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Have we passed peak Twitter?
For my recent 54th birthday my wife bought me an antique piano. I have always wanted to learn to play but ended up in the brass section at school as third cornet. Before bringing in a professional tutor, I’ve taken some online courses and the plonking, inharmonious sounds that are emitting from our dining room could be designated by the RSPCA as cruelty to our dogs! One reason for this is my almost complete inability to use my left hand. My daughter, who is a doctor, has urged me to continue the piano, saying that this kind of activity is good for exercising parts of the brain that have gone dormant, thus helping to see off dementia in older years. My wife and daughter clearly think I need urgent music therapy!
The point about my left hand has set me thinking. I am typing this article with one or two fingers on my right hand, my car is now an automatic so my left hand is no longer needed to change gear and my right hand has become even more dominant as a result of my phone and social media. It is no wonder the left hand piano notes cause me so many problems, I have become hard wired to the 21st Century and Twitter!
As somebody working in PR, I have cause to advise on the use of social media many times a week. I am active on many different platforms and I’m in many networks. My mobile phone is attached to me from morning to night, but recently I have been asking, have we passed ‘peak Twitter?’ I am on the social network, as you can see via my twitter handle, but my main business communications are now done via LinkedIn. I’m also making more use of video – that way my messages are less open to misinterpretation. I still retweet things that I believe in and give short comments about contemporary issues. I also use it as a newsfeed in business – but always linking to pictures, videos or longer articles where full explanations are possible. Some PR professionals are obsessed with the platform and miss the point that the message is the most important. The pub chain, Wetherspoons, did not suffer in the least when it closed down most of its social media-based marketing a few weeks ago. It is concentrating on its message, which is delivered effectively on its website and via an app. Furthermore, reporters and commentators who think comment on Twitter indicates public opinion are sorely deprived of the facts.
A few weeks ago the local elections were being seen as a moment of judgement on Mrs May. Twitter was alive with left wing and pro-EU comment suggesting a combination of the Labour leadership’s neo-marxism and disgruntled anti-Brexit campaigners were convincing electors to give the Government a good kicking. But that sentiment was not shared by voters. Mrs May had a score draw in terms of vote share, won a council in London and the small swing from Labour to Conservative at the 2017 election in the North East, was confirmed in 2018 as Conservatives won council seats in South Shields and Sunderland.
It is clear the public as a whole has never placed much trust in social media, and what trust they had is declining.
The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, which is the largest and longest-running study of trust in the world, has established that just under 25% of people trust social media.
There are multiple reasons for this. According to the research, around 70% of us think social media companies fail to stop illegal or unethical behaviours from taking place on their platforms.
A similar number think those firms do not do enough to stop extremist content from being shared and 69% of people are concerned about online bullying. More generally, over a third of Britons think social media is good for society as a whole, but 64% believe social media companies are not sufficiently regulated, while 62% are concerned about the use of personal data.
I am fascinated to see how social media and conventional media work together, and saw it demonstrated at an unfortunate incident in Gateshead last Thursday. I had cause to visit the offices of Gateshead Council on business and that morning a fire had broken out at the Regents Court block of flats opposite. Fire engines, police and emergency services were all in attendance and dozens of people were filming on their phones and posting on social media. I asked a couple of people what had happened and they all replied that they didn’t know the details but would read about it in the Journal or watch it on TV. When it came to drama and ill-informed speculation people instantly migrated to social media, but even those present at the scene would look to traditional media for facts upon which to based their opinion. In real life situations the public see social media for what it is; gossip and instant judgements wrapped up in a torrent of contrary opinion using terrible grammar.
So, I am a social media sceptic and addict at the same time. Like the drinker who knows it is not healthy to imbibe, I will continue to post. However, I will persevere learning the piano, and maybe the function in my left hand will return!