I have been a Twitter user for over 10 years. During the past decade, it has become an integral part of my life, and the lives of millions of people around the world. It has reshaped the way we consume and share information, and has given people a platform to connect and engage with others in a way that was previously unimaginable.
Twitter has played a significant role in shaping the way people consume and share news, became a powerful tool for social and political activism, and paved the way for many of the popular content creators we know and love today by providing a platform for real-time engagement with their audience. It's hard to think about what the world would be like without it.
As everyone probably knows, this year Elon Musk acquired Twitter for $44 billion. Musk's vision for Twitter is to transform it into the "everything app", similar to apps like WeChat in China. After the transaction closed, Twitter's workforce was reduced by 75% (to this day), and sweeping changes are being made to the platform. Some of these changes can been seen as welcomed and needed (Encrypted DMs and Child Safety) but for every one or two good decisions, there have been several that can harm Twitter's own existence and sets a very dangerous precedent for the future of online communication.
This article will not focus on topics such as the unbanning of former President Trump or other political figures/events (unless it pertains to the topic at hand), and rather focus on the recent business decisions by Twitter and Musk.
The Twitter Blue disaster
One of Musk's first actions after annihilating a ton of Twitter's staff was to introduce a new version of Twitter Blue. Dubbed "power to the people", this $8/month subscription (up from $4) would grant you that juicy blue checkmark found on businesses and celebrities. Sounds awesome right? You can finally be among the ranks. Well.. not so fast there partner.
One reason why this was not a good idea in the first place is that it undermines the credibility and authenticity of verified accounts. Verified accounts are supposed to be accounts of public figures, celebrities, and businesses that have been verified by Twitter as being authentic. By offering a paid subscription for a verified blue checkmark, Twitter is essentially commodifying and diminishing the value of verified accounts. It also creates confusion for users who may not know which accounts are truly verified and which ones are just paying for the verified checkmark, though Twitter did indicate it if you clicked on their profile.
Here's a few Tweets from impersonator accounts that bought Twitter Blue:
The fake tweet caused the actual Eli Lilly's stock price to plunge and lose over $15 billion in market cap. Now that's some great activism.
The failure of this subscription tier can be attributed to the lack of measures in place to prevent impersonation. Within 24 hours of release, there were already a massive number of accounts impersonating brands and celebrities, the most notable being the Eli Lilly insulin troll. This indicates that Twitter did not have sufficient safeguards in place to prevent this from happening.
Blue relaunched in December, which made the blue checkmark a manual review process and you needed a verified phone number. However this still doesn't verify authenticity as phone number verification services exist.
The silver lining... or so we thought
Shortly after Twitter Blue didn't exactly set the world on fire, word began to spread that Twitter was reviving their previous Encrypted DMs project. Encrypted DMs were supported by Musk, and it was speculated that this would make a return. End-to-end encryption ensures that only the sender and the intended recipient can read the messages sent through the platform. This means that even if someone were to intercept the message, they would not be able to read or understand its contents.
In the past, Twitter had not offered end-to-end encryption for its direct messages. This means that messages sent through the platform could potentially be accessed by third parties, such as hackers or government agencies. Twitter was working on this, but it was shut down by executives near the project's completion. The potential revival of end-to-end encrypted DMs helps to address this concern and gives users the peace of mind that their conversations are private.
The revival of end-to-end encrypted DMs on Twitter is a positive development for both privacy and the overall user experience. It helps to protect sensitive information and promotes the trust of the platform, and I am very happy to see this development.
In addition, Twitter has also made some important strides in child safety on their platform:
Child exploitation is a serious problem on the internet, and it is important for social media platforms like Twitter to take steps to combat it. By suspending and reporting accounts that are found to be posting or distributing child exploitation material, Twitter is taking an active role in protecting children from harm.
In the past, Twitter's enforcement on the matter was.. meh. They faced a lawsuit by an exploitation survivor after refusing to remove a video sexually exploiting him, and they refused to take responsibility. It was only when Homeland Security intervened that Twitter did anything. 84 Twitter employees also admitted that Twitter "cannot accurately detect child sexual exploitation and non-consensual nudity at scale". For incoming owner Musk, this was a serious issue that needed addressing, and he immediately made it a top priority which shows.
