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On the Matter of the New Twitter Boss and Other Things

Elon Musk is buying Twitter, apparently mostly just because he can, and people are — strangely! — worried about whether a thin-skinned ego monster of a billionaire who has problems relating to humans and appears to equate “free speech” with trolling is going to make a service already rife with trolls and and bots any better.

I have thoughts about this! And I will share them with you now.

So, is Elon Musk going to make Twitter better?

Probably not! Part of this can be understood by who appears to be genuinely excited by the fact that Musk is buying the service, namely the trolls and/or the bad actors who have been punted off the service because they were real dicknozzles to others, and are now deeply excited that they might be allowed to return and get right back on their bullshit again. Most everyone else is, at best, ambivalent about it, and a not trivial number of people are taking this as their cue to head for the exit; my follower count is down a solid 1,000+ since yesterday. Some of that may be bots being cleared away, but I suspect it may be folks going, “whelp, I’m out.”

Also, aside from the common trolls, everyone fully expects Seditionist-in-Chief Donald Trump to return to Twitter the moment he can; he’s out there saying he’s not going to, and that he’s going to be on his own service, but we all know that’s a lie. He’s another thin-skinned ego monster, purporting to be a billionaire, who has problems relating to humans, etc, and he will go to where the most people will find him, which is Twitter, and he’ll bring the shit brigade back with him. We all know how that worked out for the country last time.

Elon Musk buying Twitter will be resetting the service back to 2015, basically. Which is not great for anyone but Trump and the trolls.

Okay, yeah, maybe, but Elon Musk could make Twitter better!

I mean, it’s a quantum physics universe; anything could happen. But very little that Musk has said or done seems to suggest that he’s actually going to make Twitter better for anyone but trolls. His definition of “Free Speech” appears to be of the “I get to say entirely shitty things and face no consequences for it” variant which has made being on social media such a delight these latter years, so it seems likely that the new regime will just make Twitter swampier, not less so. Under this “free speech” rubric, reporting trolls and bots and fake accounts to the service seems even less likely to get a useful response than it does now, and it seems more likely than not that harassment and threats and general assholic activity will go way up, because the dude at the top thinks that’s just fine.

Now, Musk could do things to counteract the malignant shittery that by all indications he intends to let flourish on his site: As just one example, he could have Twitter offer finer-grained user-facing filtering and blocking tools that allow users better control of what and who shows up on their feed. He could also make them easier to find and use — put them up front, so people are aware right from the start that they exist and how to use them. Twitter does have filtering tools, but has done such a poor job communicating about them that really only the power users know they exist, much less use them, and even then they’re not entirely adequate. So if Musk gets the service to overhaul and improve user-side control, I’ll be happy to give him a thumbs up there.

But I’m not counting on that! Because, again, Musk doesn’t much seem to care whether people are shitty on Twitter, in no small part because he enjoys being shitty on Twitter. It also seems likely that he doesn’t care that the “free speech” dynamic he appears to tout emboldens the worst sort of people to attack, harass and threaten others, safe in the knowledge that there are no service-side consequences for doing so.

Maybe give a him a chance to prove himself before you criticize him!

Well, one, Musk doesn’t need for me to give him a chance: save a last-minute intervention from shareholders and/or the US government, neither of which I find likely, he’s gonna own the joint no matter what I think. Two: Why? Elon Musk is not exactly shrouded in mystery. He’s a very public individual and has clearly stated his opinions on many subjects, and has a verifiable history in terms of how he acts and what his positions are. It’s perfectly fine to make suppositions about him from existing evidence.

Could I be proven wrong? Absolutely! It may turn out that Elon Musk was the best thing ever to happen to Twitter, and that he will lead us into a new era of social media utopianism. But I’m not exactly counting on it. To the extent that Musk knows who I am (he doesn’t) or cares what I think (he doesn’t), he’s welcome to prove me wrong. And I would be delighted to be wrong! I just don’t suspect I will be.

You just hate him because he’s an outspoken billionaire, you socialist liberal snowflake!

I don’t hate him (I don’t know him, personally), and I don’t even think he’s been unfailingly awful, in terms of the products and services he’s had a hand in. PayPal has been useful to me for decades. Tesla has been a net good, I think, in helping us wean away from oil and fossil fuels. SpaceX seems to me mostly an affectation, but it’s an affectation that I have a personal and professional inclination toward, so, you know, fine. Starlink? Messing up the night sky for Internet, I don’t love it. Twitter? I suspect he’s going to fuck that one up, based on his public behavior over the years and stated plans for the service.

