It’s been five months since Elon Musk overpaid for Twitter, a comparatively obscure microblogging service. Due to its unmatched capacity to disseminate real-time information and make knowledge accessible, the platform had outperformed itself in terms of sheer user numbers. It might seem like the only place online that truly matters if you combine these factors with your own critical faculties to sort out the usual spam and BS.
Twitter had key components that made it a go-to source for journalists or other curious people looking to eavesdrop on intriguing people — whether subject specialists or celebrities — in chats. This was true even if the ordinary internet user continued to find Twitter confusing. Because there were no layers of message-filtering middlemen, it was also a site where authorities and famous people could find a supportive group and an interested audience. These two parties first connected on Twitter, where their conversations occasionally turned sour.
There was a seductive (and even painful) rawness to the medium. Yes, compared to more carefully managed social media feeds like Instagram, you could experience the thrill of seeing celebrities’ practically unfiltered comments on Twitter. However, the real draw and strength of the platform came from the vast amount of knowledge that any Twitter user could access directly, across all professional fields, from deep tech to deep space and far beyond, just by listening in on a discussion thread or slipping a question into someone’s direct message (DM).
Twitter was primarily an information network; the social component was a distant second. It had a major sideline as an unofficial dating app, though, as it might be a terrific method to get to know someone without really meeting them. Many accounts of individuals finding acquaintances or even life partners through interactions on Twitter exist.
The ongoing pun was “How is this site free?!”
It was fantastic to experience this kind of proximity (to information or stardust) for free since the interactions may be so amazing — so show-stopping or interesting.
Twitter isn’t any longer free. both symbolically and literally. And as a result, everyone of us is substantially poorer.
Since taking over, Musk has begun to undermine everything that made Twitter valuable, making it his mission to drive out experts, scare away celebrities, intimidate reporters, and — on the other hand — reward the bad actors, spammers, and sycophants who thrive in the opposite environment: An information vacuum.
Whether this was intentional sabotage by Musk or just a dumbass making a mistake almost doesn’t matter. The conclusion is the same: Twitter is in trouble.
The value that Twitter’s platform created by fusing worthwhile streams of expertise and curiosity is currently being battered and squeezed dry. What’s left has felt like an echo-y shell of what it once was for several months. And it’s obvious that Musk has used his vast wealth to destroy as much of the value of the information network as possible in as little a time as possible with each newly destructive decision — whether it’s unbanning the nazis and letting the toxicity rip, turning verification into a pay-to-play megaphone, or literally banning journalists — each decision sparking another exodus of expertise as more ardent long-term users give up and leave.
Musk is essentially throwing Twitter down the drain. Now that we all know what the stupid meme actually meant, I suppose.
On April 1st, Musk will remove the last layer of legacy verification and turn up the volume on anyone willing to pay him $7.99 per month to yell over everyone else, starting the next and maybe final step of the destruction.
Everyone who had their Twitter account verified under the previous (and far from ideal) approach will no longer have their account confirmed. This verification was at least based on their identity (famous, expert, journalist, etc.). If they haven’t already deactivated their account, that is. Only accounts that are funded by Musk will show a “Blue Check” icon.
As there is no longer any quality indicated by the blue tick, this is essentially a parody of verification. Yet, the visual resemblance appears to be deliberate; the dark pattern was made to cause as much confusion as possible.
You can boost the algorithmic prominence of your tweets and get the ability to mute non-paying users if you pay Musk for this pointless mark. The real on Twitter will therefore be replaced by all the fakes and imposters.
Real users are upset, and rightfully so, at the thought of being blackmailed into paying Musk to verify their identity. These people are, after all, a key element of the value of the network—the signal amidst the Twitter noise. Naturally, they shouldn’t (and won’t) pay, and as a result, their Twitter presence will deteriorate. Which would then do further harm because it will become more and harder for any surviving users to obtain quality information. This is known as “death by irrelevance.”
well this is going to be fun… pic.twitter.com/sMab5OvAXa
— Monica Lewinsky (she/her) (@MonicaLewinsky) March 26, 2023
Only paid users will be able to vote in future Twitter policy polls, adding another twist. Musk will thus ensure that populist decision-making is biased in favor of his fanboys. (But in reality, he doesn’t stick to poll results he doesn’t like, so this just appears to be pure trolling.)
The end result is that Musk is making Twitter the antithesis of a meritocracy. He is channeling complete chaos, just like the “chaotic evil” villains in cartoons love to do. (Furthermore, as we’ve already stated, Twitter is Musk’s catastrophe masterpiece.)
Neither does this gamble appear to be a moneymaker for Musk. Since relaunching Twitter Blue three months ago, he has only generated $11 million in membership money, according to Sensor Tower. Yes, this “game of pwns” has cost Musk a lot of money as well (recall that Musk paid $44 billion for Twitter last October and has already lost half that value, according to a recent internal letter published online). Except for spammers, it’s a lose-lose situation that makes your eyes water. If that’s a useful thing to do, (then presumably it’s a cheap method to spam Musk zealots?)
The former world’s richest man, a billionaire, doesn’t seem to be interested in using Twitter to make money; he clearly has enough money to flush a lot of borrowed billions down the toilet. While from the beginning of his takeover, he mocked (trolled?) the notion of making Twitter a platform with a billion users. We must all, however, concede that Musk has been spectacularly and radically failed when it comes to increasing revenue and user base.
If the point is simply pure destruction, however, then he has accomplished a remarkable feat in a short amount of time. He has created a chaos machine by eliminating a source of useful information from our connected world, where groups of all stripes could communicate and organize, and replacing that with a place of parody that rewards insincerity, time-wasting, and the worst forms of communication in order to degrade the better half. It’s a truly outstanding demolition job. And you could purchase a lot of wrecking balls with $44 billion.
One difficult lesson we should learn from the debris of downed turquoise feathers is that our system permits riches to be used as a weapon to destroy items of general societal worth.
You can criticize the Twitter board for allowing it to happen. And we should, probably. Technically speaking, though, their responsibility was to increase shareholder value, so the rest of us may go to hell.
We should also take into account how our “rules-based order” appears unable to fend off a bully determined to replace free access to information with paid disinformation, as well as how our democratic systems appear helpless and paralyzed in the face of confident vandals running around spray-painting “freedom” all over the walls while they burn the library down.
The fact is that creating something worthwhile, be it information, experience, or a network worth joining, is really difficult. But bringing it all down is a piece of cake.