Twitter’s end times
In one of his more printable tweets, Twitter wag Jeff Tiedrich wrote, “[H]as anyone tried unplugging Elon and plugging him back in[?]” The joke refers (I think) to how the character known as Moss from the TV show “The IT Crowd” solved most of the technical problems of users ringing his department. Elon Musk appears to be the principal problem for Twitter.
Whatever the case, things are decidedly broken at Twitter, things that weren’t broken before Musk took over. Those breaks are directly traceable to the world’s most pathetic and insecure and increasingly paranoid billionaire.
Twitter insiders have informed the BBC that the company is no longer able to protect users from trolling, state coordinated disinformation, abuse of rape survivors, abuse of obese people who are subjected to fat-shaming, child sexual exploitation, and so on. These problems follow lay-offs and changes under Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, who has consistently confused free speech with the right to say anything at all, no matter how hateful, no matter how unlawful.
Anything at all, I say? Not quite. Under Musk, Twitter has never exactly been a bastion of free speech when it comes to criticisms of Musk in particular and fascists in general. Nothing has changed there. From the start users who were pretending to imitate Musk in an obvious attempt at humour found their accounts were quickly being terminated.
Right away Musk established that he himself had no sense of humour — particularly when he himself was the joke. So the protect-Elon-at-all-costs policy is still in place but there are now fewer people around to enforce it. So it isn’t quite so robust anymore.
Of course, the dwindling number of Musk apologists still continue to insist that all this is part of Musk’s “grand strategy.” Musk is a genius, you see, and the fact that Twitter is blowing up faster than a new Tesla shouldn’t worry us, you see. We will soon wake up and stand in awe of the 21st century’s own Thomas Edison. Any day now.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, one Twitter employee who wishes to remain anonymous said, “For someone on the inside, it’s like a building where all the pieces are on fire. When you look at it from the outside the façade looks fine, but I can see that nothing is working. All the plumbing is broken, all the faucets, everything.”
And what is the principal reason for all this dysfunction? For Musk it all comes down to money. Most cleaning and catering staff were sacked. Musk even tried to sell the office plants to employees.
The increasingly paranoid Musk is constantly shepherded — even into the bathroom — by two burly bodyguards straight from central casting. Computer code that would take months for an outsider to comprehend is being hastily reevaluated by Tesla engineers and the coders responsible for it are being summarily sacked. The atmosphere at Twitter has become as toxic and unlivable as the surface of Mars.
Interestingly, Tweets critical of Trump are not getting the algorithm time they used to. I realise this is strictly anecdotal and therefore not terribly trustworthy, but my daily tweet (@RAHarrington) in praise of Joe Biden at the expense of Trump used to occasionally go viral, not infrequently getting a couple of thousand likes, and at one time getting as many as 9,000 likes. These days a good day will see 40 likes.
So no, Twitter isn’t what it used to be. Not for me. Not for lots of people. And it all started going downhill as soon as Musk took over,
Today, many Twitter users are putting their Substack presence in their Twitter profiles against the day that they themselves get banned, so their fans will continue to be able to follow them. It’s the stuff of cyber refugees, insurance against what many Twitter users see as the End Times for Twitter.
For many observers, the end of Twitter is not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of people would like to see Twitter die just to punish a man who is looking more and more like a MAGA fascist. Even though I remain an avid user of Twitter, I really can’t say as I blame them. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.