become known as Twitter. Even though it started as a simple group messaging service, its purpose soon evolved. And after being opened to the public in 2007, the programmers soon recognized that Twitter was more than a simple messaging service, it could also improve the dissemination of information. Since this social media service platform came into being, Twitter has changed the news cycle and helped to connect people from around the globe. Now, people can get real-time information and find like-minded people to discuss topics that are important to them.
One reason why Twitter is so essential is its ability to provide outside information. It helps people remain knowledgeable about important decisions made by their government whether they are in the country or not. A recent example is the U.S. government shutdown. From December 2018 to January 2019, when public employees were furloughed, they and their families received real-time updates on the shutdown through Twitter. Aside from it being used to obtain official government information, people can also use social media to learn what their political leaders are thinking. For instance, President Donald Trump broadcasts many of his interpretations on recent events, along with government policies, from his verified Twitter account. And despite no longer being president, Barack Obama has 106 million Twitter followers, showcasing how seriously people still value his insight.
Along with broadcasting the opinions of thought-leaders, Twitter has also revolutionized advocacy work. In 2014, people banded together to protest Boko Haram kidnapping hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls by tweeting #bringbackourgirls. This trending topic helped bring the issue to light and push the United Nations to investigate the kidnapping. In addition to promoting particular platforms, Twitter has also become essential to organizing protests. For example, when the president of Moldova ordered a vote recount after losing his re-election in 2010, citizens used Twitter to hold mass demonstrations in the capital city of Chisinau—leading a digital revolution.
Social movements can quickly grow on Twitter, and “hashtag” culture has become an essential part of activism and information sharing. Recently, sexual assault survivors and women around the world have joined the #metoomovement, which originated on the social media platform. While, in 2018, #cryptocurrency helped to promote Bitcoin and made it a hot topic of discussion in the financial world. This connected and open community is especially important in a country where people are not able to speak freely. In some states, due to limited and censored information, people find themselves disempowered and unaware of what their government may be doing. However, if these barriers are lifted, an engaged and active populace can emerge. In June 2009, when the Iranian government held general elections many were upset about the results. In response, the Iranian administration forced local public/private media companies to close. Instead of eliminating dissent, Iranians then turned to Twitter for their news, which provided outside information from international news sources and helped many disaffected citizens to mobilize and protest.
Moisés A. Cabrera is an electromechanical engineer, foreign policy analyst from the Dominican Republic, and a foreign policy commentator on radio and television. He is currently studying at City College of New York.
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