On Twitter, we look down
Why am I still on Twitter? An in-depth investigation.
Look, I don’t really have much interest or respect for an asshole who intentionally goes around calling themselves ‘catturd’ but when that character is one who you’ve bent the rules to allow them to spout bullshit on your platform and even they are mad at you, it’s clear that you’re not on a path to make reasonable friends.
I don’t think it is an exceptional assumption to look at the activity of the world’s most online billionaire and see him going down a well-known radicalization pipeline, exploring more extreme beliefs, dropping more (and I must emphasize: only relatively more) sensible friends and finding comfort in the welcoming arms of extremism. Musk is following a not-particularly-exceptional path that many a white man has taken before and you can take his antisemitic conspiracy theory bullshit about Soros as just a deeper step in that pattern. I think we can argue about if Musk has gone Nazi, but he is indisputably going Nazi in an extremely predictable way. There is no arguing with the fact that not only is Musk Going Nazi directly in front of us but he is intentionally leveraging, using, and getting benefit from Twitter to do it.
Twitter used to be the place to speak truth to power, now it's a platform for power to speak over you as obnoxiously as possible.
As such, existing on Twitter has entered a very particularly tenuous state. You get the distinct feeling that we are living in the first, new, verse of an old poem.
First they came for the transgender people and I did not say anything, because I was not transgender.
It’s clear that the Right’s “war on woke” is coming from them being Too Online. But that’s not exactly right. More than one study has shown that while, Twitter has never been a majority traffic source, stories and trends start on Twitter and transition to other platforms where the actually trackable “virality” happens. We can see that the Right’s trend towards more extreme and better organized hate, bigotry and transphobia (hint: I’m using the rule of threes here, these are all the same) is unmistakably gaining energy from the end of real moderation on Twitter. Even if it wasn’t, hate is determinedly persisting and spreading, with the significant help of Twitter’s owner and his shitty little account.
I shouldn’t have to explain why this particular bigotry is just one step towards fascism. By now you should know how this works. You should look at the rhetoric attempting to de-person trans people and find it unacceptable even if it stopped at that. But you should also know it won’t stop at that. This isn’t a stretch. It’s already happening. Silicon Valley is full of little “mouthbreathing machiavellis” and their tendency towards fascism is becoming more pronounced and less easy to ignore. Nowhere is this more obvious than with Elon Musk and his increasingly fash-friendly shitstorm of a platform.
So it is indeed worth asking… why the fuck are we still on there?
When Facebook was starting to go bad, it was more like watching a old family friend of your friend’s parents’ get alzheimer's. Sure, Facebook couldn’t remember who you were but also you couldn’t really remember why to care. I don’t know how else to describe it. I should have felt worse about suddenly departing Facebook. For years I’d built not just an audience but a significant amount of traffic routed through Facebook to my own efforts. Enough that I could run somewhat notable experiments. At peak, I likely could marshal more traffic than the average local newspaper. It felt like, in some ways, Facebook was more a part of my identity than Twitter ever has been. While I’ve had more than one person say they ‘oh, I follow you on Twitter’, for years multiple people would introduce me as “the guy who posts really good stuff on Facebook.” I’m not bragging. I’m pretty sure that isn’t something to be proud of. But it was a thing I cared about and put a lot of effort into for a pretty long time. Despite all the relative success I found DJing news articles on Facebook I dropped it dead basically overnight.
While I (once) made it far more viral on Twitter than I ever did on Facebook this was never rewarded by the platform with significant success or a continuous flow of interaction or traffic in the same way Facebook did. The success of content on Twitter happens off the platform and the success of people on Twitter happens off the platform. The way Twitter works is: it does not reward its adherents until someone else does. Twitter has never verified me. It hasn’t rewarded me with a million followers. It hasn’t gotten me a book deal. Twitter, the platform itself, does nothing for its users. What the hell do we get out of it exactly?
