In my book on Twitter (the first academic book on the subject), I make the argument that social media such as Twitter can serve as a ‘public sphere’ where major public debates as well as quite intimate issues (like a cancer diagnosis or intimate partner violence (IPV)) can be discussed. Social media platforms can also change minds. Perhaps the easiest way to reflect on this is through more extreme speech. Take the case of the January 6th, 2021 U.S. Capitol insurrection, where journalists and academics (including myself) found that posts on Parler and other social media were critical to fomenting the insurrection.
Moreover, what one sees on social media feeds and timelines as venting or even raging may be seen by another in a completely different light. Of course, plenty of content on social media is dismissed, ignored, skimmed, or disregarded in some way, a single tweet can actually be quite powerful (particularly if it becomes viral/spread by influencers) and, historically, there have been plenty of cases where a single tweet changes opinions. Unfortunately, this can have negative effects such as a single tweet convincing someone to not get a vaccination. Ultimately, social media platforms such as Twitter serve public sphere functions and can influence the ways in which both individuals and groups side on pressing issues (e.g., in the US (school shootings, mask mandates, and abortion laws) and in India (the 2020-2021 farmers’ protests and vaccine mandates).