Twitter at 10: Ireland’s favourite tweeters look back on their relationship with social media
Meadhbh McGrath and Sasha Brady
Published 27/03/2016 | 14:30
It’s been ten years since Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sent the first tweet.
Now, the site has 320m active monthly users, and has grown to become a social, cultural and political phenomenon. However, there are still a few flaws the site has yet to figure out. We asked some of Ireland’s favourite Twitter users to look back on their experiences.
Louise Duffy (@louiseduffyshow), radio broadcaster, 28.6K followers, joined March 2011
As Twitter celebrated its 10 anniversary, the Today FM presenter coincidentally decided to take a digital detox for the week.
“I had a chat with a listener last week who got rid of his smart phone after he realised he was missing out on precious, important moments with his little girl,” she tells independent.ie.
“It struck me that I have my phone in my hand from the minute I wake up, until I set my alarm at night. Be it Twitter or Instagram, Whatsapp or news apps, my phone is unnecessarily present all the time.
“So I decided to revert to the old Nokia for the week, and it made for a very pleasant, peaceful couple of days.”
Reflecting on how Twitter has impacted on her life, Louise says: “We don’t allow ourselves any time to think anymore, it’s a reflex to whip out the phone when there’s a minute to spare. We’re forgetting how to remember, everything is just a Google search away.”
Although Louise plans to delete most of her apps, she’ll be holding on to Twitter. She notes that she’s been lucky to avoid any nasty tweets, and loves the pace of Twitter.
“If something happens globally, it’s on your feed within seconds. That, and Kanye West rants.”
Leo Varadkar (@campaignforleo), TD, 31.4K followers, joined December 2010
The Fine Gael politician is one of the most digitally-connected TDs, and is particularly fond of a tweet.
“I like social media in general but what I particularly like about Twitter is that it’s immediate, it’s unmediated and it’s effective. It’s a very powerful tool to reach a large number of people,” he says.
“It’s great for engaging with people and it’s very democratic.”
He cites a tweet he shared about a new pilot road sign which gave equal prominence to Irish place names as an example of how Twitter has helped him to engage with the public. “There was a really positive and constructive response from Irish-speaking Twitter users.”
While Minister Varadkar says he loves browsing Twitter – “it can be very entertaining” – he adds that the one thing that bothers him on the platform is “that a minority of users will hide behind their anonymity rather than engaging openly”.
Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan (@spike_osullivan), boxer, 68.3K followers, joined January 2010
The pro-middleweight boxer is a prolific tweeter, and is known for using Twitter to build a lively rapport with fans – as well as engaging in plenty of banter with his opponents. “It’s great for banter, I love that part of it most,” he says.
Of course, his opponents don’t always take it the right way, with one, Chris Eubank Jr, branding ‘Spike’ a “Twitter terrorist”.
“I found it very funny,” he says of the nickname. “I was only having a laugh and a bit of banter and he took it to heart. People still joke to me about him saying that!”
Although the Cork native is sometimes advised to “keep things clean” or to take down certain posts, he explains, “I mean no harm, it’s all about having a laugh on here for me.”
Gary adds that Twitter has changed how he interacts with his fans, allowing him to form relationships with his supporters in a way that his predecessors could not.
“There are a few too many to be meeting up with for coffees, so Twitter is a rapid way to say hello and thank people for their support.
“I think a lot of people that get support like I do aren’t grateful enough and forget that they wouldn’t be where they are without the support of the fans.”
As well as cracking jokes with fans online, Gary has used to Twitter to organise in-person meet-ups, including an impromptu snowball fight.
“My best memory might be one night when it was snowing and I tweeted if anyone was in my area. A good few responded and we ended up having a snowball fight, it was a great laugh!”
Holly Carpenter (@holly0910), model, 27.7K followers, joined April 2011
The Miss Ireland beauty has carved out a name for herself on social media, which was boosted when her hilarious blog decoding Snapchat posts went viral last year, catching the eyes of Kris Jenner, Ashton Kutcher and Jamie Foxx.
Holly says she check her Twitter feed throughout the day to stay up to date on news and sport, and finds it much faster than Facebook.
“You can go on Facebook and your timeline and newsfeed haven’t really changed much in an hour, but with Twitter, so much happens in an hour,” she says.
She mentions celebrity Twitter feuds as her favourite part of Twitter, but wishes the site would find a way to stop trolls.
“I don’t like how ballsy some people get at the keyboard when they probably wouldn’t say any of that to people’s faces. I’m not a fan of the keyboard warrior thing, but that applies to all social media. I love social media, but when it comes to people being nasty, that’s the only downside really.”
Speaking about how her attitude to mean-spirited people on Twitter, Holly explains that she tries to ignore nasty tweets and move on.
