What To Do About Twitter?

The troll has taken over the bridge, which is to say, Elon Musk now owns Twitter. Is this bad? Probably. Is this good? I don’t know, maybe there will be a good side to it, though it’s hard at this point to see what, precisely, that would be. Some of it depends on your feelings about Musk, and about Twitter, and about the ownership of media (social and mass and niche media) in total.

The picture isn’t rosy wherever you look. Most of our avenues of information — again, The Media, writ large — are gripped tightly by the hands of right-wing capitalist assholes who view and treat media less like it’s a vehicle for truth and more like it’s a vehicle ultimately for money. Yes, also a vehicle to further agenda, but ultimately, that agenda is to cycle more money. It’s always money. Making it. Laundering it. Occasionally setting it on fire.

Twitter now in the hands of Elon Musk means the so-called “town square” is in the hands of an increasingly erratic, trolly billionaire who began life being revered as Real Life Tony Stark and has since countered that image at every turn, revealing himself to be a third-tier Batman villain, desperate for Bruce Wayne’s attention, shitposting his way to infamy and winnowing stock prices.

So, what to do about that? Does it matter? Does it not?

Y’know, I dunno. Like I said, it’s not as if social media has long been a bastion of Good Ownership. It’s never really been in the hands of safe stewards, though sometimes you could at least catch a whiff of Twitter pretending to care. At the same time, you could make a very real argument that the shit-pit we have been slowly sinking into since, ohh, around 2016 or so, has been in part because of Twitter. Hell, before that — remember Gamer-gate? Yeah, me too.

Massive misinformation and disinformation and harassment have long run rampant, though it also feels like maybe, maybe that foul tide had started to recede a little bit. Twitter at least occasionally used mechanisms to ban accounts working to undermine the health and safety of people and democracy — though, while also occasionally leaving them hanging around long past a laundry list of flagrant violations (Libs of Tik Tok, f’rex). The tide may have been going out, but it was still gurgling around our ankles.

Now, though? I’m guessing it’ll be high tide again soon. It seems like it’s already starting. Even without going to look for it, I’m seeing some folks celebrating their newfound, um, free bird, with a fusillade of slurs and harassment. Whether the site will really become largely unmoderated, a true Hell-realm, a veritible tweetchan or tweety farms, I’ve no idea. Maybe all that is just bluff and bluster from Musk, given that you can trust what he says less than half the time (and that’s, I suspect, being charitable). And there has been chatter (some apocryphal, some purely made-up) that he’s going to open the gates of Arkham and let all the baddies pour back onto the streets of Gotham, and when that happens, no amount of moderation will push back the blooming red tide.

What will I personally do?

Y’know, I’m not sure. Twitter was a place I loved for a long time, then liked, then hated, and now I’m kind of outside space and time on it, where my feelings about it are mostly nostalgia and not anything present. I’ve made genuine friends there. I have built some of my career there. I’ve found excellent books there, learned neat things, and gotten to, well, fuck around and have fun with fun people, and that’s not nothing. It really matters. I have good memories there. But the opposite is also true, and Twitter has given me some of my worst days. I’ve long said it started out as a water-cooler, then it became a stage where we were all performing, and then one day it was a fight club. And you had to fight.

I think Twitter made me a better communicator while also making me a much worse communicator. I think it made me a better person in a lot of directions, and worse in others. I think it made me tougher for a while, and more frangible over time: calluses forming over brittle crystal. I don’t think it was ever good to sell books. And I think for a lot of creators the juice stopped being worth the squeeze — it is now, if I’m being honest, more of a liability than a value-add.

But I think it was a good place to meet your people. The micro-communities there are great. The friend groups are great. It’s harder and harder to access them, though, because any smaller community is by its nature a pond inside an ocean: you’re always connected to the larger body of water. There are, of course, Circles and Communities, and maybe those will become more the future of the platform. But maybe Musk will throttle those or kill them outright if they’re not providing quote-unquote value. Or maybe just for the fun of it. Who knows?

I’m not particularly excited to be providing value for Elon Musk, as it were. And yes, I guess I’m arguably giving value to someone like Zuckerberg, too, given that I’m on Instagram, ahem, ahem. Though there, Instagram (also a dying platform in its own ways, in part because it’s deeply desperate to be a social media platform that it never was) is a pleasing, dull space — it’s pictures of dogs and books and friends and food, rarely anything else, fairly well-moderated, largely easy for me to control my experience there. Twitter has controls, too, but I turn them on and miss 50% or more of my mentions, and people can still QT and still harass and find ways around the moderation. I’m not on TikTok, because ew, fuck, nobody wants that. Counter-dot-social is whatever, it’s fine. Facebook is barely there, a walled garden where I ask advice for like, “hey what’s this lump.” Is Tumblr still a thing? MySpace? Friendcircuit? Circleface? Do I start an OnlyFans page? Geocities? I dunno.

