Elon Musk buying Twitter was the final straw for me with that platform, which as it functions at the moment is a combination of things; a Skinner box in which everyone competes to find the most extreme opinion that will get them applause if expressed in 280 characters, and a glorified freak show where every so often someone does an enormous shit in the middle of the room and invites everyone else to comment on the smell.
I’ve been on (well, now off) Twitter since November 2008. Twitter was a smaller platform then, and much different, largely because it was far more personal. Conversation was directed by the whims and interests of its users, and those users were mostly individuals sharing things that were of interest to them, giving banal updates about their days, or simply trying to amuse others. (There was also the occasional regrettable novelty account, as there is now, but you can’t have everything.) It was far slower paced, to be sure, but that was largely because your experience was curated. You saw the posts of the people you followed in a stark chronological order, and that was the end of it, unless you actively chose to seek out the posts of others.
I speak here as someone who for a period frequently tweeted from a Sony Ericsson J132 dumb phone via SMS. That worked for the purpose of the platform because it was still, technically, “microblogging”. You were posting your tiny status updates not as your contribution to some global conversation on matters of public interest, but just purely as updates on your status. There was no pretence about it – everyone was an equal, we were all just there to have fun together, and Graham Linehan was still just a talented comedy writer and not whatever the fuck he is now.
Fast forward to the abysmal present day and we now have Twitter being taken over by Elon Musk, a seller of shit expensive cars and creator of dumb public transport concepts whose inflated opinion of himself is forever indulged by people who have read the “you have to be very intelligent to understand Rick and Morty” copypasta but didn’t get the joke. Musk seems to believe, in his own needlessly grandiloquent way, that Twitter functions as some kind of global debate house; a place where important conversations happen, and must be allowed to happen in a completely unfettered way for the betterment of societies around the world.
If I was to make a tiny suggestion to Le Funny May May Car Man, it would be first of all to sod off down his dad’s diamond mine, brick up the entrance from within and stay there. If I was to make a different suggestion more strictly relevant to the topic of this post, it would be to discard this idea because it’s horseshit.
Twitter only became seen as some global debating society because in the early 2010s, journalists all over the world became absolutely obsessed with Twitter and flooded the platform, turning it into a platform for up to the minute breaking news and dispersal of political minutae, which then inevitably led to it turning into a platform for discussion of such, with columnists pontificating endlessly on every public happening. Then Twitter itself decided that there wasn’t quite enough engagement happening, so started to push posts on people so they could interact with them, while giving them the ability to drag other people in to the “conversation” too, essentially converting the platform into one big festival for people to bellow at each other. (I’m not saying this to be smug and superior, I did a lot of bellowing too, but it’s what they wanted and what they got.)
What Twitter Inc. failed to notice, and Musk fails to notice now, is that Twitter is wholly unsuited to any kind of actually important conversation or political discourse, because that use case has been shoddily retrofitted onto a platform expressly designed for people to post short updates about whatever sandwiches they were eating. Musk himself also fails to notice, or rather is choosing to ignore, that even Twitter’s current lackadaisical moderation policy is holding back a significant tide of bad actors who, actually, do not give a solitary fuck about “important conversations” or “freedom of speech” except inasmuch as those things allow them to spread hatred, marginalise and harass political opposition, and further marginalise and harass vulnerable minorities who are already marginalised and harassed far more than enough.
Anyone who thinks that letting such dickheads run rampant will somehow lead to mutually respectful debate and greater understanding is, bluntly, incredibly stupid, not least since it has now been capably demonstrated in many different ways that the Internet does not work this way, and especially not a platform such as Twitter with a low cost of entry but the ability to make abuse appear on any other user’s phone directly and instantaneously. But then, being “stupid” is probably the more charitable interpretation; the less charitable (and in all likelihood, more correct) one is that these people either actively want this to happen or know they will not be subject to its consequences.
I believe Musk to be in the latter category, not least since it probably suits him to have his fan club attack others without censure on his behalf. I do not want to be on such a platform, and I do not want to reward him for attempting it. Hence my leaving Twitter.
So now I’m on Mastodon, and I’m happy. Mastodon is like being in a timewarp back to 2008 Twitter, Sony Ericsson dumbphone notwithstanding. My feed is my feed. I see what I want. It’s people just shooting the shit and posting about things they like. Ian Dunt isn’t on there. You can’t quote tweet people to yell at them. Ian Dunt isn’t on there. There are no algorithms, and if I want to see things outside of my feed I can just go on “federated” and have the collective thoughts of an entire network blasted at me. And none of them, I must stress, are from Ian Dunt.
I don’t know if the more general exodus from Twitter to Mastodon, such as it is, will last. I hope it does. Not even necessarily for the sake of Mastodon/the fediverse growing but just purely to punish both Twitter for turning what used to be one of the nicer parts of the Internet into a shitpit, and Musk for trying to make it worse.