I am an early adopter of Twitter. In fact, I joined less than a year after its founding, in February 2007. I did it for work.
I was a writer in a Penn State education technology unit, where we were at the time exploring all the latest social media technology that was breaking at the time. I saw it as a potential communications tool, looking beyond the initial use of Twitter, which was telling people what you were doing at that moment.
As you can imagine, Tweets such as “eating a cheese sandwich” became boring fast, and soon Twitter became sort of a mass stream of consciousness in 140 characters. Brands would advertise, writers would share both their work and their thoughts, and celebrities would interact with fans. At the same time, given this is humanity, a dark side soon showed itself.
Twitter, like any online community, soon had a bunch of bad actors trying to ruin everything. Trolls and misinformation merchants, mostly from the right, verbally attacked people, spread lies, and threatened others. Some of these were bots and not people. Some of these, as we found out via several investigations, were Russian misinformation.
Despite all this, I still liked Twitter. I view it via Tweetdeck, a program that gives the user more control. You only see posts and retweets by the people you follow, and you can also create separate streams known as lists. I have lists for comedy, news, weather, politics and work-related stuff. There are a lot of smart, interesting people on it, and some of the comedy Tweets are first-rate.
This leads me to the big news from last week about Professional Rich Shithead Elon Musk officially taking the helm of Twitter. Musk buying Twitter is a classic example of a troll taking over an online community. I’ve seen it on a few forums I’ve been part of, and it rarely ends well. The community is either totally destroyed or becomes something else entirely.
Musk is a disturbing person and for years, many people did not see it for whatever reason, I guess preferring to see him as some sort of eccentric genius. His behavior has been erratic, from smoking a joint on the Joe Rogan Show (and causing Tesla stock to plummet) to throwing a bizarre fit (calling someone a pedophile) over the rejection of a weird idea to rescue children in a mine to some spectacularly bad COVID opinions. A recent eyebrow-raiser was Must posting this strange Tweet that seemed to indicate some kind of collaboration with Noted Antisemite Kanye West.
Musk’s early moves as Dear Leader of Twitter have been concerning, to say the least, such as firing key executives. But perhaps the most concerning was his reply to Hillary Clinton where he promoted conspiracy theories regarding the assault on Paul Pelosi, which was actually an assassination attempt on his wife, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
If you are not on Twitter because you find it silly, you may be tempted to roll your eyes at this and dismiss it as drama not worth your time. But this could end up being a serious problem for our democracy. If Twitter does indeed become a hotbed for misinformation, hate, and a platform for a certain dangerous former president, it could have an effect on the midterms, including any potential post-election day disputes.
The bottom line is the world’s richest man with a history of erratic behavior and reprehensive views now runs one of the world’s most powerful communication platforms. He is taking the company private, so he wouldn’t be answerable to public shareholders and it is unclear how many advertisers will abandon him. That in and of itself is not great, and nobody should assume how this will all play out.
The last word goes to The Raconteurs.