Find out how Twitter works and the benefits and pitfalls of using it.
What is Twitter?
Twitter is a very popular “microblogging” service, that lets its users post short messages – of 140 characters or fewer – that can be read by anyone on the internet.
All you need to join Twitter is an active email account, and you’ll then be asked to choose a username which will become your persona on the service. Once joined, you can then “follow” any of the hundreds of millions of other Twitter users – this means that their comments (or “tweets”) appear in your “timeline” feed. You can follow anyone, be it your best friends, celebrities, or just complete strangers whose tweets you enjoy.
What can Twitter do?
Twitter can be an excellent way of quickly keeping in touch with your friends – its 140 character limit makes it excellent for using on mobile phones.
If you’re following a lot of people then Twitter can also become a good source of information, with news breaking very quickly, and spreading fast among your friends if it’s something they’re interested in.
The service can also be useful to promote yourself to a wider audience. If you’re looking to publicise something you’re involved in, Twitter can let thousands of people see your tweets, with relatively little effort.
What are the risks in using Twitter?
Twitter can be great for staying in touch with friends but it’s also extremely public. In its default setting, anyone in the world can see any tweet you make. It is possible to “protect” your account, which means that only your followers can see your tweets, and that followers have to be confirmed by you. However, protected accounts are very rare, as engagement with the wider world is one of the reasons many people want to use the service.
As a result, it’s very easy to embarrass yourself in an extremely public setting. There have been a number of instances recently of celebrities or other public figures getting themselves into hot water by posting something without thinking – there’s no reason the same can’t happen to normal people, and it frequently does.
Twitter can also be a hotbed of rumour – information can spread like wildfire across the world in minutes regardless of how true it is. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent with big news or celebrity stories, but it can also have personal effects – a piece of malicious and untrue gossip about you can very quickly be seen by all of your friends.