Given the inevitable implosion of Twitter following Pylon Crunk’s (really stupid) takeover of it, people are wondering “what now?”
Or, more specifically “where now?”
Which site will come rescue them? Where do they need to abandon ship to?
To me, I don’t particularly mind and don’t think it matters too much. Indeed, not thinking about it too hard and spreading around multiple sites might be beneficial. We all know the joke that the internet since the 2010s has been just five websites, filled with screenshots of the other four. Seeing that era die off feels like an exciting potential development.
I’ve certainly gained a lot from Twitter since kind-of-accidentally signing up in late 2016. I’ve created many new professional connections, reconnected with former colleagues, got conference speaking invites, and various inspirations for how to do my job as people share their work and ask to learn as much in return. Without that, I probably wouldn’t be in the (reasonably successful) position I am now compared to when I last published to this WordPress backwater.
But none of that is really to the credit of the site. It’s all down to the community that it happened to host. As someone else recently pointed out; if you buy Twitter, you’ve bought a community, not a tech company. I agree with that assessment. I also agree that, as something ran on ads and selling data, that community is your product, not your customers. It’s probably best not to destroy your product. Best not to alienate customer or product, either, but I digress.
The point is that it’s not a site, it’s a community, and it’s a (sub) group of people, that have made it worthwhile for me until now.
As a site, and as an overall culture, I actually have very little to say about it that’s positive.
Let’s be honest, it’s a bit crap
As technology, it’s remarkably limited. I don’t think I’ve watched a whole video via the platform, even a 15 second clip, before an endless buffering loop — but at least the interface is dominated by people shilling their crypto scams via the Spaces feature that I can’t get rid of. I can’t direct my posts to dedicated audiences, but I can buy a hexagonal Enn-Eff-Tee profile picture. I can’t edit out spelling errors, but it’s possible for hidden accounts to send abusive minions toward me for it.
Culturally, Twitter is almost terminally self-obsessed. As if we’d get the UK back into the European Union if you simply follow everyone who tweets a single “follow back!” hashtag. As if you can swing an election by writing 200 characters on a website where only a tiny fraction of the population is actually active. People have acquired countless thousands of follows for simply following prominent politicians and replying “zingers” to them, in the hopes of mining it for likes. Entire personalities exist around “having a twitter account”. An entire cottage industry of people tweeting “Sir, this is a Wendy’s” was destroyed the day Donald Trump was finally banned.
Exceedingly tedious stuff that’s often difficult to mute.
The massive objections to an “edit” function seemed to reek of a weird “Twitter Exceptionalism”. The argument goes something to the effect of: what if you liked a tweet about cute puppies, and then they changed it to be a racist comment, and then they forwarded the screenshot to your employer? Certainly, such a convoluted plan that would fall foul of anyone ever checking the original post and seeing the edit history. And if someone isn’t going to check, then any of the fake-screenshot generators online — or, hell, even MS Paint! — could do the same job with or without editing tweets being possible. Web forums have allowed some kind of editing since forever, and yet no problems. Politicians have prominent Facebook presences, which allows editing, and yet no grand conspiracies to hide their mistakes have emerged. To Twitter’s userbase, that site is magically special, and different.
How? It just is!
But it is not.
Sorry to put on a costume and get on stage to play the “Grumpy Old Internet Guy” character, but it is not the centre of the universe. And, frankly, the site’s overall attitude is utterly insufferable. Flaccid internet drama doesn’t become less tragic and sad just because you’re on a social media site with millions of users in 2022 instead of a VB forum with 35 users in 2002.
Twitter’s centring in discussions and discourse is largely an accident of journalism. The posts are publicly visible, and various court rulings granted them a fair-game status for reporters to cite and use. Your posts, and your comments, are now a potential source of free content for everyone else. Suddenly, “So-and-so tweeted about…” becomes a headline. Pop-cultural reviews have descended into endless articles about how a particular episode or movie has attracted ire and criticism which, once you dive into the article, turns out to be two tweets with 6 likes between them.
Journalism ate itself in the last few decades for a multitude of reasons, but Twitter certainly provided some tasty seasoning for it.
The bad and the ugly…
Then there’s the abusive aspects of the site.
Twitter might not be unique in having problems, but it is very structurally based around promoting abuse. Tweets themselves — being short, isolated posts — aren’t so much easily removed from context, but exist atomically in a way that means they barely have any context in the first place. Caveat your points in the replies all you like, that won’t save you from countless people making those misinterpretations anyway. The site is one of the few of Web 2.0 social media that, to quote someone else, rewards being deranged more than being hot.
If you can’t say it perfectly in 280 characters, the site is designed to punish you.