“It depends on your mindset – if I’m having a good day and I’m with my friends, I would just laugh at it. I’m aware that I don’t know this person, I don’t actually care what they think of me.
“Other times, you could be having a bad day and someone will say something to you and it can affect you. I wouldn’t have the thickest skin when it comes to stuff like that, but nine times out of 10 I’ll just laugh at it.”
Pól Ó Conghaile (@poloconghaile), travel writer, 12.9K followers, joined January 2010
The award-winning travel writer uses his Twitter feed to share everything from insider tips and advice to dreamy photos documenting his jaunts across the globe.
While he loves the speed of Twitter, he admits it can be overwhelming.
“Just look at it! It’s like a slot machine on speed, particularly once you follow any volume of people. Twitter is instantaneous, fast, random – it’s as impossible to take a reading from it as it is to grasp a stream of water.
“You need to relax about that, dip in and out, and not drive yourself to distraction trying to stay on top of it.”
He describes Twitter as integral to modern journalists, and says without a doubt that it has helped his career.
“It still is helping my career. If you make an effort to tweet useful information, compelling photos, and not just to broadcast – but to reply and converse – you can build an engaged network of almost nerd-like value to your interest (in my case, travel),” he explains.
“All of human life is there, and I still get a little ping of endorphin when I tweet – a little update, winging its way into the madness. I love the direct voices, the crowd-sourcing of information (I always tweet for tips before I travel), the networking. I don’t know how I did my job without it!”
That’s where it stops for Pól, as he draws the line at work and travel, pledging never to share personal information.
“I never, ever tweet photos or information on my family. Twitter feels fleeting, but it is public and permanent. It has human consequences.”
Grainne Maguire (@grainnemaguire), comedian, 9.9K followers, joined March 2009
The stand-up and comedy writer made headlines in November when she live-tweeted her menstrual cycle to the Taoiseach as part of a campaign to repeal the Eight Amendment.
“I think Twitter is a wonderful way of connecting people who would never normally meet and reminding them they’re not alone. It’s also a great way of creating a narrative outside the mainstream media,” she tells independent.ie.
As well as taking an activist approach to oversharing, Grainne has mastered the art of the 140-character witticism.
“It’s been great to truly dismiss the stupid idea women somehow are incapable of humour. You laugh at a tweet before you see the gender of who wrote it and some of the funniest tweeters have vaginas,” she says, although laments the absence of an edit button.
“I’d like to think if I was given a magic wish I’d use it for world peace but if no one was watching I think I’d ask for an edit button instead. A really great tweet marred by an auto complete mishap, with meaning to exaggerate is worse than death.”
She describes Twitter as “a bit like being able to read strangers minds, for both good and bad”.
“It’s at it’s best when a really juicy story breaks, I think the night we all found out about David Cameron and the pig was one of the greatest nights of my life; it was like Twitter Christmas. I get goosebumps just thinking of it.”
Louise O’Neill (@oneillo), author, 11.5K followers, joined March 2009
The witty young author impressed with her best-selling book Asking for It – and her outspoken and often hilarious tweets.
Looking back on her time on the platform, she said: “I genuinely think it has made me a better person.”
“I follow interesting, passionate people who aren’t afraid to express their opinion and they have introduced me to ideas about gender, sexuality, race, feminism, body image and politics that I wouldn’t necessarily have engaged with before.
“Twitter gives a voice to those who were traditionally silenced by the mainstream media – such as women, trans-men and women, and people of colour.”
Of course, like many social media users, Louise is no stranger to nasty tweets and Twitter trolls, and says it’s the one thing she hates about the platform.
“The amount of abuse that people get on Twitter, particularly women, is abhorrent. Feminists who speak out about misogyny receive death threats or are told they should be raped.
“There doesn’t seem to be any way of controlling that. Twitter is a fierce advocate of free speech – but when does that turn into hate speech? Where is the line?”
Michael Conlan (@mickconlan11), boxer, 32.4K followers, joined April 2010
The world boxing champion and Olympic bronze medallist admits he finds himself becoming “addicted” to Twitter, and wishes the social network would have a curfew.
“I’d like if it could shut down at 11pm or when I’m just being nosy!” he says.
But with a legion of young fans, the 24-year-old notes that he has to be careful what he posts. “I’m seen as a role model, and I don’t want to say anything that might come across in the wrong way.”
He has used Twitter to keep fans updated, describing it as “great for my job, and for promoting both myself and my sport” – but adds that it’s important to avoid getting too smug.
Last Christmas, the Belfast native took to Twitter to show off his impressive medal haul, with the message, ‘Medal anyone?’
Fellow Olympic hero Katie Taylor was on hand to put him in his place, delivering a knockout blow with a photo of her own gleaming medals: “No thanks Mick, I have my own little haul here!”
“She put me to shame,” Michael laughs. “It was probably the best reply to a tweet I’ve ever seen!”