I must say, I’ve had a great time watching Twitter self-destruct in real-time this week end. New owner Elon Musk clearly does not understand the platform he bought and brings erroneous, pre-conceived notions about the people using it. Watching those people dunk on him all weekend has been hilarious. 

Musk took over Twitter and immediately started making big changes before figuring out what was right and what was wrong about the platform. He fired about half the staff before realizing that he needed a lot of those people to keep it running. Now, he’s trying to rehire some of the people he fired and apparently people he didn’t fire are now walking away. As one user noted, there’s a possibility Twitter will just stop working.

Advertisers started leaving the account almost as soon as Musk took over. After he announced that the platform would stop censorship and become a mecca of free-speech, right-wing trolls and racists let loose. Use of the N-word spiked by 500%. Antisemitic tropes and memes flourished. Companies that didn’t want to get caught in the crossfire left the platform. Musk whined that activists who used their free-speech to pressure the companies were stepping on free speech of his new purchase. 

Musk also decided that he would do away with verified accounts, also known as “blue check accounts” and sell the checks instead. That’s Musk’s view of populism, which is very similar Trump’s view of it. Dupe people into paying for something that really doesn’t have much value, but makes them believe they’ve acquired some sort of status. Kind of like selling degrees to Trump University.

Musk started at $20 a month until author Stephen King objected and he brought the price down to eight dollars a month. Most people who have the blue checks just laughed. Several changed their display names to “Elon Musk,” using his avatar, and began hilariously mocking the billionaire. Musk’s thin-skinned response was even funnier. He announced that any parody account that did not explicitly label itself a parody would be banned forever. He also decreed that any blue-check account that changed its name would temporarily lose verification.  

To be clear, verification started when parody accounts were thriving in the early days of Twitter. Many weren’t just making fun of their victims, they were putting words in their mouths that harmed reputations. False tweets spread quickly before they could be reeled-in. Verification was a way for people with platforms and audiences beyond twitter to give their audience assurances that they were who they said they were. The platform has done a lot of evolving since those days. 

Many of the content providers who have made Twitter interesting have either left or are preparing to leave. Several have gone out in a blaze of glory, defying Musk’s ultimatum about parody accounts and posting until they are suspended. Some are moving to a site called Mastodon. 

Like everything else in the world, Musk’s take-over has been politicized. Conservative accounts who decried Twitter’s censorship when the platform banned people like Donald Trump or Marjorie Taylor Green are defending Musk’s moves, claiming parody accounts have never been allowed. I noticed a lot of those conservative accounts are owned by people who owe their entire notoriety to their ability to get a response on Twitter, mostly through snarky responses. They’ve accumulated huge followings simply by “owning the libs” without ever saying anything very smart or relevant. The demise of the platform threatens to send them back to relative obscurity. 

Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter. I’ve discovered some of my favorite journalists on the site and even gotten to interact with more than a few of them. I’ve figured out the site thrives on reactivity and learned to control my own behavior most of the time. I take a moment to think before I tweet. I still spend way too much time on the site for way too little benefit. I find myself going down rabbit holes following up on a mention in some feed. I’ve wasted entire afternoons and evenings learning about some obscure episode in history or some invention because I saw it in a tweet. I also find myself getting angry or anxious because of what I’m reading on the site—and none of that is healthy. 

I suspect Twitter is going to burn like a phoenix and out of the ashes something new will emerge. We’ve already been through numerous social media sites like Friendster and My Space. Facebook is in the process of its own slow meltdown as feeds become cluttered to advertisements and content becomes increasingly dull. The youngsters have already fled and the site is mainly serving older users who have a tough time adapting to new technologies or platforms.

Social media is still evolving. It’s upended our societies in numerous ways. It’s empowered social movements in authoritarian countries and it’s also emboldened authoritarians in democratic ones. I suspect that it will continue to wreak havoc as we adjust to it. The generation that grew up with it will be the one that fixes it or at least adapts to it. Those young people will be less susceptible to disinformation and will spot frauds much quicker. We’re still a ways from them having widespread power, though, and, for now, the 50- and 60-somethings who grew up with landlines are running corporations and governments for the next decade or two. So hang on and let’s see what happens next after Elon finishes burning down the house.  I’m sure it will be an adventure.

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