Twitter fucking sucks. It has for a while, and it doesn’t suck entirely, all the time, in every direction, but in a general miasma-sort of way, it definitely fucking sucks. Elon Musk happens to agree that it fucking sucks, and so he wants to buy it. Only problem is, he and I do not agree about what makes it fucking suck. What he wants to fix are things that will, at least for my mileage, make it fucking suck worse. And so here we are with the big question:
What to do about that?
I have no goddamn idea.
But first, more on why Twitter sucks now, and why it’ll suck worse soon.
And yes, ironically I’m writing this on a blog, which is like putting your podcast on vinyl, but this is what I got, so this is what you’re getting.
Twitter’s Three Phases
Twitter used to be my watercooler. I wrote from home, which is to say I was alone in a shed bleating words into a book that wouldn’t see the light of day for at least twelve months, so it was where I went to to meet other authors, editors, publishing professionals, and readers. From there it cascaded out to other creative folks too: comic artists, voiceover folks, and the like.
Then, somewhere along the way, it became a stage. Because that watercooler? It was public. Everyone was privy to it. It wasn’t a private Slack channel. Other people could watch your particular community gather around its communal watercooler like they were checking out a nature documentary. You were on a stage. You were performing, even if you didn’t mean to be. And everyone reacting to your performance was also on that stage and also — whether they meant to or not! — performing. Everybody was audience, everybody was performer, and after awhile, that gets messy.
Somewhere, it entered a third phase — again, without warning. I expect this was sometime in the 2015-2016 leadup to That Election. Twitter stopped being a watercooler, it stopped being a stage. It became a Fight Club.
And no matter what night it was for you, you had to fight.
(It’s tempting to blame this on the individual. And it is on us, somewhat. But don’t neglect to throw blame at the platform itself: rewarding agitation and doing far too little to mitigate harassment, bot activity, and propaganda.)
For me personally, Twitter was a place where I met some of the greatest people I know. I’ve made genuine friendships. And it also had profound impact on my career. I did not set out on social media to have it be that impactful professionally, I just wanted to go somewhere and have fun and make friends and, even when that meant being sort of messy, say the stuff that was on my mind. I’m also definitely a better person because of Twitter, full-stop. I like to hope I’m a work-in-progress: soft clay rather than something carved into stone. Twitter has opened my mind in myriad directions. I have at times been a person whose empathy was at a deficit, and I believe social media has genuinely helped change that. It has given me some of my best days.
It has also given me some of my worst days. Like, not just worst days online, but literally some of my worst actual days. I’ve been on Twitter for (insert a too-large number here) years, and every year the ratio of GOOD FUN to NIGHTMARE REALM changes — the good stuff dips, the nightmare shit rises, and that see-saw never seems to bounce back the other way. It’s probably not healthy that it’s turned into a place where one stupid tweet can bury you in harassment for days, weeks, even years. I still get people telling me I want to burn down libraries (uhh, I don’t) or that I suck for hating Tolkien (I don’t, and all those criticisms you think I made against Tolkien were not against Tolkien) or, oof, do I need to remind you of this? Cancel culture isn’t real, except that it is, and it’s shitty trolls wielding it. I’ve received death threats and doxxing over the absolutely dumbest shit. And you probably have, too. Because that’s Twitter. And I don’t know that a platform like that is all that great if it’s giving you literal days where the goal of people is to make you want to kill yourself — and they succeed at making you feel that way, even for just a moment.
(And note, I’m saying all this as a cisgendered white dude with buckets of privilege. If this is my experience, I promise you it’s worse for everyone on the spectrum of marginalization and under-served communities.)
All that is in addition to the fact the algorithm seems to be more and more punishing in terms of helping reach. I don’t see half my mentions anymore. Some posts reach a lot of eyes; many seem to hit few. It’s a mess. I don’t even know what I’m gaining over there, and it’s starting to definitely feel like there’s a sunk cost fallacy at work in terms of me staying…
And of course all of that is just at the human level. At the sociopolicial nation-to-globe level, haahha aaahaahaAAAAHHHHH I mean, Jesus Fucking Christ, it’s hard to reckon with the fact that Facebook and Twitter helped give us Trump. Like, do you ever stop to think about how this massive digital brain-dump gave us the literally dipshittiest person to ever become president? This place? Gave us that guy? As president? Fuck. Fuuuuuuck. Fuck.
Twitter didn’t create the post-truth era, but it certainly feels like it helped hammer in the last nails into truth’s coffin. Pick a reality, and you can find it on Twitter. To be clear, you can find this anywhere — it isn’t unique to Twitter, and is probably even worse on Facebook and YouTube. Twitter, in fact, has gotten a little better in this regard — way too slow, and way too late, and way too fucking little, but something is something, and I can guarantee you that Elon Musk is not here to keep that kind of moderation in place.
