As reported by NBC News among many others, the infamous Elon Musk has finally reached a deal to acquire pioneering social media site Twitter. Ordinarily, when things like this happen, I would more or less comment from the sidelines on the ramifications of the deal.
This one’s different. This event has direct impact on the entire reason this blog even exists. As hard as it may be to believe now, this blog actually grew out of my presence on Twitter. By that, I mean that one of the reasons I started this blog was to have a place to post things that both needed more permanence, were less likely to be censored, and which could not be done justice on Twitter as it stood then. At the time (2008) Twitter had a 140 character limit per tweet. (This blog was originally under shawnkquinn.com, before I decided to separate it from my personal brand and evolve it into a different direction.)
Twitter folded the functionality of Twitpic and other image hosting services into its core functionality, as well as bumped the limit of 140 characters to 280 characters. The primary purpose of the original limit was to facilitate fitting tweets inside SMS messages. That’s no longer a concern and has not been for some time.
The issue of permanence and censorship, on the other hand, is another matter. The ownership of Twitter has been reasonable up until now. Note that for many years “social media” (as it is commonly called) was more or less “anything goes.” Of course that didn’t last. Today most social media sites have enacted a list of community standards (some more vigorously enforced than others).
The amount of outright crap on the Twitter platform (in fact, on “social media” in general) has gone up. The COVID-19 pandemic brought new opportunities for misinformation. I despise the deceptive terms “alternative news” and “alternative facts”; these are just really fancy euphemisms for what the rest of us call lies. (At least, in the sense these terms have been used by right-wingers since 2017.)
I get that, for example, there are people who were against the COVID-19 vaccine for whatever reasons. That doesn’t change the fact that widespread vaccination was our best shot (pun intended) of controlling the pandemic, and in the end that’s really what brought us to where we are now, where the pandemic is basically winding down and should be history by the end of this summer, just over two years later. (Finally!)
There is and always will be conflicting views in politics. I get that, and I’m not expecting that to change any time soon. What really does irk me, though,
As I understand it, the reason Mr Musk took over Twitter (including taking the company private) is because he does not like the way Twitter handled moderation. Now, in the recent past I’ve dealt with people who insist upon referring to censorship when any type of moderation (i.e. anything but 100% “hands off”) comes into play. The unfortunate reality is, complete lack of moderation is going to mean “raining crap” sooner or later.
At least as it stands now, Fediverse instances handle this rather well. Many instances filter out garbage such as racism, antisemitism, neo-Nazism, and other discriminatory filth. There’s also, for better or worse, a strong distaste for corporate involvement on the fediverse. It’s run by individuals, for individuals (though I am seeing the occasional commercial presence pop up now and then). The feel is completely different from what the fediverse people themselves refer to as “birdsite” (referencing Twitter’s logo/mascot) and similar names. Sponsored tweets interrupting the normal feed is now an integral part of the Twitter experience, so much so that it’s difficult to imagine the site didn’t have them at one time. Worse, secret algorithms influence whether or not one even gets to see a tweet. Paid promotion also factors in heavily as to whether or not one gets to see something.
It’s this latter thing (the pay-to-play that social media has become) that has perhaps bothered me the most. The whole draw of social media, in the beginning, was to be able to post and attract viewers/customers without having to spend money. That was circa 2008-2009. Now, sure, you can post for free, but rarely if ever is anyone going to see it unless they seek it out (and even then, often the algorithms do their best to hide items from non-paying posters).
Now, I didn’t realistically expect the free ride to last forever. Looking at it more holistically, there had to be less obnoxious ways of keeping the servers running and making a reasonable profit than what the current crop of “social media” sites has chosen. And I do use that term loosely. Given some of the way things have played out, it’s easy to make the case a more fitting term is “antisocial media.” (But that’s a whole ‘nother rabbit hole…)
I do look at the good side of it and realize the fediverse triggers a significant amount of my nostalgia for 2007 and earlier, even going back to my first forays onto the internet in the late 1990s. This was the point right before commercialization almost completely overran the original “spirit of the ‘net” as it was. (A shining example of this was when the original authors of the Internet Chess Server reacted to the new commercialization of the original as the Internet Chess Club by putting up a free-to-play alternative called the Free Internet Chess Server (FICS), which is still online today. Granted, even FICS has been slowly supplanted by Lichess, though there is still a sizeable crowd playing on the former.)
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. I have made the decision to at least temporarily not post new content to Twitter, including automatic announcement of blog posts. I announced this on Twitter itself right after the offer from Mr. Musk was approved, along with my Fediverse/Mastodon account information. The bad news is, the instance I am on, octodon.social, is currently invite-only. The good news is, you can join other instances. There is a list at joinmastodon.org as well as a wizard-like instance locator at instances.social.
I may or may not revisit what becomes of Twitter. It depends on whether we wind up with a dumpster fire, and if so, how many alarms.