“Is it just coincidence that #TwitterIsDown right after #IfTwitterWasntAThing was trending?” one user asked — #conspiracy.
In all seriousness, however, those two hashtags demonstrate exactly why Twitter is a valuable and even necessary service — and at a time when the network’s suffering something of an identity crisis. Many of the tweets on #IfTwitterWasntAThing did involve the predictable griping about attention spans, spelling and lost productivity.
But many more document Twitter’s positive contributions to culture: the adoption of the hashtag as a rhetorical device; the birthplace of activist movements from Black Lives Matter to the Arab Spring; the first revolt against context collapse and privacy erosion on Facebook; the true propulsion behind “the second screen”; the petri dish for novel forms of art — and a whole new strain of Internet slang.
Much of the chatter on #IfTwitterWasntAThing also sprang from Twitter’s powerful teen fan communities, who colonized the network, in large part, because it gave them a direct line to the subjects of their affection. We tend to forget this, now that the White House is on Snapchat, and celebrities get book deals about their selfies, but Twitter was one of the first online spaces to erode the wall (or appear to erode the wall) between us plebeians and the elite.
Alas, with Twitter still down in some places, we’re denied the manifold joys of, say, reading Donald Trump’s latest diatribes or sending Justin Bieber a “follow me!!” tweet. As one tweeter put it: