Twitter is Toxic, and It's Not Elon's Fault
Toxicity as a business model
Elon bashing is in. Blaming him for Twitter's ills is de rigueur. It's fashionable. It's rewarded. Back in 2015 he was a quirky entrepreneur, now he's seemingly the bad guy in an Iron Man film. The new Trump. But I say forget Elon Musk. He’s not the problem here.
Twitter is the problem.
Twitter is the worst thing humanity has come up with that didn’t involve physical violence. It’s a hellish place where users are forced down funnels of outrage and hate. It’s a brainwashing tool with no agenda other than to peddle shock and fear. It exists to feed itself, cannibalising its user base, making them fight each other like some sort of autoimmune disorder.
I quit the site a year ago after being a faithful daily user for nearly a decade. I couldn’t stand the toxicity and combativeness any longer. I knew it was corroding my soul.
But recently, I've crept back onto the bird app because I wanted to watch the Elon takeover in real-time. Within half an hour I saw old arguments I hadn’t been engaged in for 12 months; Brexit, Trump, abortion, immigration, woke versus anti-woke rhetoric… a tsunami of bile following forth from my phone screen like a projectile vomit.
Everything was an argument. Everyone was outraged. Everybody had an axe to grind, and the sound of it was deafening.
I left again after a week. I couldn’t take it. The emotional shift was too great, the pace of hatred too rapid.
Some blame bot-farms and misinformation by enemy states for Twitter’s negative atmosphere. And I somewhat agree, there’s strong evidence to show Russia and China fund Twitter accounts to stir up division. But how much stirring needs to be done? It’s a hornet’s nest already. One poke – an innocuous tweet about jam or your favourite TV programme – is enough to get the hornets furious and circling. “So you’re saying all marmalade is shit?!”
Twitter has also ruined journalism. Tweets are often the main focus of newspaper articles, and not even tweets from politicians, but the everyman, opinions pulled from the internet and used in so-called serious journalism.
The Atlantic journalist Robinson Meyer wrote:
“Tweets are embedded in news stories, screencapped for Instagram, and quoted on TV shows and podcasts. The platform, however, can also misconstrue people’s ideas and identities, he writes: “On Twitter, ideas are so commodified that to say something is simultaneously to amplify it. You’re never ‘just saying’ on Twitter. You’re always doing.”
Twitter is a self-referential, masturbatory platform. New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo said:
“There are a lot of reporters on Twitter who spend their lives on Twitter, and we tend to treat it a little bit like a clubhouse.”
And of course, every journalist’s tweet is an “official take” on the news and is a tinder stick for a raging fire of anger from thousands. He continues,
“…we in the press even though we may not like to admit it, we tend to use Twitter as kind of an assignment desk. If something is big on Twitter, we put it on cable news, we put it in the paper, we put it everywhere else. And I don’t know, I mean I don’t think Twitter is sort of a reflection of the real world. And the problem is that we are all sort of stuck in it.”
Ex-Twitter CEO Ev Williams acknowledged the toxicity of the site after he left the position. He blamed corporate interests, not political interests, or journalistic hedonism. He said:
“The vast majority of articles, videos, and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for – directly or indirectly – by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get… well, what we get. And it’s getting worse." – Evan Williams, co-founder and former CEO of Twitter
“It’s getting worse” is a fair and accurate prediction. And society is getting worse with it. Or more accurately, because of it.
To come back to Twitter after a year of fresh air and a clear head, I saw people who I left 12 months previous, still in a fury about Brexit, still tweeting about Brexit. People apoplectic about Trump were still apoplectic.
How healthy is this mentality? Moreover, how healthy is a platform which peddles conflict as its modus operandi?
Say what you like about Zuckerberg or Bezos, they don’t encourage division and hate as a business model, which Twitter does in a clear and willing de facto manner.
People, or should I say, “tweeters”, are, of course, furious about Elon Musk’s takeover (no one else but people who tweet actually care). The endless anger and fear being pushed on the platform has reached a new zenith. Musk recently reinstated Trump’s Twitter account after lifting the ban based on the results of a Twitter poll he ran.
Personally, I agree with this move (it’s a dangerous precedent to ban a sitting President) but even if you don’t, the point is Twitter cannot get worse. It simply cannot. Its hate is at a zenith and its benefit to humanity is at its lowest.
Musk’s changes at the helm of Twitter might be rushed, knee-jerk and ruthlessly experimental, but hey, he can’t make it worse.
He might even be Twitter’s best, last hope. Sort of like Luke Skywalker, called to battle the dark side of Twitter, only one that fires 80% of the workforce and demands remaining employees to work extra long hours.
I feel for Twitter employees, I really do, but as a platform, something needs to change.
How do you solve a problem like Twitter? I don’t know, but perhaps we’re about to find out.
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