Update > Twitter/ X and Politics

Twitter/ X and Politics


Twitter is the most political of the social media. According to PEW Research Centre, one third of tweets are political in nature in the US.[1]

As of January 2023, Twitter had 556 million daily active users worldwide. Its fast-paced nature and real-time updates make it a popular source for breaking news and trending topics. It is the most popular social media also among journalists.[2]

Politicians and political parties use Twitter to connect with their constituents, share information, and promote their agendas, often with success: tweets from politicians and world leaders often make headlines.

According to a University of Amsterdam study that researched Twitter use of politicians in 26 countries, the politicians prefer to use mentions rather than retweets when communicating with other politicians. There are also many differences: some countries have a very active, thriving Twitter culture in which all functionalities are used, others refrain from mentioning and retweeting, and yet others may not use the platform much at all.[3]

Twitter banned political advertising in 2019 in order to promote healthy political discourse and avoid manipulation, but in early 2023 the new owner Elon Musk announced that the ban will be relaxed, and political and cause-based ads will be allowed in the future.[4]  Mid-2023 Elon Musk also informed that the app’s name has been changed into X and in the future it will have more features than currently [5]. By the time this text is being written, it is still unsure how the messaging platform will develop under the new brand.

Twitter policies and algorithms

Twitter has a privacy policy that outlines how it collects, uses, and shares personal information. Twitter collects information such as name, email address, and IP address in order to personalize user experiences and improve its services. Users have the ability to control what information is shared and can adjust their privacy settings accordingly.

As with many social media platforms, politicians and commentators from all sides allege that Twitter’s algorithms amplify their opponents’ voices, or silence theirs. Amplifying means that certain messages get shown more to followers, and therefore get a push in visibility by the algorithms. Policy makers and researchers have called for increased transparency on how algorithms influence exposure to political content on the platform. Research involving seven countries and 6.2 million news articles shared in the United States has shown that the political right enjoys higher amplification compared to the political left.[6]

Twitter in Myanmar

According to a study by the National University of Singapore, Twitter has served as an alternative to Facebook since the coup, emerging as a preferred platform for activism and dissent.[7]

Compared to Facebook, it is more global in nature especially because of hashtag use, which was seen in Myanmar as well. International non-governmental organisations, journalists, diaspora and activists expressed outrage and support using #whatshappeninginmyanmar against the military. Journalists working on Myanmar, who lived outside the country, shared live information of military atrocities and amplified the voices of locals. They posted images of the protests taking place in remote areas of various states in Myanmar.

The migration of political activism to Twitter allowed for exposure to global communities and diverse perspectives, including ideas of equality and human rights, and an understanding of the Rohingya issue from a new lens. According to the study, this was an eye-opening and transformative experience especially for the youth, triggering feelings of remorse, unity and solidarity on a scale not witnessed before.

Twitter is not as popular as Facebook, for example: only less than 10 per cent of the population use Twitter, whereas nearly 80 per cent use Facebook.[8]

Twitter has been banned in Myanmar by the military junta, but it is sometimes used with VPN connections, and also actively used by the diaspora to spread awareness about what is happening in Myanmar.

Hashtag activism

Globally, Twitter is a major platform for social and political activism. A distinct form of Twitter activism is the use of hashtags, famously #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, to raise awareness and to amplify social or political messages.

Usually, Twitter activism aims to deliver messages rather than rallying people to come together for protests. For example, in Thailand the #FreeYouth campaign in 2020 was used primarily to build collective narratives and disseminate movement information. The network focused in discussing discontent towards the government and demands for democracy.[9]

Risks, disinformation and trolls

The use of Twitter for sharing political content can contain risks such as the spread of misinformation, online harassment, and the potential for foreign interference in elections. Because of its political nature, Twitter is a fertile ground for disinformation, and there are intentional disinformation campaigns conducted against politicians, activists, journalists, and other influential figures in many countries.

Twitter users can create anonymous accounts to harass people and spread disinformation. These people are called "trolls", a word borrowed from Nordic folklore. Research has shown that at least Russia has created entire "troll factories" or "troll armies" for spreading false information and to influence politics of other countries.[10] Many countries use similar “cyber troops” to shape voter sentiments or to suppress momentum of social movements, and political figures are also known to give false impressions that a certain candidate or policy enjoys widespread grassroots support of the community when little such support exists.This is known as astroturfing.


[1] PEW Research Center: Politics on Twitter: One-Third of Tweets From U.S. Adults Are Political, https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2022/06/16/politics-on-twitter-one-third-of-tweets-from-u-s-adults-are-political/

[2] PEW Research Center: Twitter is the go-to social media site for U.S. journalists, but not for the public, https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2022/06/27/twitter-is-the-go-to-social-media-site-for-u-s-journalists-but-not-for-the-public/

[3] Livia van Vliet, Petter Törnberg & Justus Uitermark (2020), The Twitter parliamentarian database: Analyzing Twitter politics across 26 countries, Plos Online, September 16, 2020, doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0237073

[4] AP: Twitter says it will relax ban on political advertising, https://apnews.com/article/elon-musk-technology-social-media-jack-dorsey-business-205324882cd3997cb187a369321012de

[6] Ferenc Huszár et al (2021) Algorithmic amplification of politics on Twitter, PNAS vol 119 no 1, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2025334119

[7] Rao, Anuradha and Atmakuri Archana (2021), The Role of Social Media in Myanmar’s CDM: Strengths, Limitations and Perspectives from India, ISAS Working Paper No. 355 – 28 October 2021

[8] Statcounter: https://gs.statcounter.com/social-media-stats/all/myanmar

[9] Aim Sinpeng (2021) Hashtag activism: social media and the #FreeYouth protests in Thailand, Critical Asian Studies, 53:2, 192-205, DOI: 10.1080/14672715.2021.1882866

[10] Darren L. Linvill & Patrick L. Warren (2020) Troll Factories: Manufacturing Specialized Disinformation on Twitter, Political Communication, 37:4, 447-467, DOI: 10.1080/10584609.2020.1718257