As for Musk being a billionaire: look, this might be surprising, coming from a rich straight white cis dude as this does, but I don’t really have prima facie antagonism of billionaires, and even if I did, that doesn’t stop me from doing business with them and/or their products when it suits me to do so, or when honestly there’s no choice if one wishes to interact with the modern world. I have taken money from Jeff Bezos, Rupert Murdoch and Stefan von Holtzbrinck, to name just three billionaires who have tossed proverbial coins at me, and I will very likely do so again, from them and other billionaires. I use Facebook and Instagram, whose billionaire leader Mark Zuckerberg is probably as delighted as it’s possible for him to be that Elon Musk has usurped him as the Tech Dude Most People Seem To Think Is Evil Today, and I used Twitter when Jack Dorsey was its eccentric billionaire leader. I use Apple and Google and Microsoft products on the regular.

But just because I take money from billionaires and/or use their products and services, it doesn’t follow that I have to be unfailingly fawning of them, or believe that they are peerless examples of humanity, whose glowing example we should all follow. They’re not! By their public actions, a lot of them are real dickheads. I understand there are oligarch fluffers out there, weirdly highly correlative to the sort of dude who thinks he’s a free-thinking libertarian but actually just doesn’t want to pay taxes or be obliged to care about anyone else. I’m just not sure why I am obliged to be one of them, even if I do continue to use Twitter, or buy a Pixel phone, or get something off of Amazon, etc.

You just don’t like free speech!

I like free speech just fine. I don’t think it has much to do with Twitter, however. Twitter is, and will remain, a private company, and what speech is there, is what whoever runs it decides is going to be acceptable. Musk’s iteration of it seems likely to encourage bad actors and decrease the signal-to-noise ratio; either Musk knows this and wants this, or thinks that this one time things will be different — in which case, bless his heart. But it will be his show; he can do what he wants, and everyone who continues to use Twitter will have to deal with it.

So are you going to continue to use Twitter?

Probably. It’s been extremely useful to me professionally, and a lot of my friends are there (still, at least for now), so it’s an important way for me to socialize with others during the day.

But you said Twitter is likely to get worse!

And it likely will! But the awfulness is also unlikely to be evenly distributed, and in my case I expect the awfulness to be manageable. Some of this is based on my own personality, which is generally reasonably well-insulated from the sort of bullshit trolls get up to on Twitter and elsewhere (having three decades of experience dealing with trolls going back to the USENET days helps). Some of this is based on being a rich straight white cis male and thereby getting rather less bullshit sent my way, and when I do it’s mostly losers punching up at me and hoping I engage so they can benefit from the exchange, and I’m happy to disappoint them. Some of it is based on being a Twitter power user, so I actually do know how use the service’s tools to shape my timeline, and for the places where that’s not sufficient I use Block Party, which, because Twitter is a legit marketing tool for me, is a tax-deductible expense. So in all I assume my Twitter experience will be only marginally more sucky than it is right now — again, more like it was in 2015.

That said, not everyone can afford $120 a year for a third-party filtering system for Twitter, or has familiarized themselves with the service’s tools, or, critically, is a straight white cis male who doesn’t mind that much when losers try to punch up at him, hoping that senpai will notice them. It’s lots of people not in that demographic for whom Twitter is likely to become a more degraded and difficult experience. Don’t worry about me. Worry about other, more vulnerable people.

Well, I am leaving Twitter.

As you should if it’s not something you believe you can or should participate in.

But I will miss you.

Awww, thanks. You don’t have to miss me. I’m also at Facebook and Instagram and LinkedIn and Reddit and Mastodon and CounterSocial and Flickr and Tumblr and even at Ello. And, of course, I will be here, at Whatever, where I have been for 23+ years now, having seen off AOL and Friendster and LiveJournal and MySpace and all other manner of social media entities that existed in the before times and are now huddled in the “We Were Beautiful Once Too” bin of the Internet.

Do you think Twitter will be in that bin too?

One day, sure. Whether Elon Musk purchasing the site hastens that moment remains to be seen.

Is this where you rant about having the importance of your own space on the Internet?

It’s not a rant, and also yes. Look, scalzi.com has existed for 24 years now, and Whatever for almost as long, and I never had to worry about whether some damn fool other than me was going to come in and wreck it. And as noted I’ve seen several generations of social media come and go from the privacy of my own web site. No matter what happens, people will be able to find me here.

But you don’t own your own ISP or web host! You’re just as vulnerable!

