Selfies and Scotland top Twitter in 2014

The World Cup and a growing obsession with celebrity selfies have broken Twitter records this year. The social hub is more popular than ever, but is it changing news for better or worse?

A thrilling World Cup tournament, the mysterious and tragic disappearance of a giant jumbo jet, and a historic referendum that would determine the fate of a nation: these are just some of the topics that got Twitter users tweeting feverishly in 2014.

This week, the company behind the global hub of online chatter released their annual round-up of the year’s most talked about events.

On top was the World Cup, which became the most tweeted event ever, generating 672 million tweets. Germany’s sensational 7-1 semi-final thrashing of hosts Brazil and Wayne Rooney’s equaliser against Uruguay were among the most mentioned tweets in the UK.

Twitter has also dubbed 2014 the year of the selfie, with users worldwide mentioning the word an astonishing 92 million times, an increase of 500% on 2013. Ellen DeGeneres’ star-studded Oscar photo, taken on a mobile phone, was the cream of the crop. Retweeted more than three million times, it has set a new Twitter record.

In the UK, the most talked about news event was the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in March, followed by the Scottish Independence referendum, the inquest into the death of Mark Duggan, and the death of US actor and comedian Robin Williams.

Twitter has transformed newsrooms the world over since its founding in 2006. As well as staying ahead of events and reaching a wider audience, journalists often use it to tap into trends, churning out endless stories based on what grips us most, regardless of whether the event in question has any real significance.

And for all Twitter’s power to influence the global agenda, celebrities still hold serious sway. Incredibly, Harry Styles’ bland words of thanks to fans of his band One Direction were retweeted more than 359,000 times, more than any other tweet in the UK this year.

Of tweets and twits

Twitter encourages people to become more engaged with the world around them, allowing them to join in conversations and debates that determine what journalists print in their papers. Sometimes ordinary people even break the stories themselves. In the words of one commentator, ‘the traditional relationship between authority and popular will has been upended' thanks to Twitter 'making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, co-ordinate, and give voice to their concerns.’

But others say this simply isn’t true. While Twitter is undeniably powerful, above all else it reveals how self-obsessed and trivial our ‘concerns’ really are. All we care about are sensational events, football fixtures and frivolous photos of grinning stars. Twitter encourages our superficiality by giving us a quick news fix, but fosters no meaningful commitment to the world at large.

You Decide

  1. What was the most tweet-worthy event that happened this year?
  2. Has Twitter changed the world for better or for worse?

Activities

  1. In no more than 140 characters (the length of a tweet), write an opinion, slogan, or poem that sums up this story.
  2. Do some research and put together a timeline chronicling the most important moments in the history of Twitter. Take a vote in class and be prepared to justify your choices.

Some People Say...

“Twitter will be the end of civilization, not global warming, not world conflict.’David Letterman”

What do you think?

Q & A

Isn’t Twitter just a passing fad?
Twitter now has more than 500 million users, with popes and presidents among them. It has lasted far longer and made more of an impact on the world than many other tech start-ups. But even if it is about to be replaced by something new, that begs all sorts of questions about what the future of social networking will one day look like.
Should I get involved with it?
Many of us use Twitter simply to offer mindless and mundane snippets of our lives to the world. Yet it’s undeniable that the explosion in social technology in recent years makes us more connected than ever before too. Whether Twitter makes us more self-involved and superficial, or whether it makes us smarter and more knowledgeable, depends entirely on how we use it.

Word Watch

Mark Duggan
Mark Duggan was shot and killed by police officers attempting to arrest him on suspicion of planning an attack, and for possessing a handgun. His death sparked a wave of protests across London and other UK cities. Yet an inquest concluded in January that his killing had been lawful.
Robin Williams
Williams, the star of popular films such as ‘Jumanji’, ‘Good Will Hunting’ and ‘Good Morning, Vietnam,’ committed suicide in August.
Words of thanks
The tweet reads: ‘4 years. Thank you to everyone who is involved in this. I feel so lucky to be part of it. Everyone who has worked with us thank you’.
Arab Spring
Some say that social media facilitated the eruption of the anti-government protests across the Middle East, as people could more easily communicate and organise themselves. Mark Pfeifle, a former US national-security adviser, even called for Twitter to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Break the stories
In 2011, an IT consultant living in Abbottabad mused on Twitter about a helicopter hovering above him. It wasn’t too long before journalists realised the US raid on Osama bin Laden was unfolding.

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