Lot of Twitter discussion on Twitter today about the news. My response is pretty simple: if Elon Musk buys Twitter, I'm quitting Twitter. I decided that last week when it seemed like it wasn't going to happen. Now it seems like it will happen. Okay.
Note, Tuesday: I waited 24 hours before posting this, because I made it about one-in-four odds that Elon would shout "Psych!" and withdraw his offer. Not so far. Could still happen though.
So I will soon be an ex-parrot. I will explain my reasoning in the form of passive-aggressive Reply Guy questions. We are, after all, talking about Twitter here.
Is Elon Musk really worse than Jack Dorsey or Zuckerberg or any of the other rich assholes who own our discourse?
Well, I'm outta Facebook too! (Never joined, really.) Don't level Zuck against me.
But yes, I think Musk will be worse. Jack Dorsey, whatever your complaints, basically wanted to run Twitter as a successful social network. On his watch(es), Twitter grew, kept us early users around, and (eventually) made money. I have no idea whether Jack's giant tech-CEO brain contributed to that process, but he at least got out of the way. He did not break Twitter.
Musk has no idea what goes on inside Twitter, but he thinks he can fix it. If he starts meddling, he will break it.
How much worse can Musk really make Twitter?
From my point of view, a lot worse.
Now, my point of view is very limited! I have a modest number of followers (3600, although I suppose half are bots) and a very curated follow list (270, of which nearly all are people I've met or interacted with personally). I stay out of discourse-y threads. I don't see retweets, likes, or follows. I use third-party clients. I almost never log into the Twitter web site.
But that's the point. I have carefully limited my Twitter use! Twitter is a giant, swirling mass of potential abuse which is just waiting to condense out on some hapless target-of-the-day, every day. I have adopted habits which minimize my risk.
And this works pretty well. I can tweet that Bitcoin is horsecrap, or that the Republican party is white supremacists looking for an excuse to go full fascist, and I'm basically talking to friendly ears. I don't get swamped by a tidal wave of abuse. (At least it hasn't happened yet.)
Twitter could easily break all that. The rules, after all, are designed to make discussions snowball. (That's why Twitter grew so fast in the first place!) I exist in a tenuous balance with those rules. Any change which makes it easier to find my posts, or which increases the scope of who responds, will probably swamp me.
Musk's obsession is "free speech". So that's probably the kind of change he wants.
What do you have against free speech?
Look, I grew up on the techno-utopian Internet of the 80s and 90s. I know where Musk is coming from. I come from there too, that optimistic naivete which didn't survive the Summer That Never Ended. Today we have an Internet of moderators and Codes of Conduct, because we needed that to stop getting buried under Usenet-style libertarian dickheads. Long before QAnon, mind you.
Musk doesn't realize this, because he's been living in Musk-land for some time now. He can solve his problems by buying the platform. He thinks that means he can solve all the problems.
So Musk will slam into the wall of Actually Hard Stuff which is the social network at scale. (This Yishan Wong thread is insightful, albeit kinda both-sidesy.)
I suspect that Musk will bounce off the hard problems and fall into the easy answer: "Give You-Know-Who his Twitter account back." Not because it's a good idea, but because it's the only idea he can act on. He can't fix Twitter as a system, but he wants to do something and that's something.
I don't know if he'll do it, but I'm not sticking around to find out. Just the existence of the debate is going to burn my soul out.
Do you really think you're smarter than Elon Musk?
Give me a billion dollars and I'll be just as stupid.
Hell, if you'd given me a billion dollars when I was 30, I'd be Elon Musk. First thing I'd have said was, "Rockets! I'm gonna make rockets and have a birthday party on the Moon!"
Then, after the adrenaline wore off, I'd say "Oh, I better save the planet too. How about I invent cheap, reliable electric cars and head off the coming climate crisis?" And I'd feel very smug.
It was even the right decision for the time. Or a right decision, anyway. Dinking around with Twitter is a terrible come-down, but money rots the brain. This is not exactly an original observation.
Isn't Twitter valuable? Why cut off your nose to spite someone else's face?
Yes, Twitter is valuable to me. Quitting will suck. I follow interesting people who I otherwise wouldn't stay aware of. Twitter keeps me visible to a wide range of game-dev people, albeit as a weird niche narrative nerd. It's still a net good for my career and for the projects I support.
But Twitter isn't necessary for me. I don't directly make my living from Twitter visibility. I can bail, and hurt Musk microscopically by making his stupid purchase less valuable.
But Twitter doesn't care if you leave!
Actually, Twitter does care if I leave. Twitter thinks of me as an asset to their network.
I know this because they let me use it for free! I mean free free. I don't see ads; I don't see promoted tweets; I don't even see "trending topics". Twitter can't track my browser use. I make them zero money. I must be good loss leader for them.
I've talked about this before. The only reason Twitter allows third-party clients is that they're favored by the kind of user Twitter needs to stay relevant: interesting, net-literate people who entertain their followers. I bring in eyeballs for the ad traffic.
Of course, there's a lot of us loss leaders, and I'm a very minor example. Twitter doesn't care about me personally. But I am an example. I will be a Kantian example and do what I think is right.
So, wait, are you leaving in order to spite Musk or because you think Musk will spite you?
Is there a difference?
But you're still on Twitter!
I'll log out when the deal closes. ("Expected to close in 2022.") There are so many entertaining ways for it to melt down before then.
How about the day Twitter is de-listed as a public stock? That's easy to check.
Where will you go?
I'll be right here.
Yeah, "here" is a low-mileage blog. Sorry. The real answer is, I haven't decided what I'm doing next.
I tried Mastodon once. I didn't get into it. It seemed fussy and hard to manage and you had to pay attention to the wider social landscape of what servers were "in" or "out". You can't just launch a thing and immediately step into "Twitter but with only my buddies."
Now, I'm often a fan of fussy, hard-to-manage systems. (That's why I still read blogs with Lynx and email with Pine.) But Mastodon didn't take off for me.
It's possible that I'd get back into Mastodon with the right crowd. It's also possible that I'll get into a Discord or a Slack with the right crowd. I'll have to see what turns out.
You'll be back.
I don't know what the future holds.
Maybe Musk will get bored with the whole project... okay, that's a certainty, but I don't know what happens next. Maybe he wanders off and leaves things basically as they were. Maybe he wanders off and leaves things permanently broken. Maybe he spins it back off as a public company or sells it straight to the Digital World Acquisition Corp. Maybe by that point all the competent engineers will have left and it won't matter.
(Maybe Twitter was in the middle of imploding before Musk made his offer, and he's just hastened the collapse by a few years.)
If I return to Twitter, or decide to land on another open-read network, I'll let you know. Here, on this little blog.