The collapse of Twitter

On legitimate surprise

A game that sticks in my mind is “You Are Jeff Bezos“, a free text-based adventure where you wake up as Jeff Bezos and try to spend all your (Jeff Bezos’) money. One option is “Buy Twitter and delete his account”, for 50 billion dollars. This game is from 2018, so it’s referring to the traitor in chief, scourge of democracy. A wish fulfillment fantasy.

Back here in the real world, Trump got banned in 2020, and it seemed like Elon Musk was doing the reverse, buying Twitter specifically to unban his account. That’s what I thought would happen, and perhaps it still will. What I did not expect, is whatever mess is going on now–an exodus of users, employees, and advertisers.

The surprise is worth noting. It would be easy for an Elon-hater to claim that they knew this would happen all along, but did they really? It’s okay to admit that Elon Musk surpassed expectations.

It’s also worth noting that these are the early stages, and Twitter’s collapse may be greatly overstated. People leaving Twitter are likely disproportionately vocal, and there may remain a core of users who just shrug and stick around. Twitter may very well have been overstaffed, and maybe a skeleton crew of miserable workers can hold it together and rebuild advertiser confidence.

Personally, my wild speculation is that Musk will simply sell off Twitter, blame someone else for its loss in value, and then things will return to business as usual on our favorite hellsite. Except, of course, for those who managed to escape.

Why you like Twitter

I’ve never meaningfully used Twitter, so it’s kind of outrageous for me to explain to you why you like it. I’m obviously talking out of my ass, right? But here’s why you like Twitter.

Every social media platform is associated with certain media ideologies (an idea I came across in the ace journal club), which govern the appropriate way to use the platform. For example, you could post tweets on a blog, and post blog posts on Twitter, but you wouldn’t. Not because it’s impossible, but because it feels inappropriate to the platform.

Social media ideologies are enforced by social norms, as well as structural differences. Twitter structurally favors short-form content, because any long-form content must be broken up into smaller chunks (the “tweetstorm”). It’s a lot harder to explain why blogs favor long-form content, and maybe it’s more social than structural.

We live in a polymedia environment where we make choices about where to say each thing. I post long-form essays on this blog, or the other blog. I post medium-form commentary on pillowfort. I don’t post short-form content at all! That’s why I’m not on Twitter.  (Well, that and Twitter structurally promotes pileons.)

You like Twitter because either you need a space to share short-form thoughts, or because you like seeing other people’s short-form thoughts. I sympathize! I, a super serious blogger, also need a space for less serious thoughts, and I sure don’t like putting them in the same space as my blog.

The nice thing about blogging, is it’s not bound to a single platform. If WordPress died, I wouldn’t be happy about it but I can just move to a different platform. Even if all my friends remain on WordPress, I wouldn’t be stuck there because I can still use RSS to track them, and they can still use RSS to track me. Twitter is a different story, because Twitter encourages platform-dependence. You can’t follow tweets without using Twitter’s proprietary feed, and you can’t use Twitter’s proprietary feed to follow any other website. Twitter can become shit quality and you’d still be stuck because all your friends are there.

To my understanding, Mastodon basically takes the blog approach to tweets. If a server dies, or has community policies you don’t like, you just move to a different server. It may not work so well if Mastodon as a whole becomes unfashionable… but it’s certainly a step up from Twitter. I’m not personally interested in the microblogging scene, but I like Mastodon in concept. Go try Mastodon.

Or, if you’re the sort of person who posts tweetstorms… maybe consider blogging? And you know, you don’t need to use WordPress. Pillowfort and Dreamwidth are fine platforms, so I hear, and tend towards shorter writing.

Behind glass doors

I actually interviewed for a job at Twitter, back in 2019. It was not to be, but I could imagine working there. So while I might not relate to the struggles of the poor Twitter user, I have been paying closer attention to the stories that have been coming out of Twitter as a workplace. For example, here’s a public review I found on Glassdoor:

After 50% of the company got laid off, I was literally the only engineer left from my original team. Even my manager and staff-level teammates were gone. As I took over oncall duties for my now-deactivated teammate, with nobody to hand the role off to, ever, I saw other remaining engineers doing the same. The next time a critical issue arises, nobody is going to know how to fix it and the entire platform is just going to fail. It’s extremely clear that Elon and his goons have no idea what they’re doing.

As a tech worker myself, I’m personally invested in the value of tech workers. So when a tech company lays off half of its workforce–not because it had to, but because of a shift in management–I want to see that company fail. Down with Twitter!

In addition to layoffs, Elon also ended Twitter’s previous policy of allowing people to work from home indefinitely. Word on the street is that many remote workers are just badging into the SF office to show that they were there.

Elon Musk is reportedly getting into arguments with workers on Twitter. Now, if you publicly argue with your CEO, getting fired is a fairly predictable outcome (firing people who criticize him in private less so). So I think the real story is: a) workers are already looking for other jobs and don’t care about getting fired, b) they’re fine with shitting on Twitter’s reputation as they leave, and c) Elon is vulnerable to precisely these trolling tactics.

Only time will tell how much Twitter’s tech deteriorates from departure of workers, but one immediate consequence is loss of advertiser confidence. Advertising firms report that they’re worried about brand risk, in light of key executives leaving Twitter. Perhaps if those key executives hadn’t left, Twitter wouldn’t have hastily launched its Twitter Blue subscription with the ability to impersonate brands at $8 a pop.

Something that just takes the cake for me, is the leak of a Q&A session held by Musk. Apparently he’s interested in turning Twitter into a bank! Gosh, I know I shouldn’t laugh, lest the universe veer into the darkest timeline.

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