The End of Twitter as we Know It?

Elon Musk… backed by some sort of consortium of financiers, because there wasn’t $44 million in quarters in that sink he hauled into Twitter HQ this past Wednesday… has purchased Twitter.

Tweet, tweet motherfuckers

The sink was an attempt at a visual gag because Twitter had to “let that sink in,” one of those quips that he loves to append random statements that he thinks lend substance to his ignorance.

So there goes the neighborhood.  His publicly stated plan is to restore free speech by firing 75% of the company employees.  Anybody who has worked in tech knows that most companies over a certain size can shed 10-20% of their workforce and likely see a dramatic rise in average productivity.  But 75%, that might kill the company, because the high performers who can get another job quickly will walk the moment things get too bad.

The starting point was the executive staff, which was probably to be expected, including Vijaya Gadde, who was in charge of the company’s legal policy and who probably did more for free speech on the platform than we will likely ever see during Elon Musk’s stewardship.

Basically, protecting their users personal information from litigious rich people and foreign governments by going to court rather than just handing over the data was far more important as a free speech concept than being able to harass people and use the n-word about anybody with a dark skin tone.

But now Elon owns the place and, as I said last time this threat seemed to be looming, he can’t just burn the place down.  He isn’t the sole owner.  He has financing from other sources, including loans, and his backers will be pissed if he takes this $44 billion boondoggle… probably double the price it was really worth… and devalues it through stupid egoistic blundering.

The problem is, that is kind of his brand in public.

I mean, he may actually be the technical genius his fanboys claim he is, but as this article over at The Verge points out, the problems with Twitter are not technical.

I mean, not that he doesn’t believe somehow there is a technical fix to perfect Twitter.  Leaked internal email says that he wanted to personally review code with all of the developers on the team, actually asking them to print out their last 30 to 60 days of code submissions so they could review it with him… only to have that order countermanded later in the day, with instructions to shred all those print outs.

The problem with content moderation is that it always seems like an easy problem to solve with code… right up until you start trying to actually do it.  And I speak as somebody who spent half a decade working with attempts to automate responses to support request email messages.  That was summed up nicely by a Stanford grad student who interned with us over a summer to do research on text analysis.  His grand summing up was to announce that the fewer sorting categories we had, the more likely we were to route messages to the right one.  He was not amused when I asked if that meant if we just had a single “miscellaneous” category we would achieve 100% accuracy.

But I digress.  There is no technical solution to what ails Twitter… though that won’t stop somebody suggesting blockchain to make everything worse.

There is no problem so bad that blockchain can’t simultaneously make it worse, dumber, and more expensive in one go.

No, the problem, as The Verge points out, is political, and even Elon knows that is the real truth.  While he may be yanking the collective chains of his developers, probably looking for people to fire as much as anything, his first outreach as head of the company was to advertisers promising them he wouldn’t be turning Twitter into a free-for-all hellscape.

Twitter is barely a break-even situation even on its best day, so driving away advertisers willing to spend money on promoted Tweet would only make things worse for the whole enterprise, no matter how many people he lays off.

Still, laying people off is every the tech company’s solution to budgetary problems.  He’ll do that, probably move the HQ to Austin, and freely hand over user information to any subpoena or  totalitarian regime that requests it.  That last will save a lot in legal fees.  Expect more people getting jail sentences in dictatorships.

Content moderation though… even he is backing off of his grandiose pronouncements.  Nothing is being changed today, Trump hasn’t been unbanned, and as much as the MAGA “own the libs crowd” has been crowing, it still looks more like Elon got taken to the cleaners his, chained as he is to this $44 million albatross.

But I am going on about the absurdity of the situation, which I find both funny and horrifying in various measures.

The question I should probably get to is what am I going to about it?

Probably very little right now.

To start with, as with every takeover or merger, not much is going to happen after the first few dramatic firings.  And it will be hard to look away from the train wreck, should it come to pass.  I don’t plan travel to totalitarian states, so I should be safe.

But mostly I am going to stick around because I don’t have a good replacement for Twitter.

Everything else is either too siloed up into little friend groups (Mastodon, Discord) or are worse hell holes than Twitter has ever managed to be (Facebook, NextDoor, Reddit).

Twitter is kind of a strange mix of people I know and follow, people who are interesting to follow, and random reactions to news and events, often before I hear about them elsewhere.  It works for me in ways other options do not.

So I will continue hanging out, at least until something really stupid happens.

18 thoughts on “The End of Twitter as we Know It?

