Twitter. After more than a decade of contented blogging, I tried it last year, and was almost immediately chased off the premises by a persistent sociopath who needed to be there far more desperately than I did. I’d been onboard long enough, though, to realize that what made Twitter valuable was its omnipresence. It saw everything everywhere all at once, and was both faster and less timid than any curated medium was at reporting what it saw. Despite its flaws, Twitter always knew what was up, and it was always eager to tell everybody about it.
Being able to eavesdrop on the entire world in real time, or as close to real time as human perception and internet data transmission allow, is intoxicating in both the good and bad senses of the term, which is undoubtedly why Twitter can sometimes appear to us as a fountain and sometimes as a cesspool, and sometimes as both at the same time. Despite attempts by management to police vile and unpleasant behavior, there has never been any credible gatekeeper on Twitter, no credentialing, certification, or approval process that couldn’t easily be circumvented. The reason for this was the sheer scale of the task. The universe of discourse on social media in general, and on Twitter in particular, was and is too large and too fast to control, even with the assistance of computer-driven algorithms. Unlike the editors of the New York Times, Jack Dorsey and his staff had no illusions about their ability to monitor, let alone enforce, cultural norms at scale. On Twitter, civilized discourse was an option, but it was never the only option. Caveat lector was the rule.
And so it was until Musk, full of who knows what except himself, decided to cast his bread upon the waters. Given that we’re only a few days into his reign, it’s hard to predict the outcome of his dalliance with any confidence, but at the moment it seems unlikely that he’ll ever find that bread again, at least not all 44 billion dollars worth of it. What the rest of us will find is even more uncertain, but I suspect that even after Musk has done working everything over from top to bottom with his libertarian hatchet, Twitter will remain pretty much what it always has been, the human comedy entire, in all its tawdry glory. It’s also a fair bet, I think, that Musk the reformer isn’t as smart as he thinks he is, and it won’t be all that surprising if, in the waning days of his epiphany, he turns out not be as solvent as he thought he was either.
All that aside, what I found useful about Twitter last year is still just as useful, and I know my way around the place now. I no longer need to browse except when the mood strikes me, I’ve found a place where the sociopaths can’t get to me, and if Elon ever tires of his pet project, or surrenders it to the bankruptcy courts, I’ll still have Mastodon, or something very like it, to fall back on. Caveat lector is working out just fine for me. YMMV.