Fifteen years ago, a New York University dropout shared a cryptic message online: “just setting up my twttr.”
Those five words from Jack Dorsey — the first tweet ever — are now being auctioned off, with offers as high as $2.5 million.
Very few could have predicted when it launched in 2006, but Twitter would go on to alter the media landscape, political discourse and society in permanent and profound ways.
By amplifying previously marginalized voices, Twitter aided in political movements and societal reckonings hashtag by hashtag — from #MeToo to #BlackLivesMatter.
It also contributed to the instantaneity of information — both from traditional news media and citizen journalists, giving anyone, anywhere, an immediate window into history as it unfolded.
But the democratization of the internet that Twitter relied on meant that others could exploit it to spread messages of hate and disinformation, which continue to take hold despite efforts from the platform.
“One of the promises of Twitter was that it would let people connect and people without resources would be able to organize politically,” Jonathan Nagler, a professor of politics at New York University and co-director of the NYU Social Media and Political Participation Lab said.
“And that applies both left and right, so you get Arab Spring and you get Charlottesville — and then there’s the elephant in the room of Donald Trump.”
Twitter, as well as other social media platforms, has taken steps in recent years to crack down on misinformation and disinformation, but critics say it’s not enough.
Others say that labeling misleading tweets and banning politicians like Trump has impeded free speech, creating a new set of issues as users grapple with the fundamental question of whom to believe.