Chaotic times of the bird

Published November 21, 2022

Things have been quite chaotic at Twitter ever since Elon Musk took charge of the company and let that sink in. His experiments with paid blue services didn’t materialise how he imagined, costing some brands billions of dollars in market cap and giving the rest of us hilarious memes.

Despite its much smaller audience (that has also failed to grow significantly), Twitter has always held a special place in important circles — from science and sports to politics and academia. It’s probably even more amplified in Pakistan, where the masses have generally opted for Facebook traditionally and, more recently, Tiktok and Bigo etc.

According to Datareportal, Twitter had just 3.4 million users in Pakistan — making up less than one per cent of the social media platform’s global audience. In contrast, there are reported to be over 49m Pakistanis on Facebook.

The bird app has been downloaded 13.9m times between Jan 1, 2017, and Nov 16, 2022, as per estimates from Appfigures. This pales in comparison to Facebook getting almost 111m installs and TikTok 92m (the lite versions included for both). The limited usage obviously makes Twitter an afterthought for advertisers in Pakistan.

Based on the daily downloads, Twitter hit its peak in Pakistan in early April when the National Assembly saw a vote of no confidence and subsequent removal of Imran Khan

A report from Profit also talks about how brands in the country generally tend to ignore Twitter and prefer to reach the mass market through the more popular platforms. However, when it comes to political engagement, there is perhaps no better place. Arguably not even Indians and Pakistanis fighting each other in Facebook comments.

In fact, this trend has only intensified of late with the rise in political tensions across the country. Based on the daily downloads, Twitter hit its peak in Pakistan in early April — the same time when the National Assembly saw a vote of no confidence and subsequent removal of former prime minister Imran Khan. Around that time, PTI supporters were actively running hashtag campaigns that rose to the top charts quickly.

Similarly, Twitter’s previous daily peak was in early August 2021 — right when the Taliban forces took over Afghanistan and replaced the government. This was a period of great uncertainty for Pakistanis, and many turned to the social media app for news consumption. This is where the platform offers the greatest utility, especially to those disenchanted by the traditional media.

It gives the people access to connect and respond to some of the most powerful names in the country, and the world, and be on equal footing. Well, at least sometimes.

Twitter has been downloaded 13.9m times between Jan 1, 2017, and Nov 16, 2022, which pales in comparison to Facebook’s 111m installs and TikTok’s 92m

Those on the app would know Bakhtwar Bhutto Zardari got ratioed by a young journalist (Ariba Shahid) or, more recently, the new Twitter CEO himself has been the subject of many memes for his half-baked plans for the company.

On Twitter, getting ratioed is when replies to a tweet vastly outnumber likes or retweets. The feeling of disenfranchisement, coupled with political and economic tensions, has meant more Pakistanis flocking to the bird app.

Data on downloads offer interesting insights here. For example, Twitter had more installs from Pakistan during 2021 than in 2017-2019 put together. Higher by more than 640,000. In the first nine months of 2022, it has already crossed 80pc of the numbers of the previous year — which was already a record.

Now, of course, Twitter isn’t going anywhere. At least as a company. But it could very well lose its soul — which is what made it special and influential, despite a modest income statement. Nonetheless, the platform has much at stake for the media industry, which derives a reasonable share of traffic from the app.

But more importantly, it has a valuable lesson for the media. That in the age of these platforms, with far bigger reach than any publication, the same old methods of operating newsrooms will not cut it anymore.

For example, aggregating press releases and publishing them as stories the next day is good as gone. So basically, half the newspapers in Pakistan, which are filling their pages with items that have absolutely no news value to anyone.

Unfortunately, that realisation hasn’t yet entered the boardrooms, or if it has, the senior leadership has failed to come up with a single initiative in the past five years to change that. Up to you to decide which is worse: ignorance or incompetence.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, November 21st, 2022

Opinion

Editorial

Is there a plan?
Updated 06 Dec, 2022

Is there a plan?

The ball currently is in Imran's court, but it appears he is stumped as to what to do with it.
Riverfront concerns
06 Dec, 2022

Riverfront concerns

THE door-to-door drive being launched by a group of landowners to mobilise affected communities against what they...
Morality police out
06 Dec, 2022

Morality police out

FOR several months, Iran has been rocked by unprecedented protests, sparked by the death on Sept 16 of Mahsa Amini, ...
Extension legacy
Updated 05 Dec, 2022

Extension legacy

The practice of having individuals carry on well beyond their time is up.
Dodging accountability
05 Dec, 2022

Dodging accountability

A WARNING carried in these pages in August appears to have gone completely unheeded. Months ago, as the government...
Double standards
05 Dec, 2022

Double standards

IN a globalised world, if states fail to protect the human rights of their citizens, or worse, participate in ...