People can use Twitter for just about anything.
Users have found love, gotten fired, changed their lives, and landed in jail over their tweets. From each mistake and triumph on Twitter, there are lessons to be learned. Here are 10 of the most essential conclusions we’ve reached from our first year of covering the community.
1) Parodies are fine, as long as they’re original.
One of the best things about Twitter is the multitude of genuinely brilliant parodies in the community. Drunk Hulk is a stellar example of aping a well-known figure while offering a skewed, funny perspective on the news. On the flip side, a Bill Murray parody account was lambasted for stealing jokes from better-known comedians.
But if you’re planning to start a parody, make sure to select your target carefully. An anonymous user narrowly avoided having his personal details revealed after spoofing a newspaper executive.
2) Don’t post anything prejudicial.
Do everyone a favor and think twice before you tweet anything, especially if you’re considering making racially charged comments. This issue proved to be a big deal in the world of sports over the last several months, as several soccer fans, players, and an even Olympian found out to their cost. Even sending a private message can land you in hot water if you’re a sports star.
3) Even a curse word can land you in trouble.
It’s not only racist remarks that can land you in a jail cell. John Kerlen came close to a custodial sentence after making a “grossly offensive” remark on Twitter. (Think of a four-letter word beginning with “C” and you’ll figure it out.) The conviction was later quashed, but it was a close call.
4) Think twice before creating a Twitter app.
From its earliest days, Twitter was a wide-open platform that let any developer create their own apps using tweets and Twitter data. That’s not really the case anymore. Over the last 18 months, Twitter’s been gradually tightening the nut as it hopes for more users to access Twitter via its official website and apps. Twitter’s encouraging developers to keep creating apps, just not ones that let them view their timelines or direct messages.
5) Despite the crackdown, there’s room to innovate.
On the surface, there are a lot of limits as to what you can do with Twitter. After all, you only have 140 characters in which to make your point. But There’s a lot you can do in that space, as an advertising agency showed with a stunning animated ad for Smart automotives. Twitter’s doing a lot more to add context to messages as well, with the, er, expansion of expanded tweets and features like “cashtags” for stock symbols.
6) Double check identities—even of verified accounts.
For a few years now, Twitter’s had a verification program where celebrities and brands can get their accounts confirmed. Yet Twitter actually verified some accounts it shouldn’t have, leading some people to believe they were following Brett Favre or Wendi Deng Murdoch when they weren’t.
A bogus Sky News account reported the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, which some reporters took as fact as they retweeted the message. Likewise, some people really annoyed @natwest, who is an actual person and not the bank of the same name.
7) You can find out about the news before the networks.
Twitter often provides a glimpse at what’s going on in the world long before it hits the mainstream media. Take the TrapWire surveillance system, for instance. The technology, which seeks to predict terrorist attacks but is under fire over privacy concerns, didn’t really appear in the public consciousness until Anonymous and WikiLeaks raised the alarm on Twitter.
8) Take a chance on talking to the stars.
Twitter has democratized communication. No longer must we go through middlemen to interact with the people we want to talk to. Politicians, athletes, and celebrities are right there and sometimes ready to talk.
Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker is an engaging Twitter user, chatting with residents about potholes and making jokes about potholes in other cities. In some cases, contacting stars can lead to some ridiculously cool real-life situations, like a pick-up football game with NBA superstar Kevin Durant and an invitation to Chad Ochocinco’s wedding.
9) Tweets can save lives.
Twitter is an amazing way to spread information quickly, such was the case when Turkish news anchor Okan Bayulgen shared emergency information last October following an earthquake. A follower of his shared the address where people were still trapped. Bayulgen passed that information to relief workers, who rescued two people from rubble.
10) Twitter can change your life for the better.
If you’re smart about how you use Twitter and are ready to put in hard work, the community can change your life. Comedian Rob Delaney told us he “had to be good at Twitter.” A couple of years after the joining the site, he’s gone from a struggling comic to one with a book deal and many sold out stand-up comedy shows under his belt.
A Google search for “how twitter changed my life” for the last year brings up 142 million results. If even 1 percent of those are cases hold water, the community’s value to the world is more than clear.
Photo by Joe Shlabotnik/Flickr