Ever since the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, took over Twitter for $44 billion after a travesty that lasted several weeks, the dust has been rising. In performative outrage, influential and less important Twitter users have announced that they are shutting down their Twitter accounts. The reasons vary: from the aversion to Elon Musk that some people claim, to the danger to freedom of expression posed by a billionaire, or quite the opposite, the fear that radical elements like Donald Trump will be left behind on the platform again.
Others feel sorry for all those poor Twitter employees who lost their jobs in a “brutal” way. Just like that, by email to their private email address. And there are particular complaints that the responsible teams for ethics or inclusion have also been fired. And even Twitter founder Jack Dorsey apologizes in a tweet that he no longer cared about Twitter and that it has now come to this situation.
These surges mask the fact that Twitter had actually been pretty shitty before. It’s definitely the most toxic of social media like Facebook or LinkedIn. And I say that as someone who has been on Twitter for exactly 14 years, uses it regularly, and also has a few thousand followers.
First of all, Twitter had done very little to tame or punish racist, xenophobic, misogynist, ableist accounts over the years. Twitter’s responses were lame-duck, talked up freedom of speech and expression, and seemed to rather ignore a situation as long as there was activity. Quite the opposite happened: the victims of such attacks on Twitter were blocked more often, it felt, than the perpetrators. And that seems to be true again, because Elon Musk was amused by the commotion, which he commented on with a tweet:
But back to Twitter and the time before Elon Musk took over. The ethics and inclusion teams within either seemed to be overwhelmed and incompetent even then at best, or at worst just for inclusion and ethics theater and serve.
In terms of innovation, Twitter is dead last among social media. By far. What has come out as innovation in recent years? After videos, video previews, and pictures (in 2010, 2012, and 2013, respectively) that could be attached to tweets, the expansion of tweets from 140 to 280 characters was once sold as a major innovation in 2017. A downvoting button (as the opposite of the Like button) disappeared from my selection again this year after a few weeks. The for years desired edit function of a sent tweet or the addition of documents did not come out of the starting blocks. Even a so-called “unroll” function, which was often desired for longer Twitter threads on a topic, came from other providers.
The fat belt that had amassed 7,500 employees seemingly failed to create a robust platform without hot-rodded code, move the platform forward with innovation, let human ethics and inclusion teams do their work, or generally create innovation. At Twitter, comfort and sourness had taken hold thanks to a lack of leadership. Jack Dorsey had been mostly interested in his crypto adventures for the last few years, Twitter itself was lurching, and it showed in its choppy annual results. Once a profit, then none. The source of income was 90 percent advertising revenue.
And now Elon Musk, an entrepreneur with numerous billion-dollar start-ups on his list of successes, who has already shaken up several industries, is bringing fresh momentum to Twitter. And that suddenly scares people, the media hyperventilates, politicians and other mood-setters are commenting. And the Twitter before Elon Musk is suddenly seen through nostalgically transfigured rose-colored glasses, and the Twitter with Elon Musk as the embodiment of evil.
As much as I am critical of Elon Musk for some of his statements and behavior, I do not understand this outrage theater. The time to be outraged and to take action was years ago.
Twitter was already shitty before, it really can’t get any worse.
BTW: how shitty Twitter is has prompted me to write a book about online harassment and attacks on women. In this, Twitter has a central place where toxic men congregate to insult, harass and threaten women. The book, CYBERF*CKED, comes out this week and can be ordered here.