How Twitter Is Redefining Itself for a Post-Trump Future
New product features are rolling out to broaden the platform’s appeal. Will they work?
It’s easy to forget now, but there was a time when a popular view of Twitter was that of a largely frivolous platform for celebrities and their fans. Yes, Twitter has always had its serious side — it played notable roles in the Arab Spring circa 2011 and the Ferguson protests of 2014 — and its dark side, including rampant racism and misogyny from anonymous accounts. But before 2016, it was known less as a political and sociocultural battleground than as a venue for silly memes and pop-culture moments, like the Oscars selfie snapped by Ellen DeGeneres in 2014 that broke the record for the most-shared tweet of all time.
Also easy to forget is that, in 2016, Twitter’s future was in doubt. Its user base had stagnated; it was losing money; and worst of all, it couldn’t figure out what it wanted to be. A place to passively follow topics of interest? A second screen for live events? A hub for live video in its own right? It didn’t seem to matter what it tried: As a Verge headline put it in 2016, “nothing Twitter is doing is working.” The company’s outlook was so bleak that it was soliciting offers for a corporate buyout — except nobody wanted to buy it. Disney passed because it found Twitter “too nasty”; Salesforce bowed out after CEO Marc Benioff hurt his knee and took it as a sort of celestial sign.
Then came the election of Donald Trump, and for four years, everything turned around. But that four years is almost up. Is Twitter ready to thrive without the tweeter-in-chief? A series of coming product changes, including this week’s launch of Fleets, will test its ability to broaden its appeal beyond that of an ideological Thunderdome or a news ticker for the demise of democracy.
Trump redefined Twitter. Now Twitter has to redefine itself.
- Trump’s presidency may have saved Twitter. A president whose candidacy had been fueled by Twitter conspiracies and the MAGA hashtag came to rely on the platform as his direct line to the public and his supporters. It let him bypass not just traditional media…