Getting Government Out of Twitter

From the beginning, Twitter executives wanted users to rely on their service in moments of crisis. The company’s founder, Jack Dorsey, told 60 Minutes a decade ago that he got the idea for Twitter in part from listening to a police scanner when he was a child. In a subsequent interview, he suggested that he first understood the platform’s power after a tremor in the Bay Area: “I was in the office on a Saturday, and my phone buzzed, and it was a tweet, and it said simply, ‘Earthquake.’” By 2015, the U.S. Geological Survey was using Twitter to better monitor earthquakes and people’s reactions to those earthquakes in areas where the agency lacked sufficient sensors.

Perhaps it and other agencies were naive to depend so much on a private company’s willingness to continue providing a free communications service. But Twitter clearly relished its own importance in times of crisis, which presumably contributed to the platform’s overall popularity…

Successful relief efforts focus on deploying the people, processes, and technology necessary to deliver information and resources quickly. Twitter captured the disaster market, so to speak, because it was a technology with no equal.

Elon Musk has Broken Disaster-Response Twitter” by Juliette Kayyem, The Atlantic, February 28, 2023.

In the past, the presence of so many government agencies and elected officials on Twitter has been a mutually beneficial relationship. With Twitter, public entities and officials got a free and very loud megaphone to reach audiences and journalists. In return, Twitter benefited from the legitimacy and network effects of being the de facto platform for official breaking news of all kinds.

Given the continuing shitshow that characterizes the Musk era at Twitter, I hope our government agencies and public officials are looking hard at alternatives that aren’t captive to the whims of just one egotistical dude. The public deserves better.