For all of the controversial decisions Musk made, these common-sense and extremely important decisions should not be looked down upon. I saw it as the silver lining to the acquisition, however recent events have seen me really thinking on what Elon's actual intentions are.
ElonJet & Journalists
On December 14, after promising not to, Twitter's Trust & Safety Team, under the direction of Musk, suspended ElonJet and its creator Jack Sweeney. ElonJet used public data provided by ADS-B to report flight routes of Elon Musk's plane. Elon called it "doxxing", while all of this data was public information. This led to a sudden rule change by Twitter, disallowing any live flight records. The precedent for this was caused by an event where an individual targeted the car containing Elon Musk's son, X Æ A-Xii (weird name aside), mistaking it for Elon. This led to Elon becoming further agitated and paranoid.
The next day, Twitter suspended the accounts of several high-profile journalists reporting on the ElonJet situation. After the suspension, a glitch in the Spaces feature was discovered that allowed suspended accounts to join and speak in Spaces. This led to a Space with thousands of reporters and people listening and discussing. A very angry Elon joined the space and spoke. After 2 minutes, he stormed out. About 30 minutes later, the Space was force-ended by Twitter and the feature was disabled.
This event also led Elon to go on the offensive and attack Wikipedia editors for writing on the situation:
I don't know about you, but I believe it's well established that Wikipedia is a site that literally anyone can edit. You can publish almost anything on there, and documenting well-known events that happen anywhere is commonplace. The impact and precedent Twitter set by banning journalists doing their job was not going to go unnoticed.
But, if you thought this was the peak, you're very mistaken.
Free speech for me, but not for thee
On December 18, 2022, Twitter announced it would be restricting "free promotion" of certain social media platforms. This means you would no longer be allowed to link to your other social media accounts in Tweets or your bio. This move is insanely ironic from someone who calls themself a "free speech absolutist".
These other platforms include:
- Truth Social
By prohibiting links and usernames to external platforms, Twitter is effectively siloing its users within its own ecosystem. This means that users who want to engage with their friends, family, or colleagues on other social media platforms will no longer be able to easily do so on Twitter. This is a major blow to the concept of the interconnected, globalized web that has been central to the internet's success. Furthermore, this decision stifles the free exchange of ideas and information. By restricting the ability of users to share links and usernames, Twitter is effectively censoring the content that its users can see and interact with. This is a blatant attack on free speech and the free flow of information.
This also highlights the increasing power and control that social media companies have over the online conversations of their users. By banning links and usernames to external platforms, Twitter is essentially dictating what its users can and cannot see and do online. This is a disturbing level of control that undermines the autonomy and agency of users, and it sets a dangerous precedent for the future of social media.
Where I go from here
If I'm being honest, I'm not sure where to go from here. Twitter is so integral to how I absorb information and interact, and I don't intend on seeing that disappear in the future. Until Elon completely destroys any value of the site and makes it unusable, I'll probably stay on it.
With that said, it has strongly made me reconsider putting all my eggs in one basket and start to explore alternatives, as I don't feel comfortable with one man being the sole dictator of what I can and can't post. The best I have come across is Mastodon. What I like about Mastodon is that I do not have to fight some algorithm to get posts noticed or worry about deboosting because I decided to not pay Space Karen $8. My posts (cleverly called toots) get noticed more on Mastodon more than Twitter, thanks to the amount of options you have.
Mastodon's federated model also puts the control in multiple instances and not one central entity. If one instance goes down, the entire platform is not at risk of collapse as they all talk with eachother. This type of decentralization I strongly support and is also used outside of Mastodon with apps like Matrix & Pixelfed.
No one can buy the Fediverse or Mastodon because there is no single thing that could be bought. The Fedi is made up of thousands of independently owned and run servers, which makes it extremely difficult or impossible for anyone to buy the network.
My stance on privacy is also more supportive on the fediverse. Twitter has been known to have had some recent blunders, such as when Twitter exposed the phone numbers of millions of accounts, making aliases no longer anonymous. Twitter also does not make any of their tracking & privacy settings easily accessible, often times you have to go through many confusing submenus just to disable data sharing. Not like this may matter soon anyways.
Salute to the bird.