Tag: social networking (page 2 of 7)

An anarchist take on the Twitter acquisition

I’m quoting this liberally, as it’s excellent. I was on Twitter from almost when it began in January 2007 through to late 2021 and the journey from protest tool to toy of plutocrats has been brutal.

What if Trump had been able to make common cause with a critical mass of Silicon Valley billionaires? Would things have turned out differently? This is an important question, because the three-sided conflict between nationalists, neoliberals, and participatory social movements is not over.

To put this in vulgar dialectical terms:

  • Thesis: Trump’s effort to consolidate an authoritarian nationalism
  • Antithesis: opposition from neoliberal tycoons in Silicon Valley
  • Synthesis: Elon Musk buys Twitter

Understood thus, Musk’s acquisition of Twitter is not just the whim of an individual plutocrat—it is also a step towards resolving some of the contradictions within the capitalist class, the better to establish a unified front against workers and everyone else on the receiving end of the violence of the capitalist system. Whatever changes Musk introduces, they will surely reflect his class interests as the world’s richest man.

[…]

[I]nnovative models do not necessarily emerge from the commercial entrepreneurism of the Great Men of history and economics. More often, they emerge in the course of collective efforts to solve one of the problems created by the capitalist order. Resistance is the motor of history. Afterwards, opportunists like Musk use the outsize economic leverage that a profit-driven market grants them to buy up new technologies and turn them definitively against the movements and milieux that originally produced them.

[…]

Musk claims that his goal is to open up the platform for a wider range of speech. In practice, there is no such thing as “free speech” in its pure form—every decision that can shape the conditions of dialogue inevitably has implications regarding who can participate, who can be heard, and what can be said. For all we might say against them, the previous content moderators of Twitter did not prevent the platform from serving grassroots movements. We have yet to see whether Musk will intentionally target activists and organizers or simply permit reactionaries to do so on a crowdsourced basis, but it would be extremely naïve to take him at his word that his goal is to make Twitter more open.

[…]

Effectively, Musk’s acquisition of Twitter returns us to the 1980s, when the chief communications media were entirely controlled by big corporations. The difference is that today’s technologies are participatory rather than unidirectional: rather than simply seeing newscasters and celebrities, users see representations of each other, carefully curated by those who run the platforms. If anything, this makes the pretensions of social media to represent the wishes of society as a whole more insidiously persuasive than the spectacles of network television could ever be.

[…]

It’s you against the billionaires. At their disposal, they have all the wealth and power of the most formidable empire in the history of the solar system. All you have going for you is your own ingenuity, the solidarity of your comrades, and the desperation of millions like you. The billionaires succeed by concentrating power in their own hands at everyone else’s expense. For you to succeed, you must demonstrate ways that everyone can become more powerful. Two principles confront each other in this contest: on one side, individual aggrandizement at the expense of all living things; on the other, the potential of the individual to increase the self-determination of all human beings, all living creatures.

Source: The Billionaire and the Anarchists: Tracing Twitter from Its Roots as a Protest Tool to Elon Musk’s Acquisition | CrimethInc

Twitter the disaster clown car company

I didn’t forsee Elon Musk buying Twitter when I deactivated my verified account about a year ago. But it was already an algorithmic hellscape.

As this article points out, Big Tech no longer really does very interesting stuff technically. It’s all about the politics these days.

[T]he problems with Twitter are not engineering problems. They are political problems. Twitter, the company, makes very little interesting technology; the tech stack is not the valuable asset. The asset is the user base: hopelessly addicted politicians, reporters, celebrities, and other people who should know better but keep posting anyway. You! You, Elon Musk, are addicted to Twitter. You’re the asset. You just bought yourself for $44 billion dollars.

[…]

[Y]ou can write as many polite letters to advertisers as you want, but you cannot reasonably expect to collect any meaningful advertising revenue if you do not promise those advertisers “brand safety.” That means you have to ban racism, sexism, transphobia, and all kinds of other speech that is totally legal in the United States but reveals people to be total assholes. So you can make all the promises about “free speech” you want, but the dull reality is that you still have to ban a bunch of legal speech if you want to make money. And when you start doing that, your creepy new right-wing fanboys are going to viciously turn on you, just like they turn on every other social network that realizes the same essential truth.

[…]

The essential truth of every social network is that the product is content moderation, and everyone hates the people who decide how content moderation works. Content moderation is what Twitter makes — it is the thing that defines the user experience. It’s what YouTube makes, it’s what Instagram makes, it’s what TikTok makes. They all try to incentivize good stuff, disincentivize bad stuff, and delete the really bad stuff. Do you know why YouTube videos are all eight to 10 minutes long? Because that’s how long a video has to be to qualify for a second ad slot in the middle. That’s content moderation, baby — YouTube wants a certain kind of video, and it created incentives to get it. That’s the business you’re in now. The longer you fight it or pretend that you can sell something else, the more Twitter will drag you into the deepest possible muck of defending indefensible speech. And if you turn on a dime and accept that growth requires aggressive content moderation and pushing back against government speech regulations around the country and world, well, we’ll see how your fans react to that.

Source: Welcome to hell, Elon | The Verge

Image: DALL-E 2

It’s time to move on from Twitter

It’s almost a year now that I finally deactivated my Twitter account with no intention of going back to it. Like Ben Werdmuller in this article, I had a yearly ‘detox’ from the service. Coming back from it became harder and harder.

Twitter from 2007 to about 2011 (coincidentally the birth years of my children!) was amazing. It was definitely helpful in terms of my career, and I’m still in touch with people who I got to know via Twitter from that period.

But I don’t need it any more. I use various Fediverse accounts and LinkedIn to keep in touch with people personally and professionally. I also don’t share as much of my life as I used to online, partly because the world has changed and partly because therapy showed me it was all part of the mask I’m wearing.

So yes, let’s pour one out for Twitter, which if Musk’s acquisition goes ahead, is going to be a empty husk of what it was formerly. Life moves on.

For a few years, it was tradition that I’d go offline for the year at around Thanksgiving, to give myself some time to recover from the cognitive load of all those notifications. I don’t think the constant dopamine rush is in any way good for you, but the site’s function as a de facto town square has also helped me learn and grow. It’s a health hazard and an information firehose; a community and an attack vector for democracy. More than even Facebook, I think it’s defined the internet’s role in democratic society during the 21st century.

[…]

As big tech silos diminish in stature, the all-in-one town squares we’ve enjoyed on the internet are going to start to fade from view. In some ways, it’s akin to the decline of the broadcast television networks: whereas there used to be a handful of channels that entire nations tuned into together, we now enjoy content that’s fragmented over hundreds. The same will be true of our community hangouts and conversations. In the same way that broadcast television didn’t really capture the needs of the breadth of its audience but instead enjoyed its popularity because that’s what was there at the time, we’ll find that fragmented communities better fit the needs of the breadth of diverse society. It’s a natural evolution.

It’s also one that demands better community platforms. We’re still torn between 1994-era websites, 1996-era Internet forums, and 2002-era social networks, with some video sharing platforms in-between. We could use more innovation in this space: better spaces for different kinds of conversations (and particularly asynchronous ones), better applications of distributed identities, better ways to follow conversations across all the places we’re having them. This is a time for new ideas and experimentation.

Source: The end of Twitter | werd.io

Image: Nathan Dumlao