You are technically correct, which as we all know is the best kind of correct, and also, in the real world my web host for scalzi.com has been unchanged for 20 years at least and if it suddenly went out of business I feel pretty confident someone else would host my site, I’m not doing a terrorism or a porn here. And if it really came down to it, I could just roll my own, although if it did come to that a) I would be miserable, since plugging directly into the Internet backbone is not my skill set, b) things are probably a lot worse than they are now in so many other ways that this site is not going to be high on my list of problems. So while you’re not wrong, also, you’re mostly wrong, and also, I’m not going to sweat it.

Nor should anyone else. Have your own site, people! Run a blog! Get an RSS feeder! Relive 2008!

Of all your various social media iterations aside from Twitter, which ones are you most likely to be on?

Well, here on Whatever, obviously; I update nearly every day, and I have comments open so there can be conversations here (and I moderate pretty seriously). After this, probably Instagram and Facebook. Depending on how things go and my technical acumen, I may mirror some or all of my tweets on Mastodon and CounterSocial. Tumblr runs a feed from Whatever, so there’s that. But again, I’m planning to stay on Twitter for now and I suspect that will remain my primary non-Whatever outlet.

What about doing a Substack or a Medium or a Patreon or a newsletter?

Substack and Medium and Patreon are basically blogs, are they not? I have a blog. You’re reading it. And (again!) unlike Substack and Medium and Patreon, this site is not dependent on anyone else’s business plan, nor unlikely to go away if those sites disappear and/or merge with something else and/or change their user agreement or whatever. I don’t worry about making money directly from the site, and it seems unlikely this will change any time soon, so I don’t need those various monetization options (and if I did, I believe WordPress, which hosts this blog, has options for that).

As for a newsletter: Hey, you can get the blog posts from this site sent to you via mail! If you don’t know how, look down at the very bottom of the site’s sidebar, you can put your email address there. Once you fill it in, presumably you’ll get an email confirming that indeed, you wish to subscribe. There, you have the Whatever newsletter!

Twitch? Discord? TikTok? Other site which has previously gone unmentioned?

I have accounts on quite a lot of social media sites but I also have only so much time in the day for being on social media and/or moderating and maintaining sites. At a certain point, the choice becomes: maintain a social media presence or get actual work done. I do have to prioritize work. It’s what keeps the cats from trying to eat me whilst I sleep.

Would you ever leave Twitter?

Sure, if being on it became more trouble to me than it was worth, or if it devolved into such a state that I didn’t believe I could reasonably be associated with the site. And also if it just stops being fun. I don’t own the site and I don’t owe the site loyalty. Or alternately I’ll just post career-related updates and leave it at that. Will it get to that point? We’ll see. I hope not!

But if it does, well, Twitter had a run, and that’s fine, too. Nothing is forever. And I’ll still have this site, probably. Welcome. I’m glad you’re here.

— JS

By John Scalzi

I enjoy pie.

82 replies on “On the Matter of the New Twitter Boss and Other Things”

Yeah, I’m being pretty chill about it. Facebook drove me off because it doesn’t always load right, and it can be a pain, but I still use it. I suspect that Twitter could be that way as well. I’m experimenting with CounterSocial and seeing what comes with it.

That said, I’m starting to move my blogging and newsletter platform to a Substack mirror, in part because I’m networking with other Substack writers at my level, and I’m experimenting with serializing my work in progress. Kind of a long-range experiment in visibility. The Substack Fictionistas are working on some collaborative projects and you know, it’s one of those cases where I might be in the right place at the right time, soo….

I recently got tired of dealing with Medium. When it came time to re-up my subscription, I asked myself if it was worth it. Nope. A few pennies every few months didn’t earn me anything, and I was tiring of needing to block a bunch of new and nasty commenters on anything I wanted to read, and there really wasn’t a supportive writer community there, not like I’m running into with Substack. It certainly wasn’t that much fun.

So I think I will be handling Facebook, Twitter, and CounterSocial in much the same manner. I’m meeting a new crowd on CounterSocial and they could be fun. But I’m going to be aggressive about curating my connections–IOW, continue being careful. And as another Usenet/LiveJournal refugee, I’m always looking around for new social media connections. Since my visibility as a writer kinda depends on social media, it’s always a good idea to have backups.

I didn’t know you were on Mastodon… cat photos only, so no big loss. It’s also strange to see Counter.Social, a Mastodon instance, listed separately – do they not federate with the rest of the Fediverse?

Never heard of ello, but the page you’ve linked to doesn’t load for me so I’m probably not missing much.

My concern is not whether Twitter will be “better” or “worse”. Once this purchase is complete, my presence on the site puts money in Musk’s pocket. Not shareholders. Elon Musk.