  1. Bhagpuss

    I guess I’ll keep on not using the Twitter account I made in 2009 because it was mandatory to play Echo Bazaar, the game that became Fallen London. That’s literally the only thing I’ve ever used it for. I think my entire Tweet history is automated announcements sent out by that game.

    Twitter is very weird, though. It’s somehow become a kind of quasi-utility, used by all kinds of individuals and organizations in lieu of other communication channels and retailed by those same channels in what seems to me much the same way they used to rely on Reuters. If it becomes either unacceptable or impractical for Twitter to continue filling that role, which it currently seems to do almost at its own expense, I suspect something else will have to come in and fill the void to replace it. Too much relies on that promise of instant, global notification now for it to just disappear.

    Like

  2. zaphod6502

    @bhagpuss:
    Yeah I don’t understand why Twitter is such a big deal and I certainly don’t understand why someone would waste $44 billion to acquire it. I prefer Reddit anyway. If someone says something stupid then they get the almighty downvote.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @zaphod6502 – Reddit is more silos. Good if you want to focus on a single topic. Twitter is more of a wide range of topics floating by, like the little boats at a sushi bar. I get a little bit of video games, some free speech, some politics, a selection of memes about Ukraine… it scratches a bunch of itches at once and it is very easy to skip by the things that are of no interest.

    Also, unlike Facebook/Instagram, Twitter’s algorithm is surprisingly good at throwing things my way that actually do interest me.

    But it wasn’t worth $44 billion, as Musk himself indicated when he was trying so desperately to get out of the deal.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. zaphod6502

    @Wilhelm – I guess we’re opposites then which is fine.

    FWIW I really only pay attention to subjects which interest me. I like the focused nature of Reddit as I can sub to the exact topics I only want to see. I like Discord communities for the same reason. I sub to each for a particular topic I am interested in or a community of online friends and my Discord family community.

    When I tried Twitter for a short time I did not like the chaotic nature of the service. I did not like that it was trying to serve me content I had no interest in. I also did not like that it became a battleground for people of opposing ideologies who mostly snipe at and block each other. I also found it a curiously-US centric service with its over-emphasis on topics from that country. I am Australian and free speech and politics are not a big issue in my country.

    As for Facebook I do not use it much anymore except to keep in touch with family members. I don’t use it for anything else.

    I only started using Instagram a couple of years ago and that is mostly to post up pet pics when I remember to use it.

    There is so much irrelevant noise in the world now and I have been slowly unsubbing from most social media which have mostly become marketing entities to serve unwanted ads.

    I will admit I do unsub from any group on Reddit that mainly serves “memes”. I find the whole concept annoying and childish and it seems to have infested every corner of the internet.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. PCRedbeard

    He was not amused when I asked if that meant if we just had a single “miscellaneous” category we would achieve 100% accuracy.

    I laughed my ass off at this quip.

    But if Twitter blows up, crashes, and goes dark, I won’t complain a whit. Twitter has done far more harm than the good it promised, because the crowds there were easily manipulated into dogpiling onto whatever the mob (pick a political cultural or social affiliation, any of them will do) decides to go after. I’m waiting for Facebook to implode too, but that might be a longer wait as it may take Zuck’s disastrous attempts to make Meta a thing as the singular money pit that finally collapses the company. FB may actually survive in a reduced state, but given the lack of money Twitter makes, it may actually go dark. Or get sold to Truth Social’s owners. Or FOX News. Or whatever.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pallais

    Twitter is my main social media, so I’m interested to see what happens. While I don’t expect Musk to get it right (and will likely tank the service if his ego runs rampant), I do hope it survives and thrives. There’s something about the brevity of comment, global reach, and an amazing breadth of content on Twitter that attracts me. Twitter feels like walking through a park, hearing a bunch of different speakers on their soapboxes, while running into acquaintances frequently.

    I also use Reddit, but Reddit feels more like going into a coffee shop and sitting at a table listening to someone monologue on a topic. It can be informative and fun, but there’s no real chance at casual discussions. It’s like Usenet 2.0 where you need to stay siloed and on-topic. Well, I did Usenet when it was one of the big destinations and now that type of social exchange doesn’t have pull it once did.

    I have looked at some of the alternatives, such as Mastodon, but those all feel like nerd experimental failures. People trying to solve for non-existent problems, such as a decentralized system (Mastodon), when the problem that really needs to be solve is the user one: humans via content moderation.

    Like

  7. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    Of course, as expected, Elon’s MAGA fanboys have begun testing the water of the new ownership, knowing they won’t be banned for anything. Elon himself is leading the way, retweeting MAGA conspiracy theories about the person who tried to kill the speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi claiming that is was all a transaction between a male prostitute and her husband gone wrong.

