I’m not sure when Twitter ― founded in 2006 as a fledgling microblogging network in competition with the MySpace juggernaut and the then-growing Facebook ― had its watershed moment and moved toward becoming the behemoth it is today. But my guess is it involved someone somewhere getting canceled.
Around the early 2010s, Twitter hit an inflection point, becoming something that matters to the culture. We didn’t know or care about who ran it, but it became a global force, a free platform worth more than all the campaign dollars one could raise and an influencer that even its much-bigger brother Facebook could never quite match given their contrasting structures.
As such, the callout section of the internet has served as a vessel to get ostensibly bad actors up outta here, or at least make it much harder for them to move going forward. It has helped to influence elections and, by proxy, public policy. It still routinely reminds the world that the underrepresented among us matter through the simple use of hashtags in front of catchy phrases.
Twitter, along with a quarantine that bored people senseless, was the catalyst behind the unprecedented global response to George Floyd’s murder; arguably, former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, would’ve skated like the countless other murderer cops before him if not for the dissemination of the video of him kneeling on Floyd’s neck, and the subsequent thunderous condemnation via social media.
Recently, Twitter was used to warn startups to get $42 billion of their bread the hell out of Silicon Valley Bank before it collapsed.
For all the good it’s begotten, Twitter is also a petri dish for the worst of humanity: If you want to see the world at its petulant id ― folks being as nasty to strangers as humanly possible with boldness only keyboard anonymity could allow ― head to Twitter. It’s why I generally detest the network.
But I do still have my account. Love or hate it, it was 360 million users deep when billionaire man-baby Elon Musk took it over last October, dropping $44 billion into a passion project so he could get the attention he’s probably been craving since he was in Underoos. Everyone crowed about how Musk’s acquisition meant they were out…Black Twitter be damned. Folks insisted they were packing up their hashtags and cat videos and going elsewhere.
Because to many with evolved sensibilities, Musk represents everything that’s wrong with…everything. A white South African who came up in Apartheid-era Johannesburg, Musk seems to move as adjacent to white supremacy as one can and still get pulled up on stage by Dave Chappelle.
Musk proves time and again that intelligence isn’t transferrable, with his insistence on cultivating a platform of free speech that he uses as an excuse to support Nazis and make idiotic, demonstrably false claims like public schools being “racist against whites.” Musk’s “free speech” has Twitter users flinging N-hard-er-words like pebbles in a pond, but also seems pretty damn selective.
He also created a noxious work environment in which he warned employees to strap in for insanely long hours or else, and canned a bunch of them only to rehire them when he realized he needed them. Some of those terminated were responsible for keeping your privacy tight, so some folks were completely vulnerable on Twitter (and probably still are). It was like watching the “monkey with cymbals doll” run the circus.
Twitter lost more than a million users in the week after Musk’s acquisition; some think it’ll lose more than 30 million followers by late 2024. Even if that’s true, Twitter certainly doesn’t feel different. I didn’t lose enough of my 1,700-plus follows to register. And it seems the whole compromised-data thing wasn’t enough to prevent people from scrambling to pay $7.99 for the new Twitter Blue subscription, rendering the blue verified check mark completely useless by ensuring that any asshole with 37 followers and a few bucks can get one.
It’s almost as if Musk saw ya’ll coming.
Truth is, Twitter was never really in danger of a mass exodus. It’s not that people are okay with what the platform’s new owner stands for, but it’s like streaming R. Kelly records and lining his pockets in 2023: Do your moral convictions outweigh the clear conflict of interest? You already know how many of your people stream “12 Play” with doors closed and windows up.
Twitter is the social media equivalent of “too big to fail”: Too many are accustomed to the platform, and we haven’t found a worthwhile substitute. Mastodon, a decentralized social network, saw a massive influx of users following Musk’s acquisition, but you give up ease of use for decentralization, so that influx eventually flamed out. (Do you know anyone on Mastodon?)
No other potential substitute has caught fire at all, despite some celebrities attempting to use their influence to coax users elsewhere. Facebook’s parent company Meta is working on a new deregulated social network, which seems hilarious considering the massive machine that is Meta.
Which brings me to the irony of social media use in general: None of them are without their bullshit, and you’re making some compromises by joining any of them. Meta’s founder Mark Zuckerberg is basically a walking skin suit interested in siphoning, and subsequently exposing, as much of your data as he can, probably so he can clone you for his “metaverse.”
If you’re over the age of 17 and TikTok happens to be your addiction du jour for some reason, know that it has privacy and security concerns that run a bit deeper than your Postmates account password getting leaked. Our government is trying to determine if they wish to ban the platform outright.
New York Times former reporter David Carr wrote a piece, “Why Twitter Will Endure,” in 2010, when the platform was still relatively nascent. His piece could come out today with few changes. The people must get their hot takes from somewhere, and as long as social media remains a legal drug and there’s no worthy substitute for Black Twitter, not nearly enough people are telling Musk to piss off.
And he’s counting on that.