Twitter’s only asset is its greatest weakness: People.
Elon Musk loves Twitter.
There can be no mistaking the signs of true love: Musk’s fierce fight to acquire Twitter, his subsequent attempts to deny his feelings, followed by a legal union and a very short honeymoon.
Elon Musk professed his love for and admiration of Twitter from afar for many years before saving up enough money to finally buy his dream company. For his true love, Musk was willing to withstand the wrath of the left and all the forces of cancel culture.
Apart from the online chorus of progressive voices condemning Elon Musk for presuming to purchase Twitter, he must also have had a veritable army of financial advisors, attorneys, consultants, and business managers in his other ear who were also begging him not to do it.
Musk didn’t care what anyone thought.
In the end, he didn’t even appear to care about the number of bots polluting the platform. At least, not too much. Elon Musk was convinced, like any lovelorn admirer, that together he and Twitter could make things work somehow, fix the broken parts, prove their parents and everyone else wrong, and live happily ever after.
Elon Musk should stop. Don’t get that tattoo.
There is probably no saving this tragic relationship. Like Romeo and Juliet, Musk’s love for Twitter was doomed from the start.
Being doomed is how bots took over the platform in the first place. Real users deserted Twitter for the kinder, gentler mercies of the real world or other platforms with less potential for abuse. In the absence of active users, other types of “users” proliferated.
Twitter was doomed the day the ink started drying on the documents making Elon Musk the new owner. It was doomed the day Jack Dorsey left. It was doomed the day Twitter went live, the hour it surpassed Facebook as the most popular social media platform.
It was doomed the day MySpace was invented.
Twitter’s ultimate doom was foretold long ago by chat rooms.
Chat rooms, the earliest incarnation of social media, started so nicely; just a bunch of digital pen-pals saying hello. Being able to chat with people all over the world was at first like a children’s storybook come to life: Magical. No more messages in bottles. No more notes tied to balloons and released into the sky: Friends were suddenly as plentiful as wildflowers.
Chat rooms eventually morphed into the social media platforms we know and loathe today. The chaos that turned chat rooms into chat roulette and chat roulette into…what chat roulette eventually became is a feature, not a bug.
The problem is human beings.
“If the internet was a real place,” as Dave Chappelle once joked in his hit sketch comedy series Chappelle's Show: “No one would ever go there — it would be way too disgusting.”
Elon Musk may want to believe in the dream of Twitter, in its potential as a respectful, lively town square where all people — real, verified people, not bots bent on advertising and other mischiefs — can exchange ideas freely.
In this hope, Musk sounds very much like one of Twitter’s exes.
“I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange information and ideas, the world is automatically going to be a better place,” one of Twitter’s founders, Evan Williams, told the New York Times in 2017. “I was wrong about that.”
Evan Williams was burned by Twitter, heartbroken. Social media users, he found to his horror, were using his platform to post their suicides — and worse.
After his experience with Twitter, Williams came to believe that the internet is fundamentally broken.
But the internet isn’t broken; Twitter isn’t broken, either. The internet is a tool, like Twitter; neither inherently good nor bad.
The problem isn’t algorithms, political bias, censorship or lack thereof. It isn’t blue checkmarks or even bots. In the end, Twitter’s only problem is people. Fix people, fix Twitter.
It's a real Greek tragedy: The social media giant’s only major asset is also its fatal, intractable flaw.
There are some truly terrible people in the world. Any beat cop, police detective, social worker, or emergency room nurse could have put Elon Musk and Evan Williams wise in about five minutes.
The things terrible people do— often to the most vulnerable members of society — to say nothing of the things they are willing to say to strangers on the internet, shocks the senses. The mind boggles.
Elon Musk, and presumably, Evan Williams, being wealthy denizens of extremely safe zip codes have presumably been well insulated from such persons, so much the better for them.
Neither Twitter executive, also presumably, has ever spent any serious time as a content moderator.
Those grousing about online censorship, Elon Musk included, should pause and consider the censorship already — blessedly — taking place on the internet every day. Almost nothing is ever all good or all bad, censorship included.
Unless you want 10-year-olds accessing the Anarchist’s Cookbook or the Big Book of Mischief, censorship is a necessary part of the internet. In addition, some of the content uploaded onto the web is so horrifying, not to mention criminal, as to require immediate deletion and referral to law enforcement. For these reasons and more, the internet is moderated by various tech agencies around the world.
Online content moderators see some of the worst of the worst, things most of us can’t even imagine, and don’t want to imagine. No content moderator lasts long; there is a very high turnover rate. PTSD is a major job hazard.
The future of social media, as some in tech have speculated, is probably going to be smaller, more niche platforms.
Similar to the closed groups we are familiar with from current platforms, the new social media platforms will likely be much smaller — as opposed to larger — and offer a far more individualized experience, tailored to the user’s specific tastes and as carefully curated as a dating site.
Already, social media platforms like NextDoor, where you can only connect with people in your physical neighborhood and must provide a valid address, are becoming more popular.
Elon Musk probably won’t be able to lure conservatives back to Twitter. Now that he has alienated progressive users and companies, the only people left on Twitter may soon be bots and journalists.
Tesla was a great idea; SpaceX has potential: Twitter might be a lost cause.
Elon Musk should probably leave Twitter; before Twitter leaves him.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)