The mistake every analyst makes about Twitter is the assumption that it is a self-contained platform. That Twitter is about itself. That is incorrect.
Twitter is not a social network. Twitter is an event platform where we celebrate content. Its other function is to help you desperately try not to be the subject of content. Twitter is a platform where we have a big party every time someone posts online some writing we like or a big roast when they post some real bad shit (and yes, specifically writing).
Twitter has never been a microphone, it has always been an amp.
The truth of Twitter is that it supplies power through the connections of communities in a way that nothing has before and nothing has since. A particular irony is capitalists are obsessed with Twitter when it is really an evolution of the People’s Microphone concept we saw so well deployed during Occupy.
Twitter hasn’t just been useful for getting refunds from bad behaving corporations. It hasn’t just been responsible for (at least) my last two jobs. It hasn’t just been a venue to connect with experts and learn things that I didn’t even know were available to learn.
It has shamed powerful men and amplified the work of those who would see them dispossessed of power.
It has made an entire sector of shitty humans so afraid of “canceling” that they literally cannot stop talking about it, that they have turned “talking about canceling” into an industry.
Twitter has changed the world in a way that none of the other tech companies really have. Facebook hasn’t done more than take up our attention, fart out bad UI in the night, and, lately, fall down a hill. Google may have organized the world’s information and made itself richer than … most countries, I guess? But what did it do in your life? Do you remember something happening on Facebook like you remember the Arab Spring happening on Twitter? Do you remember Google as part of your life during crazy shit like Jan 6th? If you’re reading this: you used Twitter and it’s a part of your memory like the others just aren’t.
What Twitter does is connect us, often to people we would never connect to without its help. In doing so, when it is good, it opens our mind to things that would never have found us otherwise.
Now, all of this is good, and it is also very bad. These same tools could and were freely used by shitty people to do terrible things. But it isn’t only that.
Some people who complained about Twitter really just don’t like the rest of us talking back. Now they’re the ones in charge. They have turned the arc of power on Twitter against most of its users. They have turned Twitter from the People’s Microphone to the Oligarch’s Podium. We already have plenty of those. So what is the reason I’m still on Twitter? Why is anyone with a sense of morality and a modicum of thought on Twitter?
The answer comes easier than I’d like. Despite the fact that one’s participation on Twitter is implicitly supporting a project focused on shifting The Discourse to the extreme Right, it is still—for some godawful reason—where my community is. We’re all stuck on Twitter because we’re all fucking grasping each other hoping that we can hold on together and float to the top instead of drown. After all, we have all together floated above similar-seeming maelstroms before. In the past we have achieved change on Twitter not with Twitter but in spite of it.
Collectively we all can’t get around that history of success through togetherness that was once the defining characteristic of Twitter. We are sure that this time will be like all the others; that we will manage to hang together, maintain our community; and make it out of the water before we drown.
No one is floating out of the maelstrom on Twitter this time. We’re going to drown… eventually. That time is far enough off that we can convince ourselves we can somehow rise above the sewer and make it through clean. So you’re on Twitter and so I’m on Twitter and so our community is on Twitter and so you’re on Twitter and so I’m on Twitter. Round and round we go, convinced that this valuable tool that has made a profound impact on our lives isn’t broken irreparably. We pretend our presence isn’t being used to legitimize people who want us all dead, once they finish off the most vulnerable and have the time to get to the rest of us.
Looking up would mean seeing this is all incredibly unacceptable. But I don’t know what else to do or where else we can all gather in the specific way that Twitter has enabled. My community is on Twitter and I can’t leave it. My community won’t leave Twitter unless I start the process by extracting myself.
I’m on Twitter
because I look down.
I will be changing the name of this newsletter. I think to “Schizochronotopia” (see). If you think that’s a bad idea or you have a better idea of what I should rename it to, reach out ASAP.
This post represents my **personal** opinion and does not reflect the position of my current, past, or future employers, this platform, or anyone other than me singularly.