    The free-for-all hellscape era of Twitter looks to have begun.

    Oh, and the execs he fired, he fired for cause in an attempt to avoid paying severance. That should be a series of fun legal battles.

    Like

  8. TurAmarth

    I agree with zaphod6502…

    I am a retired IT Contractor, spent 30 years supporting private companies across a wide range of industries including multiple state depts. And I have watched and been a part, granted a small one, of all of this since the late 70’s.

    Everyone then talked so much about how “great” the Internet was gonna be, how “open”, how “free”, how it would “change the world” when we all could just freely, openly and honestly communicate with each other, all over the world… Kumbaya, kumbaya…

    And I remember sitting there, listening to all the hype and thinking to myself, “But if all the good people have access to it… won’t ALL the bad people too?”

    And I was right.

    I use the Book of Face mostly as just a pic posting site for fam, friends and crewmates. I do not use Twitter, Instagram, Tik-Tok or any other media aside from email and direct text. While I do have a Twitter account, and even a Reddit account, they were created back when I cared about EVE, and I won that… =\

    All of them, all of these “Social Media” apps, sites, etc., all have slowly and steadily devolved into pretty much a hellscape of horribad marketing, outright propaganda, crap “opinions” and outright lies…

    What little content that might be true and honest, is simply lost in the deluge of verbal sewage… I don’t know how any truly thinking, educated, intelligent human can see any of them as serious, real and worthwhile sources of any form of trustworthy information.

    But, many do, especially our young… and mores the pity for our race I think.
    I really hope I’m wrong this time.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. SynCaine

    I would not be surprised if Twitter usage declines dramatically going forward. Social media ‘works’ as big business because of momentum and size; the moment something isn’t cool and starts ‘dying’, ala MySpace, the death comes quick as a mass-market tool, and you don’t pay 44b to own a niche chat service for the far right (plus we already know how commercially successful far right chat services are). Facebook isn’t dead yet, but it’s gone from something ‘everyone’ uses to a retirement home for Boomers, and that’s not the demo you want to be associated with if you have any plans for growth or future success.

    (Side note about your view of reddit; isn’t the front page basically what you are looking for? Rather than one sub-reddit for a specific topic, the front page is whatever is trending on the site, filtered somewhat by your previous clicks. You can also outright just sort by what is most popular on the site for that day/week, with no influence based on preference)

    Like

  10. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @TurAmarth – I mean yes, that is the double edged sword of the internet, that people can find others like themselves, which can multiply good and make people feel better, or multiply bad and drive hate and division. But that was going on before Facebook or whatever. Usenet in the 90s and AOL and CompuServe forums had their own flavors of these issues. Hell, the photocopier enabled the dissemination of garbage in its day as well. People with bad ideas are just going to shout, but you can’t burn everything down because of them.

    You can, however, have a reasonable moderation policy, which Twitter had going in a way that other platforms did not. Musk bought Twitter on the promise of killing that. We shall see how that works out.

    @SynCaine – The problem with Reddit is that the almighty upvote/downvote isn’t any sort of surefire way to sort content. My bookmark to r/eve for example brings me into a “sort by age” view because, like a lot of subreddits, there is a voting meta that automatically downvotes things that fall outside of it. I can get away with that in r/eve and a few other subreddits because they are low volume, but there is a point where enough posts come in that you can’t use that method with becoming a bit obsessive, so you have to depend on the meta to bubble stories up, and the meta can such. And the front page is like that only on steroids.

    They key to Twitter, for me, is to follow the right people who watch specific topics and retweet things that are related… and to be able to let it slide when they get on their own particular hobby horse about something you’re not particularly interested in. That and to delete about 90% of my replies before I hit send. I don’t need to add to the chaff in system.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    Meanwhile, in the most Palpatine sounding move yet…

    Somebody responded “The regional influencers now have direct control over their own territories.” and “Fear will keep the local posters in line.”

    Like

  12. SynCaine

    Interesting about Reddit, I’ve found once I created an account that what it showed me on the front page mostly aligned to what I wanted to see, at least on the first page (I rarely get beyond it). For sub-reddits like you said it depends on size, but for me at least those also show me generally what I want to see.

    That said I have found if I by chance go from the front page to the same sub-reddit just a few times, Reddit for a bit now assumes I want to see a lot of content from that sub, which can create some clutter. Seems to ‘fix’ itself pretty quickly at least.