As yet I’m not leaving Twitter. Certainly I’ll be active through the midterms and my book tour. But after that, it’s a wait and see. I don’t expect to delete my account, and will likely segue it to becoming more broadcast only — talking about my books, and signal boosting books by other authors. Which isn’t too far from how I use it now, honestly. I pulled Twitter off my phone some months back, cutting my usage down considerably, and it immediately improved my general outlook on life, the universe, and everything. I don’t know that it’s super-healthy to be plugged into the Collective Twitter Brain for too long. It’s like VR; eventually, you start to accept this digital simulacrum as reality and accept reality as just artifice. Madness ensues.

What should you do? Well, I dunno, I’m not you. I admire not wanting to bail on it, as Twitter is (despite what I just said) a kind of real life thing. There are genuine people there. Real communities. It is sane to not want to abandon them. Though I’ve seen some rhetoric acting like staying behind is some kind of revolution, an act of resistance where you will, I dunno, damage Musk’s Empire from the inside, but that’s to my mind a bit misguided. You know how when you find out a horrible person controls Home Depot or Martin’s Potato Bread or something, and you choose to not buy from them anymore? That’s this situation. You can’t keep eating at Chik-Fil-A as a form of resistance. “I’ll tank their stock prices and combat homophobia by eating their delicious chicken sandwiches” isn’t really a thing. If your goal is to be against Musk, then you have to use Twitter less, or leave the platform. You provide value by being there. You’re not a stock-holder, you’re a product to be bought and sold. Your account and your tweets cumulatively add value to it. Full-stop. Because like I said, it’s about money. (And for Musk, about ego. And you being there is also about his ego.)

Again, I think it’s fine to stay! Just don’t couch as it an act of rebellion. You stay because you need to or want to, and that’s fine.

So, you do you.

I’ll be around, but less and less, and maybe one day not at all (and that’s true of life, one supposes, as well). Twitter isn’t dead, and declarations of its demise will be surely premature. But that doesn’t mean it’s healthy, either. It’s dying slowly, maybe even starting to smell a little. The rot could be cut out. It could be cured and brought back. But all too often these trips are one-way. Just like in life.

Long live Twitter. Rest in peace, Twitter. May it provide Musk little comfort.

30 responses to “What To Do About Twitter?”

  1. I have absolutely zero intention to create an Insta, but current Tumblr isn’t all that bad, actually.

    Since it’s now owned by the same ppl who do the WordPress you’re proudly showing off here.

    /it’s never the same, obviously, but I would personally enjoy reading ppl on tumblr again

  2. I quit Twitter when Musk first announced his purchase, so several months ago. My mental state improved and I have no regrets. I know it’s been an important tool for many people, and still is. The place I have found to be quite satisfying is Discord. I belong to several servers there and every one of them is a delight. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to the old forum boards, and the ability to have an invite-only space allows for easier moderation. People talk to each other, and build community. It’s great!

  3. I’m a long time Twitter fan, having had my longest account (heh, yes, I have three accounts) for more than ten years now. Knowing WHO is coming back to Twitter sets me on edge. I seriously hope MySpace comes back, actually. Not sure I am ready to delete yet since I do use it to apply to writing jobs, although I realized lately I have only gotten like ONE writing job from that platform. I do have my blogs though and with any luck, maybe blogging casually will make a big comeback. We just need a way to find each other.

  4. I think most of us are standing around the dumpster waiting to see if it catches fire. I’ve used Twitter less and less, finding communities and friends through Reddit and Discord, but I still pop in daily to feel the pulse of what’s going on in the world.

    It reminds me a lot of how I felt the day after Election Day in 2016, less optimistic about the future but uncertain of exactly how bad things will be.

    Ye’s back, Trump is sure to follow. A few curls of smoke rise up around the lid of the dumpster.

    Worst part of a dumpster fire is you can’t use it to roast marshmallows. You can only watch and hope to stay upwind of the stench.

  5. I don’t know how long I will be staying with Twitter, but for the time being I am testing its commitment to free speech by including this with every tweet. #ElonSucks

  6. I may stay for updates only and for the list of authors I chat with daily. I will see. I recently got on Tik Tok and am enjoying it so far. I don’t know the solution so I’m in a holding pattern for now. Ello was supposed to be a thing. Some have mentioned Slack or Discord. I wish I knew. *shakes head in confusion*.

  7. I have tumbler but never liked it’s lay out, so I moved to WordPress. I have Instagram and like it. I dumped twitter as soon musk said he was acquiring it. I have had a bad feeling about it being bought by him. I have slack I like it and also discord I like it. Both, I have found are user friendly. I don’t like FB anymore. Myspace has sunk into an abyss no longer even user friendly. Geocites went bye bye years ago.

