News Local

Vancouver tweeters reflect on platform’s 10 years

By Eric MacKenzie



Rebecca Bollwitt remembers the first time she posted to Twitter, and it wasn’t quite the same content you’ll find on her popular feed these days.

“My first tweet was about making breakfast,” said Bollwitt, publisher of the Miss604 blog (@miss604) and CEO of website development firm sixty4media.

The social network wasn’t even a year old when Bollwitt sent that debut tweet about cooking sausage.

“In the early days, it was a lot more personal, conversational,” continued Bollwitt.

“I think Twitter has become more of a business tool, and that’s kind of what I spend half of my business around now — promoting brands and my own site.”

With Twitter celebrating its 10th anniversary on Monday, the occasion was a chance to reflect on how the medium has evolved or contributed to the personal and professional lives of some prominent Vancouver tweeters.

The general consensus is that singer Carly Rae Jepsen (@carlyraejepsen) has the largest audience among Vancouver-based users, with her number of followers exceeding 11 million. But others who aren’t necessarily celebrities in the public eye have caught the attention of many online thanks to the platform.

“I think it’s knowing the right people, following the right people, but also content — people love my content,” said Gary Bizzo (@garybizzo), a Vancouver author and business start-up specialist who has amassed more than 465,000 followers.

Bizzo said he tries to tailor most of his tweets to his demographic of entrepreneurs. He regularly posts quotes from notable individuals in the business community and links relevant to his followers. But he also mixes in his personal opinion on buzz-worthy topics from time to time, and admitted that can be “tough” when broadcasting to nearly a half-million people with a wide range of viewpoints.

“Sometimes you feel like a politician because you have to be cognizant of others’ opinions. Quite often, you really have to be careful,” said Bizzo. “I’m very opinionated, but people respect that, too. They know that I’m not going to cross the line, but I’m going to bring things to their attention that’s interesting to them.”

And Bizzo’s tweets have made him an influential figure offline at times. By tweeting about his desire to see transparency in the finances of charities several years back, he earned an invite from a Toronto-area MP to speak in the House of Commons in support of Bill C-470, which called for limitations in salary and benefits for charity executives. The bill ultimately passed.

“I actually changed Canadian law through my Twitter,” said Bizzo. “(That showed) one person can make a difference.”

Hardly every experience on Twitter is a positive one. The anonymity it affords users means many with a larger presence are subject to insults, harassment or worse from others. Unfortunately, that’s especially true for women, and Bollwitt said she hasn’t been exempt from inexplicable abuse.

“I had issues a few years ago with people saying very harmful things that I needed to get blocked or banned,” she said.

“Luckily, I do not get that as much anymore,” continued Bollwitt, who stressed that Twitter has been the catalyst for her making numerous positive connections as well.

“I’ve met some of my best friends from Twitter.”

Spending the majority of his time on Twitter focused on sports — the Vancouver Canucks in particular — local freelance writer Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) has seen the best and worst of what the medium has to offer, too.

“It’s very easy to get caught up in the negatives of it. But there are definitely a lot of positives to be had,” said Arndt.

Arndt’s current account began as a parody tribute to the glass divider at Rogers Arena that helped them reach the Stanley Cup final in 2011. Many of his tweets are still designed to give people a laugh, it has grown into so much more than that — he figures his writing career wouldn’t have taken off the way it has without it, and agrees that it’s allowed him to connect with the Lower Mainland community in a unique way.

“It creates not only you as a personality, but also lends credibility to who you are when you have people interacting with you,” said Arndt.