I have 89 followers on Twitter. That’s pretty pathetic. I change my car’s oil more often than I tweet.
Twitter and I are just mutual acquaintances-not close enough to hang out but close enough to wave at each other in passing.
But most of the world disagrees with me. More than 170 billion tweets have been sent since Twitter’s creation in 2006. Its now become a source for a large amount of people to get their news from. Close to 30 percent of people receive their news from social media, according to the 2012 State of the News Media report.
Not only are people just reading news from Twitter, people are breaking and shaping news on Twitter.
In 2008, an American graduate student tweeted that he had been arrested at an anti-government protest in Egypt. Extreme pressure caused the authorities to release him from jail the next day. This was an early indicator of the power of Twitter.
In 2011, Twitter played a major role in the “Arab Spring” uprisings as the protestors used the social networks to message each other and organize.
More recently, terrorist organizations have been using Twitter to claim responsibility for destruction or murders.
During the recent Kenyan mall attacks, the fighting between the terrorists and the Kenyan police was mirrored on Twitter as al-Shabab, the terrorist group behind the attack, justified its actions and taunted Kenyans through tweets.
One of its messages reads: “You could have avoided all this and lived your lives with relative safety. Remove your forces from our country and peace will come #Westgate.”
The Kenyan police kept the public updated on the mall attack through Twitter as well. One of its last tweets was: “Dear Kenyans, its over. Let’s us now build a better Kenya. Our work is cut out to serve you all.”
These groups are fighting for people’s hearts, and a fight for the heart has mattered throughout history. In the past, leaders controlled what books could be printed with the new Gutenberg press.
Struggles over information printed in newspapers have played out through history. Several countries such as North Vietnam still have newspapers controlled by the government.
Now governments and organizations use Twitter and other social media.
Though our means of communication has changed, it’s easy to see a pattern throughout history: those who have the power to communicate to the people have the power to win the people over.
Words matter. Even if they’re only 140 characters long.