Ultimately, Twitter is this big giant glom of thoughts all connected together in one big ugly stew. It’s no wonder it gets hard to separate out the protein from the filler, to figure out what’s edible and what isn’t, to have a hard time telling if you’re eating something healthful or swallowing a hot quaff of poison. I don’t think it’s doing us any good. It’s not helping our anxiety (at least, not mine). Yes, it disseminates good information, but usually only after bad information (misinformation or worse, disinformation) has taken the good seats and has to be forcibly kicked out. Nuance goes there to die. The service thrives on outrage, and while often that anger and that outrage is justifiable and even reasonable, it can also shortcut the part of our brains that make us feel like we want to get up and do something about it — Twitter tricks us into feeling like, well, hey, we did something about it. We tweeted about it. Didn’t that fix it??
(And never mind the dunk culture stuff. All the dunks are funny and fair, I get it, but you have to realize that at the end of the day it’s like throwing the seeds of an invasive plant in your shitty neighbor’s yard. Yeah, you really got them good, until you realize you just spread the invasive plant further, and now it’s growing into your lawn anyway because that’s how plants work.)
I don’t know that social media helped end the world.
But it sure didn’t save it.
And Now, Elon Musk
I don’t need to tell you who he is. You can Google that for yourselves. Think of him as the ultimate troll. A billion-dollar troll. King of the Trollkin, that guy.
Maybe he’ll do right by Twitter. Maybe he’ll make it better. Or maybe he’ll give it autopilot and it’ll crash into an orphanage. I’m betting on the latter.
The question is, what do you do about it?
I don’t know.
I really don’t.
You can leave. You can stay. No judgment on either. Leaving, you think, well, I can’t give him that win. Every person on Twitter is, essentially, a resource for and of Twitter. You are to him a Tesla driver — if he owns it, you’re driving one of his cars, just digitally. Every tweet is an Elon Musk tweet and you might think, well, you don’t want to give him that satisfaction. And you’d be right not to want that.
You can stay. You can resist and use his platform against him. That’s also good and fine and fair. I dunno that it works or not. It probably just generates more of the anger that the platform thrives upon. It probably gives him the win either way, to destroy Twitter or to have it be like a kicked over beehive.
It’s an ethical conundrum no matter how you slice it. You abandon friends on that platform, or you stay and justify his ownership of it. And it’s not like Facebook is good — or Instagram, which is just Facebook with photos. Again, no judgment here. You do what you gotta. I know that nuance is not a thing we are well-practiced at anymore (in part thanks to, drum roll please, Twitter), but for real, I don’t think there’s One Good Moral Answer. As with many things, you pick a path and make your peace with it, and course-correct when you get better, more useful information.
For me, I dunno what I’ll do. I don’t feel comfortable using a Musk-owned Twitter in a big way. What few gains Twitter has made will, as noted, be almost certainly rolled back. Trump is likely to return. As such, I’ll probably turn it over to a broadcast-only announcement-based Twitter, and see what happens from there. I’ll kill it from my devices, leaving it on like, some sad old iPad with a cracked screen and a stuck button that smells curiously like raspberry jam. I signed up for counter.social today, @chuckwendig, but that site crashed about ten minutes later and has locked me out since. I’m on Instagram @chuck_wendig, but it’s not a great place to have conversations. I have a blog at www.terriblohh right you’re already here, never mind. Should I start a newsletter? Is Ello still a thing? Myspace? Friendcircle? Faceyplace? Gleem? Plumbob? Are any of these real or am I just having a stroke? Oh god, do I have COVID? Is COVID a social media network? Shit, should I fire up my old Gateway 486 and start a new BBS? You know what, fuck it, send me your physical mailing address, I’ll write my posts on various rocks and logs and throw them through your window. Open or closed. ROCKLOG, I’ll call it. Maybe I’ll duct-tape an apple to each post. For health.
I dunno. It sucks. I’ve made a lot of friends there. I’ve had wonderful times. I’ve also had some of the worst moments of my life there, and I get a little frisson of secret joy at the opportunity to escape it. Because, as noted, Twitter fucking sucks a lot of the time. And I fear it’s about to fucking suck a whole lot more. But I also get a crushing sense of sadness. I don’t want to leave people behind. I love some folks there. But am I having fun there? Am I helping anyone? Am I even helping myself? Or is it just an anxiety oubliette, now lorded over by an even shittier billionaire than before? One who punishes his critics and hates trans people and comes from blood diamond money and, and, and…
Some reading material, if you care to have it:
Fonda Lee: Twitter Is The Worst Reader
Kacen Callendar: The Humanization Of Authors
Caitlin Flanagan: You Really Need To Quit Twitter
And finally, something else from me (I know, sorry): Does Social Media Sell Books? A Vital Inquisition!