Are Twitter Threads the New Op-Ed?

Image on the twitter app open on a phone and a computer
This article is part of a series sponsored by and developed in partnership with The Narrative Initiative to maximize opportunities to grow narrative power, equip narrative changemakers, and empower communities to use their voices in pursuit of social justice.

One very popular way to help flip the script on harmful narratives that hurt us all is the use of the famed Twitter thread. But first things first, what do we mean when we say narrative?

For us at the Narrative Initiative, NARRATIVE is a collection of stories with shared themes and ideas that inform how people think and act on an issue. For example, you read articles or saw news segments about how Latinx parents rushed to save the lives of their kids at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas when police would not. The recurring theme here is that police don’t protect us, and a not-so-new narrative is gaining traction: that community keeps us safe, not police.

Why storytelling?

When you have a chorus rather than a solo act all saying something similar, you begin to build the narrative power it takes to move the needle on justice in real life, not just in words. This is why your story matters. All social movements are powered by people and their ability to create messages so loud they can’t be ignored.

When ideas become so ubiquitous that you flip on the TV, scroll through your Twitter or TikTok feed, you can’t go to church, mosque, or synagogue without hearing about it, that’s when they become so ingrained that they shape how people understand the world around them. That’s when the things people care about start to shift. After all the stories coming from Uvalde, folks everywhere might become more inclined to, say, support funding teachers, who would give (and gave) their lives to protect your kids, over cops, whose job is to protect money and property, not people.

The case for Twitter threads

Sharing stories is the way we connect with one another, whether it’s in person, on social media, or in any other medium. Stories are also necessary to make the case for an opinion. A story can make an argument, but an argument can never be a story.* Straight statistics and facts don’t move people the way a story from someone with the most at stake does.

Op-eds have long been the gold standard for publishing opinions, but in the age of social media, the gatekeepers at traditional media outlets aren’t as important as they once were. Many elite publications that committed to expanding their pool of opinion writers to include folks in community, on the ground, fighting for justice, have not been fulfilled.

The New York Times published opinions from privileged white women on immigrant rights on the 9/11 anniversary last year and recently about forced birth when people with far greater stakes in these issues would have been a more appropriate choice. Editors often go with familiar people, and all too often that means voices from Latinx, Black, Indigenous, Asian and other people from the global majority are excluded.

That’s not to say that having an editor who allows you to tell your story to their audience isn’t powerful. It still is, but editors, reporters, and audiences are online and paying attention. Reporters often cite Tweets, IG posts, or TikTok videos in articles and often look to social media for story ideas and people to interview.

This is where Twitter threads come in. You craft them the same way you would an op-ed: a story that illustrates the issue and grabs the reader’s attention, includes surprising or little-known facts with your analysis, and finally, moves audiences to action. Twitter also lets you get in front of some of the same audiences you would reach with your published op-ed. And there are some key advantages of a Twitter thread:

  • URGENCY You don’t have to wait for editor approval, giving you more opportunity to influence what people are saying and what questions they’re asking about breaking news
  • AGENCY You have complete control in the way you tell your story
  • COMMUNITY You can connect with others who share similar stories and vision for a just future by including and tagging them in your thread
  • ACTION Your call to action letting folks know what they can do can be more specific than an op-ed, like linking to a petition or asking them to show up somewhere

For more on Twitter threads, join us in the Luz Community on June 14th at 4PMPT/6PM CT/7ET for a webinar featuring Rinku Sen, Jorge Rivas and Megan Izen. If you can’t make it, visit the Word Force website to check out our Op-ed guide from former NYT editor Lawrence Downes and sign up for our *monthly/weekly/bi-weekly newsletter for more resources.

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