Twitter Essay

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Twitter is a free service that combines elements of blogging and social networking and is considered as a form of social media. Commonly described as a microblogging service, it is one of a class of communication and information platforms defined as social awareness streams that allow for the rapid and immediate sharing of content.

Launched in August 2006 by San Francisco start-up Odeo, Twitter rose to prominence during key news events in 2008 and 2009. By October 2013, it had more than 215 million monthly active users and 500 million messages daily, describing itself as “a real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what you find interesting.” Users can send instant messages, called tweets, of 140 characters or under to people who have subscribed to the messages. The tweets are usually accessible to a wider audience, as most accounts are public. The retweet is generally used to resend messages and the @ symbol is used to reply to or to mention another user. The hashtag (#) is used to associate messages with specific topics, which can be tracked and ranked to indicate popularity.

Status updating and the sharing of news and information have become the dominant uses of Twitter (van Dijck 2012). News organizations have used Twitter to gather, report, and distribute news, with journalists largely transferring existing norms and practices, and concerns over the professional and personal boundaries (Hermida 2013). Twitter and other participatory platforms gain prominence as news channels when mainstream media access is limited or restricted and/or a story is rapidly unfolding, compressing news cycles. Tweets provide an ambient mix of news, information, and comment, usually connected to current reality, but without an established order based on journalistic vnorms (Hermida 2013). The convergence of news, fact, rumor, speculation, and opinion has prompted news outlets to issue social media guidelines and the development of practices for real-time live reporting using Twitter (Hermida 2013). Studies suggest Twitter can function as a mechanism for collaborative storytelling and filtering, with narratives constructed organically from the aggregate behaviour of a crowd (Meraz and Papacharissi 2013). There is debate about the role of Twitter and associated social media platforms in social movements, with studies indicating it may have helped to amplify messages and mobilize resistance in cases such as the Egyptian uprising.


  1. Hermida, A. (2013). #Journalism: Reconfiguring journalism research about Twitter, one tweet at a time. Digital Journalism, 1(3), 295–313.
  2. Meraz, S. & Papacharissi, Z., (2013). Networked gatekeeping and networked framing on #Egypt. International Journal of the Press and Politics, 18(2), 1–29.
  3. van Dijck, J. (2012). Tracing Twitter: The rise of a microblogging platform. International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics, 7(3), 333–348.

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