Should Twitter Become User-Owned? #BuyTwitter Thinks So
Twitter is struggling. With the social network failing to engage with new users while simultaneously struggling to revitalize its current user base, the next reasonable step is seemingly for the company to be bought out by a larger organization. However, the thought of a different company taking its reins has led to discontent among the site’s more prolific tweeters, leading to the formation of the #BuyTwitter campaign and a strong push for the social network to become user-owned.
A major platform such as Twitter being placed in the hands of its users would be both a stretch and a risk, but this resolution has not been devised without logic. With a number of the big names that were circling a Twitter acquisition — Disney, Microsoft, Comcast and Google’s parent company Alphabet to name a few — having since reportedly dropped out of contention, the future isn’t looking so bright for the company. Let’s take at look at why this is, and how #BuyTwitter hopes to solve its issues:
What’s Wrong With Twitter?
Twitter is struggling with both its revenue and user growth. Facing a continuing decline in its quarterly profits, the company’s user count is growing, though far too slowly for Wall Street’s tastes. This would be worrying in and of itself, but with the company also struggling to find ways to make notable profits, alarm bells are ringing.
The social network posted that its revenue reached $602 million in the second quarter of 2016, a 20% rise but another example of its year-on-year decline in growth. With it suffering this decline for the past eight fiscal quarters, the company also noted back in July that it predicted third-quarter revenue of $590 million to $610 million, a drastic difference from the $678 million predicted by leading analysts.
Twitter’s earnings have been particularly disappointing considering that they come during a time when the company was expected to lift itself up from out of the doldrums, as a result of co-founder Jack Dorsey’s return. Dorsey made his Twitter comeback in 2015, setting in motion a number of ideas including revisions of the site’s character limit, allowing for more room for media attachments in the process — crucial for helping those wishing to distribute paid-for sponsored tweets.
But the company has yet to make movements towards changes that actively heighten its profitability and user growth. In fact, from Dorsey’s return in July 2015 to the company’s posting of its last quarterly profits, Twitter had only added 9 million new users to its social network. Compared with Facebook’s tremendous growth, which saw more than 164 million new users jumping aboard Mark Zuckerberg’s site, and it’s clear why there is such concern over Twitter’s outlook.
How Will #BuyTwitter Help?
#BuyTwitter is a campaign spearheaded by author and reporter Nathan Schneider, who in an article for The Guardian suggested that the social network’s community should “take control” of the site. With many not comfortable with the idea of a mega corporation taking Twitter’s helm, a scenario which could lead to drastic changes to the site, Schneider has suggested a number of ways in which it could instead become a user-owned platform.
Schneider cites Purpose Fund founder Armin Steuernagel as having suggested a scenario in which employees/users would “assemble a company and invite investment for shares that grant dividend rights, but not voting; gather about 20% of the funds needed for the buyout, then borrow the rest, and buy.” Voting could then be distributed among “investors and general users, but allocating more control to those who contribute the most value to the platform, such as employees and the most active users.”
Schneider also repeats a suggestion made by blogger Tom McDonough, who pointed out how 1% of Twitter’s users could buy shares of around $2,300 each and then vote for a transition to cooperative ownership. This also leads to a further scenario in which millions of users crowdfund a buyout, with the US government marking the site down as a public utility in the process.
Although Twitter striking up such a deal with its users seem far-fetched, a selection of users are setting up a cooperative in an attempt to work alongside the company, hoping to provide a balance that both solves its issues with Wall Street along with ensuring that it doesn’t go the way of MySpace. It’s an ambitious project, but many feel that it’s the best way of ensuring that the site survives, while simultaneously keeping a hold of its current readership by way of putting it in the hands of the people who know it the best. Several improvements have already been suggested by the campaign’s organisers, including setting up new moderation tools in order to help the platform’s employees handle the abuse and harassment that plagues it.