The “quote tweet” feature, while valuable for sharing content you like with your own take, context, or a description to advertise it to your own followers, is the core mechanism for abuse to be spread. The site is filled with accounts whose main schtick is to use that quote tweet feature to send their hundreds of thousands of followers to spam and reply, and further quote tweet, the original — making life unbearable for one poor user who accidentally crossed the path of the bigger account, until the smaller victim locks or simply deletes their account.
And everyone feels like they’re justified in doing it. Chasing the euphoric high of that “like” number going up, up, up as you stick it to the Bad Person. The cultural obsession with the “ratio” of likes/comments/quotes drives it further. The “main character” trope where one person is the willing or unwilling victim for that day. It’s all structurally horrid.
Twitter showed no signs of curbing that behaviour, nor holding people to account for their followers’ actions, even actions driven by them. The plausible deniability of not being responsible for your following remains strong.
Moderation is frequently patchy — and the fear is that it’s going to become non-existent. That’s par for the course for any large site, let’s be clear. When your user base cracks into the tens of thousands (never mind millions), you either have to outsource your moderation decisions to under-paid people, forced to spend mere seconds on a decision to block/ban/suspend, or try your hand at some algorithmic magic to speed it up. In either case, context, background and intent are impossible to convey in your reports, and you end up in a situation where user “H1mml3rFan69” can say he has “14 words” for “globalists” and hopes they “88 themselves”… and it doesn’t break the rules.
Not unique to Twitter, of course, as the crypto-fascists of the world are very good at making themselves look reasonable to those without any knowledge. But Twitter seemed to put even less effort in than most large sites.
So, divesting out of it has been a goal of mine for a while, now feels like a reasonable time to start winding it down.
I don’t believe I’ll miss it, though. Some of the people? Maybe. If they care enough about me, they’ll find where I am. I’ve gone through half a dozen forum communities since the early 00s. Some of those people I still hang around with in other spaces! Some of those groups fizzled out slowly. Others died in a hellfire of profanity-laden drama. Some friendships burn bright for months and then end. Others become strong, almost intimate, over years or even decades, and yet can still evaporate overnight as you wake up to find someone has unceremoniously deleted their account.
“This, too, shall pass” should remain in the back of your mind whenever you join such a group. It’s the flip side of building a community not restricted by geography, but by membership of a platform stored on a disk somewhere. This is no different. It was never too big to fail, or too big to come to an end.
So what, or where, now?
After 4-5 years, is it worth returning to blogging? In fact, let’s do this all old-school! Everyone get a blog. Read them via RSS! Maybe. It’s tempting, sure. But might run the risk of being a bit rose-tinted about the period of transitioning to the social media era. But I think I might try it again. Twitter will die. One day, Facebook, too. I have long-form posts and material on there I might want to keep around, and a blog is a better-kept archive of that material.
So, yes, I might make this page more active again. What theme? Probably none, as before.
I spent some of today re-reading old posts and… actually, it’s not that bad. I expected to be far more embarrassed by some of it, having matured and developed further over half a decade.
It’s certainly not how I’d write now. We can be sure about that.
I’ve spotted a lot of instances where I’d approach things differently. In the specific, I’ve made a few odd references to “western / first-world democracies”, which is fine if you take the intent of addressing an audience that largely lives in those places, but still ignores a more global view. Some of it is less well-researched than I would otherwise do now. There are a few corrections I’d shove in. There are more diverse series of viewpoints I’d be capable of locating and acknowledging now. Some aspects contain slurs I wouldn’t use now — I used to hold a stronger use/mention distinction, whereas now I believe mentioning is still a deliberately form of usage. I can edit those out as I find them, although, contrary to the “I’ve been cancelled!” crowd, people can smell the difference between such mentions and deliberately malicious use.
The big, abusive creationist rant that hit Reddit and pinged my phone with endless notifications for 48 hours? I probably wouldn’t write that now, but I suppose I still stand by it. There’s a fair argument that you cannot shout and shame someone into changing their mind but, also, that wasn’t the intent. Also, they’re creationists. Any creationist capable of altering their opinion on the subject will do so of their own accord, and pretty quickly.
I’d have less patience with people in comments. I can take so much on good faith, but otherwise it’s so much less productive than it appears. In my earliest days on Twitter, I’d actually try to convince the transphobes (aka “TERFs”) that they were wrong. But, no. That never works. That’s a group, along with the forced-birth/anti-abortion crowd, are so used to lying to themselves and others that there is no point. Now they’ve all coalesced into a fanatical, single-issue pressure group, the best course is to just dump them into your blocklist. Pre-emptively if possible. I have better things to do with my life than deal with people like that.
And that’s where we’re up to… if you give a shit — and I highly recommend that you do not — I will see you the next time I hit the “publish” button.