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.