  8. I left twitter a while ago, and the one thing I miss from it is the local posts I could get before it made the news, you know, like a cat up on tree on 45th ave, or a fire causing traffic and did you just feel that earthquake?? I have yet to use Discord as a community thing, but use it a lot for private chats with friends…. I dunno……

  9. I can definitely understand your sentiment around the fear of the unknown. But something that stood out to me was this quote: ” Most of our avenues of information — again, The Media, writ large — are gripped tightly by the hands of right-wing capitalist assholes”

    I’m genuinely curious how you figure most of our media is controlled by the right-wing? Nearly every major media outlet is profoundly liberal in this day and age. Not to mention, Hollywood is almost entirely left-wing, and provides much of the news that we read about, i.e. this celebrity has an opinion and this news site is doing an article on it.

    I’m just a bit confused on your view of the media landscape. As someone who works in media, this has not been my experience at all.

    • Literally, most of the owners, the actual owners, are not liberal. And the so-called “liberal media” often parrots right-wing talking points and buries left-wing POVs. The media is largely a capitalist, centrist entity with a rightward lean.

    • After the story about the email lady broke, NYT had six or seven pieces on this single topic on their front page. The attempted assassination by a right wing extremist on the second in line for the presidency of the US, should anything happen to Biden? One bit in the lower right corner. Nothing at all anymore the next day. The “liberal media” are owned by billionaires who want Dems gone so Republicans can give them tax cuts on the tax they’re not paying already. Same goes for Hollywood. Because they’re all driven by money, and making more of it, and not sharing it with anyone.

      • The media company I work for donates money to the DNC. Most do. Agreed billionaires own these companies, but it doesn’t mean they don’t vote blue. The democratic party is very much involved with big tech more than the republican party. As for the piece about Pelosi, it seems part of the issue has been confirming the type of person who did this. The perpetrator was labeled as far right by all media outlets when the story broke, but turns out to be part of the green party. Details are still emerging. It’s all very confusing and I agree in the end that the rich control pretty much everything and there is little we can do about it.

  10. I just need to know where to find the birb posts. I enjoy hearing what you have to say and I’m glad I found you on Twitter.

  11. So, I have told this to a couple of people already. This diaspora reminds me of when Tribe.net was disintegrating. The owner basically sabotaged it and it was falling apart and being run on cyber duct tape and paper clips. In the meantime, all these cool communities of all sorts of people had met, made friends, some had dated and married even from that site. But if we wanted to stay in touch we needed to find someplace else to go. People tried Friendster, tumblr, Ello, Tapestry, and others for “short form.” MySpace was dead. Live Journal and Blogster, well, you have to like long form musings for those. Works if you’re a writer, but a lot people aren’t (I had a lot of friends who stuck it out at Tumblr for a long time because they were more visual.) We dipped our toes in. Didn’t work. Tried again somewhere else. (We never touched Reddit.)

    These days, most of those friends of mine from Tribe have found each other on Facebook. Some do Twitter. Some I get a postcard from once a year and otherwise they have completely disappeared. Our online friendships and news gathering has replaced written correspondence and newspapers, newsletters, and magazines, or those social clubs of the 19th century. And people become amazingly involved and even intimate in their online friendships, just as they did in written correspondence 100 years ago.

    I guess that I am saying that things change and evolve. I enjoy your Twitter posts. I would miss not seeing them (I am going to check out your Instagram cuz I still enjoy Instagram). I also know that life is a time stream. It doesn’t stop for anyone. You gotta live it. I think I grok what you’re saying. We all gotta find our own way through.

  12. Twitter never stuck for me. I tried it numerous times, but I was not skilled nor pithy enough to be engaging. I roll slow. I went back on in October for a few days before I noticed my amplified anxiety and anger. Returned to blogs, slow, leisurely and meandering.

  13. Thanks for the long, meditative thoughts on this, helped on an otherwise difficult day.

    I’m personally hoping Spacehey picks up some of this slack. It’s trying to bring back the more chill internet culture of the early to mid 2000’s.

    I’m even debating deleting my Reddit account. That’s a cycle of posting addiction that leads to eventual troll blocking and site hiatus.

  14. I just have to mention that I have been off of all socials for about five years, and I love life. My friends are people I can look in the eye and touch and laugh with in person. Yes, it sucks for any kind of publicity of any creative endeavor because I have to literally stare covid in the eye and talk to real life people on the streets. But that’s okay. I don’t miss any of it.

  15. I deleted my passwords, not sure which one was right so I couldn’t deactivate. I find Twitter makes me angry and a far worse and less happy person. I’m sorry to miss some of the folks I follow but, I suspect they, like you, will limit their presence anyway.

    There’s enough BS in real life— we were at a college football game last night where the fans behind us kept going on about how wonderful Kari Lake is (aka pretty female Trump). Ruined the experience significantly.

  16. I love Elon’s strong ideas about where he wants Twitter to go. And Twitter people’s even stronger ideas about not wanting to go there lol.

    I feel like maybe the back and forth will make Twitter more vibrant in the long-run.

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