Twitter as a Global Communications Tool

By Lisa Kocay '16

People of all ages use Twitter, whether it’s to complain about homework or promote one’s business. It’s a popular online social networking service, but many people underestimate it and the affects it’s had on globalization. On Sept. 10, the Global Union partnered with the Weinstock Center for Journalism and Library and Technology Services to host “Twitter: Global Communication in 140 Characters” by Ashley Weakland Hirsh.

Hirsh is a Lehigh graduate and Twitter senior manager for the marketing platform program. In her talk, she discussed the various ways that Twitter has contributed to globalization.

“Twitter is live, public and conversational,” said Hirsh. It is considered live because you can receive new information every second by refreshing your timeline.

There are 247 million active users on Twitter. Of that, only 23 percent of users are in North American; Twitter is available in over 35 languages around the world.

“People find a way to get on Twitter because of the access it provides them, the ability to keep them in the loop,” said Hirsh. “People use it as a way to communicate, to speak their mind freely because they’re not allowed to in their own country.” One of Twitter’s core values is to remain as an outlet for free speech. Twitter was once shut down in Turkey and the company assembled a team to study Turkish law so they could go to court in there.

“The news aspect of Twitter is the idea that people are now breaking news on Twitter and using it as a form of mass communication makes it so unique,” said Austin Vitelli ’17. “There is no other real platform where someone can reach millions of people if they wanted to just with a 140-character message.”

 “Hashtags and Twitter communities are able to unite people under common interests no matter their location,” said Samantha Tomaszewski ’17. “I don't really know of any other network that allows people to connect in such an effective, yet casual, way. On Facebook it’s weird to friend strangers, whereas on Twitter it’s expected.”

People use Twitter as a way to connect with their local community as well. Hirsh spoke of a mayor of a small town in Spain who gave the members of the police force a personal Twitter handle so the people of the town can tweet at them. People in that town also have the ability to tweet during town meetings or at any moment during the day to do things such as ask questions or notify the town that something needs to be repaired.

Twitter is also used as a way to “do good.” People can “retweet” for a cause, or participate in popular tweets such as “Kiss for Peace,” which encouraged people to tweet a picture of them kissing somebody in order to promote peace.

People are given the opportunity to become a part of moments, whether they are as big as the World Cup or as small as a daily jog. Twitter seeks to turn those moments into momentum.

“My favorite thing about the talk was all of the marketing campaigns that couldn’t have been done without Twitter,” said Ariella Broitman ’15. “Companies actually create real time marketing campaigns that go off of events that just occurred. The Snickers Luis Suarez ‘more satisfying than an Italian’ campaign was awesome.”

“I was astounded at the numbers—1 billion Tweets every two days,” said Bill Hunter, Lehigh’s director of international outreach. “That’s an incredible stream of global communication every year. It’s instantaneous, transcends borders, and is the global paradigm for free speech. I guess Twitter is the world’s largest democracy.”