Understanding the Public Sphere - Surviving the New Twitter, If It Happens

I guess we’ve all heard the news. So what will potential ownership by he-who-must-not-be-named mean? Some ideas below.|

This was originally published on my newsletter, Understanding the Public Sphere, which will probably be migrating off GetRevue soon for reasons you’ll soon understand.

I pulled together some quick thoughts this morning, given the news today that Twitter’s board has agreed in principle to become a privately held company again.

  1. There seems to be universal consensus that you know who will fundamentally ruin the core product if he gets his way, and I think that’s true. But, there aren’t good options for holding off a hostile takeover right now, since the reality is Twitter makes decent income but is deeply uninteresting to billionaires who only want to supercharge its advertising surveillance.
  2. We always have the option to leave. I am keeping my finger on the delete button for a long while should this deal go through, and you should too. Start building alternatives: group chats on Signal or iMessage, start a newsletter (I’d migrate off of here, obviously, but I have been so busy this semester there’s nothing to migrate), maybe look at a privacy-respecting app like Snapchat. But do not be sentimental about a dumb website even if you like it and it’s been good for your career.
  3. Something to keep in mind about you know who: his values are antithetical to Twitter’s values. One of them has to change. It’s most likely the values of the site will change, but those values are its key feature and it will impose a steep cost. Look for how he tries to make up for that cost, possibly by trying to siphon users back from Gab/TruthSocial/Parler, etc.
  4. If he starts allowing open fascism on the site by re-platforming OAN personalities and the former president, you know who has no argument for not allowing worse stuff. Having the power to enforce free speech absolutism is very different from just blathering about it all the time.
  5. You know who has a history of going after critics – cancelingorders, illegally firing them, swatting them. If he goes after critics, he loses the free speech label & ruins the key advantage of the platform. Again, look for what he does to make up for it.
  6. If he implements a full edit button, he ruins their real time data analytics and targeting systems (they make most of their income from that).
  7. I don’t doubt that you know who wants to do these things. I also don’t think he’s above doing any of these things. I just think if he does it will destroy the company. There are no upsides to staying on it.
  8. I also think he’s so desperate to be popular and validated he won’t do it for a while at least. For the time being, changes will be slight.
  9. Deleting old tweets is going to be a question mark. Old tweets are useless to users; they are the most common fodder for coordinated mass harassment. I strongly suggest everyone delete their back history. Download your data if you want to keep it, but don’t let it stay public.

The biggest thing I’m worried about is something I have expressed before: the extremely malicious “groomer” blood libel being directed at LGBT+ people. You know who went to court to defend his “right” to accuse random people who displeased of being pedophiles just for kicks. He is a proud transphobe and dozens of LGBT employees have accused him of fostering an anti-LGBT work environment and of personally mocking them for being queer.

Even more than the speech thing, you know who’s homophobia and transphobia happen at scale at his companies, and he goes to lengths to deny the targets justice or accountability. Twitter has made very good strides the last several years at tamping down on homophobic harassment – not enough, but they’ve been going in the right direction. For example, reporting people who use the “groomer” blood libel has resulted in deletions and suspensions. I have no confidence that that will continue. If it ends, I leave, full stop.

This whole thing just isn’t good. A favorite social platform is going to be changed fundamentally, disrupting what has become a key journalism platform. I’m not thrilled with it, but I don’t think it spells immediate disaster for most users, especially not until the transaction is completed and he has a chance to take over.

But, in the meantime, why don’t you delete all of your old tweets and DMs? Just to reduce the amount of ammunition he has for behaving as he always does: like a bully.

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