    Like

  13. TurAmarth

    My issue is this… any “moderation policy” is, in essence and fact some form of “censorship” against someone. You say you want “hate speech” moderated, but the real issue is…

    Who decides? Who defines what “moderation” and “hate speech” actually are?
    You? Me? a bunch of “anonymous” accounts on social media? billionaires? the destitute poor? the majority group? any minority group? or worse… politicians?

    I mean in the world we live in now it seems now as if no one on the left is willing to answer the simple question… What is a Woman?

    And if we ALL cannot agree on that… then everything is up for grabs… you can define “anything” any way you want… ie chaos.

    I don’t know about you, but to me free speech means what it did and still does in the Constitution. The only moderation allowed is IF you can show CAUSE… ie what ever you want banned or cancelled is “against the law”… ie is proscribed by law.

    But of course… then you are into who decides what is law?
    Well, it turns out we have that covered… politicians do.
    Let’s hope they can agree on what a woman is… but I doubt it.

    Like

  14. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @TurAmarth – That is such a painfully bad argument, the idea that because you can’t say exactly what you want anywhere you want it is somehow censorship. It is so easily debunked you should be embarrassed.

    If I start a social media platform but hate Jimmy Buffet so much that I make it part of the policy that you’re not allowed to use the word “cheeseburger,” and I put it in the EULA and warn you up front that this is not allowed, I am not censoring you if I delete your message and ban your account when you do the unthinkable and use the word “cheeseburger.”

    Your desire to use that word has no legal or moral greater weight than my ownership of the platform gives me in setting moderation policies. And, if you don’t like it you can go elsewhere, like 4CheeseburgerChan, and use the word all you want.

    That you cannot say something in a specific situation is not censorship unless there is literally no other channel in which you can express yourself, which is almost never true, or if the government makes it illegal, which happens all the time all over the world.

    Censorship, real censorship, requires the rule of law and anybody pouting that some private company running a platform is censoring them is just being a big baby.

    That isn’t to say you should put up with heavy handed or dumb moderation. I wouldn’t blame you at all for walking away from my anti-Buffet social media platform. You know I am going to go after the word “margarita” and any variation next.

    And if enough people follow you my platform will wither and die due to my obsessive hatred of Jimmy Buffet. Serves me right! Over moderation can be self-correcting.

    The thing is, the alternative is no moderation, which becomes the jungle where those who are willing to behave the worst win in the end, and that will kill a platform faster than my weird obsessions about cheeseburgers.

    So, yes, it is annoying when somebody else gets to make the rules. But how is that any different than it ever was? And all you’re doing is demanding that the rules be made to suit you, and I bet you would draw the line somewhere as well.

    At least with social media and the wide variety of sites you have some options. You won’t end up like Walter Winchell, handing out mimeographed copies of his screens for free on a street corner because no media outlet at the time would touch him.

    Okay, you might have touched a nerve with that comment. Sorry. Just be glad you didn’t bring up being “cancelled,” because then I would really go off on a tear.

    Like

  15. TurAmarth

    Well… what respect I had is sadly gone. Shame, I liked your stuff as long as you stayed away from all the political weirdness and the recent deeply disturbing socialist turn for the worst that that side has decided is worth dying for. And yea… I am firmly on the other side of all of that crap.

    So… so long man… I’m sure you’ll be glad, or not give a crap, at my loss of interest in your take on things anymore. Good luck out there.

    Like

  16. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @TurAmarth – If a business being able to to control its own domain is socialism, I think you must have failed either economics or political science. The concept of private property rights is straight up capitalism. Forcing them to carry your message is more of the socialism route, though it is really more totalitarianism, which is the real problem we face.

    And I’ll remind you that it was YOU that dragged this turd into the conversation. Scroll up. That is all on you.

    Oh well. People who say they lost respect in you over something dumb like this only ever respected what they saw of themselves in you. They never care about you, they only sought validation of themselves.

    You’re welcome to leave or come back, up to you. Won’t shed a tear either way.

    Like

  17. Informer

    As someone who couldn’t care less if Twitter exists, this is just a comic opera. Fascist conman pretending to be a business genius (pretty easy con in America) gets caught up in business reality. Lol, I hope it collapses around him as his fanboys cry and whine about socialism.

    Like

  18. therealrizwana

    I agree the Twitter we grew up with has come to an end (literally that we have to wait for the results). But many of people I know, they state Twitter is over and will go bankrupt, while others say it’s a new chapter of Twitter. I’m excited to see how it’ll unfold. But as of now it seems they are beating their competitor (Facebook) in numbers.

    Like

Voice your opinion... but be nice about it...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s