On 28 April 2011, Twitter newbie and then Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls announced his arrival on the social media platform by declaring himself: Ed Balls. Since then (and despite losing his elected position in 2015), 28 April is forever to be remembered as ‘Ed Balls Day’. Aside from the suggestions it has already become commercialised (see Domino Pizza’s TwisteED DoughBALLS), will future historians look back and see that fateful day in 2012 as the day that the tide turned for social media?
Ed Balls’ intention had seemingly been to search for his own name, rather than tweet it. But his #twitterfail resulted in the then MP becoming an instant social media celebrity. Now, five years on, the error has been retweeted over 65,000 times and, at the time of writing, the hashtag #EdBallsDay is trending in the UK with thousands of mentions.
But what can we learn from #EdBallsDay?
When I first joined Twitter in 2009 – having initially resisted pressure from friends and various PRs – it was a place of relative happiness and enjoyment. If mistakes were made, they would either be politely ignored or, more often, someone – often a stranger – would simply correct you and show you how to make it right. Perhaps I romanticise it, a little, but I had no hesitation in encouraging friends and colleagues to make use of this emerging medium.
Between then and now, the ‘Twitterverse’ has become less tolerant of mistakes, however innocent. Social media trolls have dominated the news headlines and cyber-bullying is rife. It is a place where I am no longer confident in advocating for newcomers. Without doubt, there are many positives still to be taken from Twitter, but before starting out now, I would think twice. Not only do you need tolerance, patience and a thick skin, many of the benefits of Twitter can be enjoyed without ever having to sign up or engage. So why would you?
Without doubt, Twitter is not the place it once was and community spirit has soured. Looking back, could Ed Balls be to blame? Can the fall of Twitter be traced back to the original #EdBallsDay? Or was it always to be expected that an online community would inevitably reflect our real-life society, where bad things happen, bad people exist and hate is often louder than love and support? I guess only time will tell…
Photo taken from @edballs