Twitter reported its fourth-quarter results Thursday morning, posting its slowest quarterly revenue growth since going public. This despite Twitter’s global relevance, which is being helped by U.S. President Donald Trump’s frequent use of the platform. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey acknowledged the company’s challenges on a quarterly conference call with analysts. “It’s been hard.  It will continue to be hard,” said Dorsey, who despite the challenges, struck an optimistic tone during the call on Thursday. 

Twitter’s fourth-quarter revenue of rose one per cent year-over-year to US$717 million.  Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, on average, expected Twitter to generate US$740 million in fourth-quarter revenue.  The shortfall prompted a fresh conversation around President Trump’s use of Twitter, and whether it is helping or hurting the company. “It’s such a hot topic at this point, and Trump is such a double-edged sword for Twitter,” analyst Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research told BNN in an email prior to the latest results.

Twitter and politics: A new handle for Trump

Donald Trump will inherit a new handle on Twitter when he is sworn is as U.S. president tomorrow: @POTUS. With Trump just crossing 20 million followers, Rory Capern, managing director, Twitter Canada joins us to talk Twitter, Trump and politicians using social media.

Trump's frequent use of Twitter (TWTR.N) on the campaign trail helped him amass millions of new followers. His personal account, @realDonaldTrump, grew from 2.6 million followers when he first announced plans to run for president, to more than 24 million followers now. And as president, he has continued to tweet at a healthy clip. On at least 10 occasions since being sworn in, Trump has tweeted from his personal account no fewer than six times in one day.

Each of those tweets is amplified by the media industry. According to SocialFlow, which works with media companies on their social media strategies, the top 20 media outlets on Twitter have more than 300 million combined followers. “Every platform needs to stay relevant to consumers, and President Trump’s reliance on Twitter certainly keeps them front and center in some awfully high-profile conversations,” Jim Anderson, CEO of SocialFlow, told BNN in an email. “It’s possible for any social network to get caught in a downward spiral where people just stop coming back. If you have any doubt about that, ask yourself when it was you last checked out your MySpace feed.”

But while Twitter highlighted a more engaged user base during the quarter (user growth increased four per cent), critics point to the mud-slinging tendencies of certain users as one of the factors holding back growth. “There’s an argument to be made that Trump’s use of Twitter borders on the abusive at times as well,” Jackdaw Research’s Jan Dawson told BNN.

This week, Twitter announced fresh plans to crack down on the creation of abusive accounts, targeting users who had previously been suspended. "We stand for freedom of expression and people being able to see all sides of any topic. That's put in jeopardy when abuse and harassment stifle and silence those voices. We won't tolerate it and we're launching new efforts to stop it," Ed Ho, Twitter’s VP of engineering, said in a blog post.

That balancing act is also front and centre for Twitter in markets outside the U.S., including Canada. “Twitter is a platform for conversation and open discourse has always been at our core as an organization,” Rory Capern, Twitter Canada’s managing director, told BNN in an email earlier this week. “We recognize that conversations around certain topics can be divisive and we’ve certainly seen this in recent months with a new U.S. administration coming in, challenging economic and cultural changes in parts of Europe and more."

Observers note Twitter’s latest results also highlight one of the key differences between Twitter and Facebook, which by comparison, generated more than US$8.8 billion in fourth-quarter revenue. “Twitter by default is a public social network, meaning that you don’t need my permission to follow me,” said SocialFlow CEO Jim Anderson. “Contrast that with Facebook, which is default private — you can’t be my friend unless I agree to it. This causes the community to behave differently, and unfortunately does result in more trolling and negativity than I’m sure Twitter would like.


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