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Twitter - changing our world, for better and worse

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The Oscars selfie went viral and became the most retweeted tweet of all time

The Oscars selfie went viral and became the most retweeted tweet of all time

The Oscars selfie went viral and became the most retweeted tweet of all time

Over the last decade or so, social media has taken the planet by storm with websites like Facebook, Bebo and Myspace, that allow people to broadcast their lives to the world. These sites facilitate the sharing of personal information, pictures, videos etc, as well as providing speedy communication around the world. Never before has it been so easy and quick to share information. Then along came Twitter.

As most of you know, Twitter works by giving you short amounts of space (140 characters at a time) in which to leave a posting or 'tweet' , with the option of a picture or a link to another website, which is then broadcast to every other person who has chosen to 'follow' you. As a result, uncensored statements and opinions are being rendered, broadcast and considered en masse around the world at an unprecedented rate.

While Facebook reflects our desire to connect with friends and loved-ones, Twitter appeals to our need to be heard, and very often, simply our vanity. Any random thought that anyone in the world has is now fit to print and, so far, over 300bn tweets have been tweeted.

For the public, that usually means tweeting about the food they eat, movies they see, songs they hear, toothaches pets, jobs, etc, which are only read by people who actually know them. But all across the world millions of people are looking on to see what offhand remarks are to be made by those in the public eye.

Since its inception in 2006, Twitter has had a tremendous impact on the way we as a public absorb and respond to news and media and while all this rapidly available information sounds great, it has really muddied the line between news and nonsense.

US President Barack Obama is currently the third most followed tweeter in the world. Apparently, the only two people with more important things to say are Justin Bieber and Katy Perry. When Obama tweeted the words: "Four more years" following his re-election in 2012, it quickly became the most retweeted tweet in history. A position which is now occupied by talk-show host Ellen Degeneres and the words: "If only Bradley's arm was longer. Best photo ever." In reference to actor Bradley Cooper's selfie with herself and a bunch of other A-list celebrities at last year's Oscars.

Ten years ago, the pinnacle of celebrity gossip was regularly a candid photo taken from a bush outside a house or an out-of-context comment extracted from a surprised star by an unexpected paparazzo, but all that has changed. Every day of the week our favourite celebrities are doing the paparazzi work themselves, tweeting pictures as they go about their personal lives, along with all manner of thoughts that are eagerly gobbled up by the public.

Instead of faraway shots of actresses in their bikinis, we now have scantily clad selfies shot from every angle being tweeted all the time by the celebs themselves. Jaden Smith, who is the 16-year-old son of actor Will Smith, has over five million followers and he regularly teaches them important life lessons such as: "if newborn babies could speak, they would be the most intelligent beings on planet Earth"; "disregard everything you know and do what you feel"; or, my favourite, "how can mirrors be real if our eyes aren't?"

Celebrities in the entertainment world wield an enormous and unjustified amount of influence on the public, especially impressionable young people, and the effect of their uncensored musings has already caused quite a lot of controversy in Twitter's short life.

For instance, Liam Payne, of One Direction fame, was forced to apologise after tweeting a photo of himself standing on the ledge of a high-rise building, whilst rapper Snoop Dogg came under fire when his son posted a picture of himself smoking marijuana with his father.

Former Coronation Street actress Helen Flanagan, caused an uproar when she posted pictures of herself posing with a gun to her head in the hours after the Sandy Hook Massacre in the USA. She said later that the picture was in reference to her hangover, which is perfectly believable, but it's hard to imagine any agent or adviser who would have approved that photo, at that time, for publication.

Another major pitfall of Twitter is the late-night drunken tweet, which is a bit like the late-night call to an ex-girlfriend: embarrassing, but on a much larger scale. A perfect example of this was American journalist Geraldo Rivera's a smidge less than full monty selfie, with the tag: "70 is the new 50". He later admitted to being "drunk and lonely" at the time he posted it.

Social media has become an inescapable part of our everyday lives. Everywhere you turn there is a .com or # asking you to check out something online. Besides all the nonsense, important messages and historic moments are being tweeted all the time. Like the discovery of ice on Mars in 2008; countless people heard the news via Twitter when Nasa tweeted, "Are you ready to celebrate? Well, get ready: We have ICE!!!!! Yes, ICE, *WATER ICE* on Mars! w00t!!! Best day ever!!"

Even the Queen has embraced Twitter, sending her first ever tweet last October, whilst opening the Information Age exhibit at the London Science Museum, saying, "It is a pleasure to open the information age exhibition today at the @ScienceMuseum and I hope people will enjoy visiting. Elizabeth R."

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey said, whilst accepting an award for biggest social impact, that "Very rarely does a service become a utility that connects us and pops up in our day-to-day lives quite like Twitter has. Whether you're taking pictures of your cat or sharing a quick story about what you saw on the Golden Globes, Twitter is there - and it always will be."

With over 241 million monthly active users and growing, it would be hard to argue with him.

Sunday Independent