When you see the White House press secretary printing out tweets and waving them around, you can realize how Twitter has become an integral part of the American lifestyle. Twitter has passed the phase where it could have become a one- trick pony by just remaining a plain person-to-person communication medium. Now, it means so many things to so many people. For most, it’s the window through which they look towards the world. It has become the tool that raises their ambits of social awareness by informing them about what is happening in the war-torn Gaza Strip and which celebrity has become the talk of the town It’s then not shocking to see that when Google and other giants have tried to swallow it by flexing their large financial muscles, the fanbase of the social media network has come up with a suggestion to save Twitter by buying it.
The fact that Twitter is in troubled waters is not really news. Shares in Twitter have lost a third of their value since it listed in November 2013, as investors lost hope that it would ever grow to the size of Facebook. Also, in its last reported quarter, Twitter’s revenue dropped for the first time as advertisers started getting cold. The following figure depicts the downward spiral of Twitter’s life.
If this situation stays for a long time, then the platform’s future will hinge upon a very tentative hook. That’s the reason why this time its die-hard followers have decided to take the matter into their own hands by talking about a proposal to save Twitter.
To gather mass momentum, they have come up with a petition calling for a co-op structure that has been signed by nearly 3,500 people. The main argument of this petition is that Twitter’s conventional structure is not in a position to value its social significance. Besides, Nathan Schneir, the first proponent of a cooperative Twitter ownership model, pinpoints a concern that secretly dwells in all Twitter fans. Through the petition, he has raised a pertinent question: “How can we make sure that the future of the company serves those who depend on it most, who most want to see it succeed culturally, technologically, and financially?” They have a website, and their petition to save Twitter reads like this-
“For a lot of us Twitter is the fastest, easiest way to know and share what’s going on around us — it sparks conversations, spreads information, and energizes movements. But Wall Street thinks the company is a failure because it’s not raking in enough profit for shareholders. That means that Twitter is up for sale, and there is a real risk that the new owner may ruin our beloved platform with a narrow pursuit of profit or political gains.
We want the company to share its future with those whose participation make it so valuable: its users. There’s a growing movement urging Twitter to work with users to find a way to buy it and to turn it into a cooperatively owned platform. We can foster innovation from the community and create a better, more user-friendly business model. The Associated Press, REI, and the Green Bay Packers all demonstrate the profitability and popularity of democratic ownership models.
…It’s time we expand our imaginations in order to create a more open, inclusive, and people-centered Internet.”
To logically justify this unique demand of making it a co-operative firm, the petition to save Twitter also cites a number of examples of cooperatives as evidence it could work. It has named few online companies like Managed by Q, which allocates equity to office cleaners, and Stocksys United, a stock-photo platform owned by its photographers.
Considering the massive momentum that this petition has gathered and pressure from Wall Street for short-term returns, it will be the top priority agenda in the annual meeting of Twitter. The chances of a passing of this proposal are as thin as paper, as Twitter management has been unequivocal about its out and out opposition to this suggestion to save Twitter. In a statement, it argues-
“The proposal is not in the best interests of Twitter and our stockholders. We believe that preparing a report on the nature and feasibility of selling the ‘platform,’ and doing so only to ‘its users,’ would be a misallocation of resources and a distraction to our board of directors and management—resources and management time that could otherwise be used to build the long-term value of Twitter.
The proposal would have Twitter explore the sale of the ‘platform’ to one specific group of people, ‘its users’, ‘via a cooperative or similar structure.” The proposal has pinpointed a very specific type of transaction and ownership structure and the board of directors does not believe that the course of action suggested in the proposal would enhance the value of the ‘platform’ or Twitter.
Further, limiting exploration of strategic transactions that may enhance stockholder value to one narrow option would not be in accordance with the board of directors’ responsibilities to take actions that are in the best interests of Twitter and its stockholders. We believe Twitter is on track to continue building on the long-term value of Twitter for all of our stockholders as a publicly held corporation and not as a ‘cooperative or similar structure’ owned solely by ‘its users’. As a publicly traded company, our users are also free to become stockholders of Twitter without any need to change the structure of the company.”
That last point is an important one — users can already take ownership in Twitter if they’re prepared to go to the effort of buying stock. It can take the wind out of the petition.
Clearly, unanimous opposition from the board means the vote is unlikely to pass, as that will need more than 50% of votes. And even then, there would be no guarantee on what the report into the possibility of making Twitter a co-operative firm would say, or whether the company would follow through with it.
However, regardless of the future of this petition to save Twitter, what is fascinating is the possibility of an alternative structure for a major tech company. It talks about a totally different business model for the social media giants. This is because social media plays a different role in people’s lives than other tech platforms and solutions. People are socially and emotionally dependent on them to the extent that having a Twitter account or a Facebook page has become as indispensable as owning a phone or having electricity. Naturally, happenings in the social media world do have social repercussions. This social connection between people and social media platforms has forced commentators and intellectuals to believe that social media companies are more akin to public utilities. The significance of this petition is that it has brought that thought of social media platforms being public utilities from the realm of intellectuals to the common people…and the think tanks behind various social media giants will surely take a note of this!