On his India trip, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sought to pitch Twitter as a platform to effect change, but India’s young swear by other social networks.
New Delhi: Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey wants young Indians to tweet their hearts out, but the micro-blogging website doesn’t appear to be the most popular social media platform for his target group, the 18-to-30-year-olds.
On his maiden trip to India, Dorsey addressed a town hall at IIT-Delhi Monday, launching a hashtag, ‘#PowerOf18’, to encourage active youth participation in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
‘#PowerOf2018’ is a reference to the age at which an Indian becomes eligible to vote, and Dorsey exhorted the youth to use Twitter and the hashtag to engage in public debate during the upcoming election season.
It was an important message, but for the fact that most of Dorsey’s audience — drawn from different universities — seemed less than enthusiastic about Twitter.
Audience members ThePrint approached at random for a quick survey in the IIT-Delhi grounds instead expressed a preference for Instagram and Facebook.
Dressed in a maroon hoodie, a student from Jamia Millia Islamia told ThePrint that he did not use Twitter.
“I have an account, but I am not active on it,” he said, “I don’t find it interesting, to be honest.”
More than interest, it’s the word limit that annoys this “rebel”. Balling his fists inside the pockets of his hoodie, he added, “I don’t even use Facebook much, but Twitter is something that restricts your word limit as well, and I’m not into following people.”
For him, the main portal of social media activity is “Instagram… nothing else”.
A fellow Jamia student, dressed in a green shirt tucked into black trousers, wore a Twitter bird badge on his chest. He used Twitter, he said, but only to catch up with news and “controversies”.
‘To learn about things’
“I don’t, like, personally post something, but I read a lot of things on Twitter… To learn about social things, and all the controversies going on,” he added.
“I follow around 40 to 45 people,” he said. His follower count is “six to seven”, a shadow of the 300 he claims follow him on Instagram.
“I use Instagram a lot,” he said, when ThePrint asked him about the other apps he used.
A young woman in red, accompanying the duo, just didn’t see the need for Twitter in her life. “I’m used to reading links on Facebook… even what people say on Twitter,” she said, “I thought it [Twitter] is for celebrities… so I don’t use it.”
Smiling almost apologetically, another member of the group said that while she had an account, she “had never quite understood Twitter”. “Ages ago, I made an account and just left it… never went back. I was probably too young to understand it back then,” she said.
Her social media portals of choice, she added, were “Instagram a lot, a bit of Facebook and, of course, WhatsApp”.
A trio from Delhi University said Twitter was their least-used social network. One of them, a bespectacled, animated young man, explained why that was. “The thing is, most of our friends are on Facebook and Snapchat, so we have to spend more time on Snapchat and Facebook,” he said.
“Twitter is on the list, but it’s at the bottom,” he added.
A student of IIT-Delhi, epitomising teen defiance with a t-shirt that read “Born free, taxed to death”, said he used Twitter “sometimes… for updates”, adding that he mostly stuck to Facebook and Reddit.
Two college mates accompanying him to the main building said they didn’t use Twitter at all. “I didn’t see a need for it,” one added.
Numbers back up this lack of enthusiasm for Twitter, which has courted intense notoriety of late for unchecked troll comments, fudged follower counts, and a discourse that’s often vitriolic. JNU student leader Shehla Rashid, who had 500,000 followers on Twitter, quit the portal this week over the rampant abuse in trolling.
“…If I have to share something pleasant, I will go to Instagram, I won’t share it on Twitter,” she said in an interview to Scroll, reflecting a widely prevalent sentiment.
The Indian user base for Twitter totals around 26.7 million, a far cry from the other social networks.
According to reports, Facebook has 241 million users in India, while WhatsApp has 200 million active users a month and Instagram, 35 million. Both are owned by Facebook. Only one prominent app, Snapchat, trails Twitter, with around 16 million users.
This has spelt lower ad revenue for Twitter in India. According to the marketing and advertising news portal Adage India, Twitter India reported a revenue of Rs 50 crore in 2016-17, where Facebook clocked a turnover of Rs 341.8 crore and Google India, Rs 7,208.9 crore.
A welcome purge
In a bid to become more appealing to users and advertisers, Twitter has been purging itself of trolls, offensive tweets, fake profiles, and bot accounts.
The bot problem is something Twitter may have created itself. As Dorsey said at IIT-Delhi, in the initial days of Twitter 12 years ago, “We put all this emphasis on the follower number.”
The follower count, which still appears big, bold and prominent on each account, drove people to often boost their numbers through fake bot accounts, a move meant to suggest greater popularity than they actually enjoyed. But Dorsey said the company was looking to change this approach.
“Initially, we may have put all this emphasis on the follower number… Now, I don’t think that’s the number you should focus on,” he added, “A more interesting number is how many healthy conversations you have contributed to the network.”
It’s an approach slowly reviving Twitter’s financials.
Twitter reported lower user numbers after it eliminated the fake accounts, but beat stock market predictions with its global ad sales as the purge was welcomed by investors and users alike.
According to an October Reuters report, Twitter clocked a revenue of $758 million for the third quarter of 2018, against the $702.6 million predicted.
The publicly listed company’s adjusted profit was 21 cents per share, beating the average estimate of 14 cents.
Dorsey’s remarks about the Twitter overhaul, in fact, seemed to convince some among his IIT-Delhi audience to give the blue bird a go.
The young woman from Jamia Millia who said she never understood Twitter told ThePrint she might try it again. “Especially after today,” she added.
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