The Power of Twitter

The Cost of a Tweet

In the wake of the recent settlement between the SEC and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, there have been many jokes made about the cost of a tweet. For Musk, those 61 characters cost $20 million, or $327,869 per character (including spaces). This particular case, and the subsequent fine, likely has more to do with setting the tone of how company representatives should use social media than the actual actions of Musk. In the day after Musk’s tweet, Tesla stock price soared 11%, and trading was suspended for a period of that day due to the chaos that followed the tweet. The price change affected Musk’s own personal share of Tesla by $1.4 billion. This change in the price of stocks alone illustrates that there are increasing real life consequences of an individual’s actions on twitter.

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Although it is only 240-characters maximum, people need to treat this emerging form of communication seriously. From the amount of their fine, it seems the SEC would agree. The $20 million is pocket change to Musk, as temporary as his tweet and no more harmful than a slap on the wrist. However, Musk’s ban from being chairman for a period of three years is a more serious and lasting consequence of his actions. These repercussions should speak volumes to others who hold the same kind of attention on social media. People in power need to consider the influence their tweets may have, because in this world they do.

Here are five more of the costliest tweets in the world.

This is not the first time that influential people have created significant fallout from a single tweet. President Trump is the most well-known for this, although in my opinion he tweets often enough that no single tweet of his sticks out as more powerful than others. He even goes so far as to fire his staff publicly on twitter before informing them in person of their termination. It is truly an HR nightmare.

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Another more politically charged example of the power we have given twitter recently happened this summer, but got relatively little media coverage as it occurred in the shadow of the Musk tweet discussed above. In early August, political activists in Saudi Arabia were detained, gaining media attention. Canada’s foreign policy Twitter account commented on the situation on twitter as seen below.

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Within a week, Saudi Arabia had announced that it would stop buying Canadian wheat and barley, they removed Canada’s ambassador from the country and canceled all Saudi Arabian Airlines flights to and from Toronto. The reaction that I find the most serious, however, is the order for all Saudi Arabian students studying in Canada to return immediately, this decision affected the educations and future of young people. Theories on the reasons behind the harsh retaliation can be found here.

Obviously domestic and foreign issues can be created, magnified and spread via Twitter, but since when did it become such a prevalent and powerful problem?

So, Why Does This Keep Happening?

With the invention of social media, news began to travel faster. Not only did news on the lives of friends and family take much less than the usual phone call to share, but public news from official sources could also be shared more easily. In addition to the speed of social media, one of the defining features is its centrality. On an individual’s twitter feed, news outlets from all walks of life with all variety of opinions can appear with simply the click of “Follow.” Although, the potential for diverse opinions is often missed as algorithms pick and choose the content an individual is most likely to click on based on existing demographics and opinions. The convenience and centrality of twitter leads it to be a primary news source for many people. It is not uncommon to hear “I hadn’t heard about that yet…I should have checked Twitter,” or, “I had no idea, I haven’t checked Twitter yet this morning.”


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In addition to the speed and ease of sharing, we have become more relaxed in what we deem appropriate to put on social media. As these unspoken rules or what and what not to post change, they do so in an ecosystem that has already been set up to spread knowledge fast. The pictures of animals and babies that used to spread like wildfire are easily replaced by political stances, opinions on current events and any little thing that crosses one’s mind. The word of mouth has been strengthened by social media to such an extent that anything even slightly interesting is liked, shared, reposted, retweeted or quoted. Due to arguments of free speech and the stances taken by platforms to avoid intervention in the content creation sphere, anything goes on Twitter.

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Ellen DeGeneres’ 2014 tweet remains the most retweeted ever with 3.3M retweets and 2.3M likes.

The platforms used day-to-day have monumental reach and influence, but take the conversational tone of dinner table gossip. When these characteristics are applied to the social media accounts of governments, CEOs or public figures, the implications become more obvious. Musk’s casual musings about taking his company private or Canada’s solidarity with detained protestors escalate as the public consumes it.

Everyone is allowed to insert their opinion for all to see and instead of influential individuals getting advice from a few trusted advisors, suddenly they are open to scrutiny from the public. Something casual is overblown and the opinions of those watching spread. The result is people who must make decisions that will likely affect hundreds of thousands of others are being influenced by the unfiltered and often unknowledgeable masses.

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Those who mistreat the platforms need to return to the fool-proof way to determine whether something is worth posting, one that many parents told their children growing up in the dot com boom.

  1. Would you want this post written in the middle of Times Square?
  2. Would your future employer be impressed with this?

These principles are especially important for public figures, but are a good rule of thumb for everyone. The reality is, these days more people can see a tweet than walk through Times Square in a day, and hiring managers easily can and will look into your social media activity. This is the social media landscape that we all contribute to in the age where it has more power than any single news entity or organized political group could ever achieve.

4 thoughts on “The Power of Twitter

  1. Great post Shelby! Twitter and social media platforms have completely altered the way we all connect and communicate. You’re so right when you talk about how Twitter is the primary source of news for many people across this country and others. It is very troubling to me, however, that so many get their news in 240 characters or less – often from questionable sources and with very little fact checking. Whether we like it or not, social media is here to stay. Thanks for sharing.


  2. While I do think everyone should be allowed to tweet whatever they want to, public figures having Twitter accounts is a recipe for disaster. There’s bound to be someone famous saying something stupid at any given moment.
    It’s crazy that the most famous people on the planet don’t understand the size of their audience. Either Musk has the sense of humour of a 16 year-old boy who finally understands the number ‘420’, or he’s a firm believer in the idea that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Either way, it’s the type of comment that should be saved for a group chat of close friends, not a public Twitter account.
    Also, definitely agree that Twitter is the new news. Any time I hear of a major event, I search Twitter for two reasons: to see what major news outlets are saying about it, and to see what the public is saying about it.


  3. Great post Shelby! I do think individuals tend to underestimate the power of Twitter. Who would have ever thought it would have had such a significant impact on the 2016 election? I definitely rely on Twitter for news, but I have been trying to do this a little more cautiously. In a New York Times article, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admitted their technology finds about 9 million spam or automated accounts per week. I find this very concerning!


  4. Great post Shelby! You would think that executives in the worlds biggest companies and leaders of countries would be able to refrain from tweeting out information that can harm their agenda. Im surprised president Trump’s media team isn’t more hands on and restrictive of many of his tweets. Similarly, I think that it would be smart for executives like Musk to either have a reviewer of their tweets or to quit Twitter entirely. Although Trump has the standing to make some changes in his tweets, it seems as if Musk has to accept his mistakes and pay his fine.


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