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Fact File: Twitter


Launched in 2006, the micro-blogging site Twitter quickly disproved those who dismissed it as another medium for bores to update the world on what they ate for lunch.

Harnessing the internet’s powers of live, mass communication, Twitter has broken news, launched revolutions, brought down powerful politicians and made predictions on the stock market.

As the ultimate form of unmediated communication, it also acts as a useful barometer for free speech. It might be expected that autocratic China and religious Pakistan would introduce bans on Twitter, but the UK’s Twitter joke trial sparked incredulous outrage and tested the limits of our own laws.  

Fears that Twitter’s 140-character limit heralds the end of literature have been calmed by Tweet-inspired poetry, but claims that Twitter has saved democracy should also be kept in check. As long as Justin Bieber has more followers than Barack Obama, it’s worth remaining sceptical.

The Numbers

10m – Active users of Twitter in the UK. Source: Mashable.com

340m – Average number of tweets worldwide, per day. Source: Twitter.com

$8bn – Twitter valuation as of July 2011. Source: Mediabistro.com

Further Reading

Twitter might have turned into a party with 10 million guests, but I’m still loving every minute of it, Grace Dent, The Independent, 2012

In the loop: How Twitter transformed political reporting, John Rentoul, The Independent, 2010

Friends Swap Twitters, and Frustration, Andrew Lavallee, The Wall Street Journal, 2007

Small Change: Why the revolutions will not be tweeted, Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker, 2010

Infographic: The map of international diplomacy (according to Twitter), Joao Medeiros, Wired, 2011


Nov 2009 – Twitter changes its status update question from “What are you doing?” to “What’s happening?”, indicating a change of focus from social networking, to news and information

Jan 2010 – In a “joke” tweet, Paul Chambers threatens to blow Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster “sky high” sparking the Twitter joke trial, and a national debate over free speech online

April 2010 – Labour candidate Stuart MacLennan is sacked for a series of offensive tweets

May 2011 – Ryan Giggs is named on Twitter as the Premier League footballer at the centre of a gagging order row.

Jan 2012 - Dianne Abbot is accused of racism after comments made on Twitter.

April 2012 – The student who posted offensive comments about footballer Fabrice Muamba is jailed for 56 days.