I don't want Twitter to change
As you all know I’m a big fan of Twitter. It’s really the only social network I spend time on, and honestly it’s 99% “interesting links and art directly to the face” and 1% “actual social network” and that’s why it works. It’s with great sadness I see the Obnoxious Electric Car Man come in like an elephant in a china shop, trying to stir things up. He wants to reinstate the trolls, he wants to stop moderating, he wants to charge people for blue checkmarks, and I’m sure there’s more to come. The irony, of course, is that I’ve been advocating for a paid version of Twitter for a good long while ‒ I followed App.net with great interest and, like ever other techie, I’ve toyed with the idea of building something similar myself. We simply have to claw our way out of the “free” advertising-supported model if we’re to avoid war, and I’m not even joking. We’re stuck in a downward spiral, and it all stems from the ad-driven web. The cycle goes like this:
- Users sign up to “free” social network and follow people they want updates from
- Social network realizes those updates run out fairly quickly, which makes people bounce
- Social network has to slide posts from people users never followed into feeds in order to keep eyeballs glued
- Algorithm realizes radicalizing content is OFF THE CHARTS when it comes to interaction, and cranks that knob to 11
- Yachts and beach houses for execs, strife and polarization for the rest of us
Can you imagine what the world would look like today if Facebook or YouTube never inserted posts from people you didn’t follow, and never “recommended” vile shit to gullible parents? If the revenue model was just “user pays for a good experience, doesn’t matter how long they stay or what they click on” we’d be feeling a whole lot better about ourselves right now, and we might even still have newspapers. But the world is what it is, and it’s somehow very primally human that we might end up radicalizing entire generations and annihilating the planet because Susan Wojcicki needed to meet her quarterly OKRs.
I signed up for a Cohost account and followed the forlorn handful of mutuals I found on there, but upon clicking the Post button I was overcome with a great weariness. Nothing wrong with the platform, I’m sure, but for more long-form content I already have this blog and the point of Twitter was always the serendipity of someone retweeting a fantastic artist or smart comment to a link, and for me to retweet and throw my own little comments into the great ether. There’s an infinite amount of bite-sized great stuff out there and The Algorithm is never involved: I use Tweetbot, a curated list, and a liberal chunk of muted keywords. Nothing gets into my feed that I didn’t choose to put there myself. So I don’t think much will change for me under the new direction, at least for a while. There will be balkanization. Some people have gone to Mastodon and some to Cohost and some to Tumblr and maybe I won’t see them again, and that will suck a bit. Maybe this will spur some kind of standardization, although that seems pretty far off. I suspect the Great Uproar will have blown over in a month or two.
But it still doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t like the noises Apartheid Emerald Man is making about “free speech” because you can’t have that sort of absolutism combined with a recommendation algorithm. That’s what got us here in the first place. Anyone thinking companies regulating speech on their online platform is an ideology issue rather than an outcome issue is just fatally wrong. If Twitter takes its foot off the brake and gives the QAnon and antivaxx cranks a VIP pass into people’s timelines like YouTube or Facebook then I can’t in good conscience stay on the platform. I’ll leave it, like I did Facebook and Instagram. In order for principles to actually be principles, you gotta stick to them even if they wind up costing you something.
Not sure where I’d go, if I would want to replace it or not. Maybe RSS will be viable again? Or maybe Twitter’s time will just have come, and it’s time to say a fond goodbye and retreat further into my digital hermitage. I kind of wish it won’t come to that.