Apps that changed the world: Twitter

Twitter Main Pic

In our series in apps that changed the world, perhaps the most obvious candidates are social media sites and apps such as Facebook and Twitter. Twitter has arguably had more of an impact on the way we use our mobiles, and reporting and influence on world events, so without further ado here’s a brief rundown of how Twitter has changed the world.

Twitter’s influence on society

It’s fair to say that Twitter’s influence on society as a whole has been immense. The way that people use it has had considerable influence on the real world, for good and bad. During the Arab Spring for example, protestors used Twitter as a tool to organise their activities. And increasingly, news stories break first on Twitter as people all over the world share what’s happening before the reporters even arrive – information travels so quickly that information shared on Twitter becomes global instantly.

Twitter however isn’t always a force for good, as it has hit the headlines for cyber bullying and dozens of celebrity breakdowns. In fact, perhaps the so-called Twitterisation of communications is dumbing down the world’s media (in Japan, Twitter is called a baka hakkenki (バカ発見器), or an idiot detector)?

What isn’t in question though, is that the world certainly is a different place thanks to Twitter.

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Here are just a few examples of how big Twitter’s influence has been:

1. Tweeting presidential campaigns

Twitter Barack Obama

It was perhaps Barack Obama’s presidential campaign that took to the Twitterverse like no other before it. His campaign cleverly used Twitter to connect, organise, and reach out to followers. Its groundbreaking use of social media and online sites laid the foundations for all subsequent election campaigns.

Obama probably didn’t write all of his own Tweets, but he invariably had a Blackberry on hand and he tweeted a thank you note to his supporters when he won the race:

“We just made history. All of this happened because you gave your time, talent and passion. All of this happened because of you. Thanks”. That was apparently the first ever Tweet sent by a US president…

2. Twitter in journalism

Twitter Journalism

Twitter has undoubtedly changed journalism. The power of Twitter pretty much gave a leg up to digital journalism that made it real time and instant. After all, stories can be broken seconds after they happen in just 140 characters, laying the groundwork for larger stories and follow up articles.

Twitter has become one of the standard news platforms for journalists to break a story, as well as to monitor what’s going on in their backyard or half way around the world.

The power of Twitter as a news platform has also turned everyone into a citizen journalist. That might only be for a few short hours, as in the case of the January 2009 incident when a US Airways flight crashed in the Hudson River near New York.

There was a famous Tweet and picture taken by Janis Krums on his iPhone, which went viral: “There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy“. The post soon spread like wildfire around the world, and was perhaps the first time a Tweeted picture appeared on newspaper front pages all over the world.

3. Celebrities’ laid bare

Twitter Celebrities

Now there’s no better way to keep up with the activities of your favourite celebrities than via Twitter. It has been adopted with enthusiasm by celebs in ways that we could not have imagined. Tweets have alternately shocked and delighted, not to mention all the very public affairs, romances and breakups. Not to mention a host of embarrassing pics that the celebrities themselves seem to enjoy posting.

The English comedy genius Stephen Fry (who we believe is a follower of ours on Twitter – hello Stephen) once caused a huge media story when he famously Tweeted about being stuck in a lift:

“Ok. This is now mad. I am stuck in a lift on the 26th floor of Centre Point. Hell’s teeth. We could be here for hours. Arse, poo and widdle”.

There have also been the high profile races to have more than a million fans on Twitter – that was first won by Ashton Kutcher, but a few years later it took just one day for Charlie Sheen to achieve the same feat at the height of his very public personal issues.

Today, a million followers is small fry. According to, Katy Perry tops the charts with more than 68 million followers, followed by Justin Bieber with 62 million, with Barack Obama in third place…

4. Political revolutions

Twitter Revolution

Protesters love to use Twitter to spread the word. It’s use by political groups is very well known, but the upheavals in the Middle East demonstrate just how it can be used to drive social change.

There is of course lots of debate and differences of opinion about how much real impact Twitter and social media has had on the political scene around the world, but its impact in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya seems pretty hard to deny.

Twitter played a key role helping people get images of violence on the street to the outside world and into the newsrooms and wider public. A worrying sign is that countries like China and more recently Turkey, frequently block access to Twitter when they don’t like what they see.

5. Social media in real-time

Twitter Social Media

Twitter has become one of the mainstays of social media, and there are few conversations about the subject that do not mention the service – for good reason. It has become a platform that allows individuals and brands to build networks of connections with friends, associated, brands and celebrities.

More than any other social media channel, Twitter has given us real-time updates, turning the whole phenomenon into an ongoing conversation with interactions that were previously only possible face to face, or by a phone call.

The real-time nature of Twitter allows anyone to tap into the collective wisdom of thousands of people to raise issues and questions, or just to learn something new. It also allows us to listen and respond as the huge global community of millions of users express themselves.

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