When a service is free, then YOU are the product.

You’ve given a good summary of how discourse is likely to degrade on Twitter, and how tolerable that might be for various people who use it. One other factor I’ve seen a number of folks concerned about, though, is how surveillance on the platform, and the use of user data, is likely to change.

That sort of change is harder to predict (at least based on what I know) than how the public conversation is likely to change. But Musk’s pronouncements about “authenticating all humans” once he takes over the platform raise my eyebrows. Creepy surveillance is the main thing that’s kept me off Facebook. The relative absence on Twitter of hard demands to supply or verify detailed personal information was one thing that encouraged me to join it way back. If that changes, I suspect I won’t be the only person put off.

Likewise, I’ve heard a number of folks (largely in minoritized groups) say they’re not looking forward to having someone like Musk be able to access their private direct messages once he’s in charge of Twitter. Given some of his past actions towards people who he doesn’t like, as well as some of his associates, there seems to me to be some basis for their concern.

Twitter is a great aggregator for news and (especially college) sports. By following a handful of people and pubs I can get alerted to those things I want to hear about because they frequently retweet related or relevant stuff.

Patently stupid tweets find their way into my feed, but much of modern life can be infuriating, so what’s new there? Some of those most outraged by the coming shitstorm will remain on Twitter so they can be outraged by the shitstorm. Righteous indignation is a hell of a drug.

If Twitter continues to provide more pluses than minuses, why would I leave? Should those lines intersect, I’ll have a choice to make. If Twitter goes to a subscription model, many trolls will find other places they can trash without a monthly hit on their PayPal.

I almost feel like Twitter will be MORE useful for me.

I’m on Facebook and Twitter and not much else (Insta is pointless as I am not narcissistic and I’m also fat, and let’s be honest, no one wants to look at me under almost any circumstances).

I use Facebook to keep up with far flung friends (oh, look my friend from Florida is posting falling iguana photos again!) and see folks baby pics.

I use Twitter right AFTER Facebook, so that I can get back to hating humanity after looking at dog and baby pics. I can only imagine how much less time I’ll have to take to get back to my properly calibrated misanthropy levels when Musk is in control.

Yeah, as a cishet white male, I don’t expect things to get unbearably bad for me on Twitter any time soon. However, I can EASILY see them getting unbearably bad for people with more marginalized identities, to the point where they would exit, leaving me with a Twitter composed only of other cishet white males, which would really suck.

Well, it would be a shame if Twitter would die. I’m on this platform to be kept up to date when authors I like publish new works. Many of the authors I’ve read are on there and it would be a pain to have to follow them on several platforms to get those updates.

Whoever wrote this drivel has little idea of the true meaning of free speech and its importance to the world. Musk will make free speech better than the previous owners of Twitter. I have no objection to anyone saying whatever they want, yes whatever they want, just as long as its within the law. Period!

I have had a simple reaction to Elon buying twitter: meh
I am currently trying to log onto twitter to see when I last posted anything at all, and that process is stalled because it has been so long and like you pointed out, there are lot of people jumping ship. Will I be one? meh
But I am in the unique position of not really giving a shit about twitter since I have not used it in recent memory. I feel bad for the people who are panicking over not being able to update their (or get updates from those they follow) profiles.
I hope they are able to deal with this sudden upheaval in their lives

Loved your comments on Elon and Twit. I tried to like Twit, but it just never really clicked with me, though I know it does for a lot of people. The aspect of FBook that I’ve appreciated is that, as a former teacher and now district administrator, I get to see what my favorite former students are up to as adults. That’s pretty cool. Other than that my preference is for folks in 3D. It’s a me thing and maybe because I can remember a time when leisure suits and platform shoes seemed like stellar ideas. Anyhow, appreciated the lengthy rant and had a few laughs at your insights. Thanks!

I can’t find where I read it, but a couple of weeks ago Musk said if he were to buy Twitter, the first two changes would be to eliminate random bots and to verify all users as actual humans. (I’d have to imagine he’d allow certain bots, as some can be helpful or interesting, so that may still leave the door open for abuse.) Along with verifying real people, some have suggested requiring using your real name – not sure that would work for everyone.

I have no dog in this hunt as Twitter kicked me off for being one of those “toxic troublemakers” – i.e., I asked some gun-nut Trumper threatening “libburuls” how he’d like it if I came by his house (which I do not know the address or even time-zone of) with my guns (of which I have zero) to explain my viewpoint to him and his family. Glancing in from the outside, it appears he is still threatening people on there….

So Twitter can [insert obscene recommendation of choice], far as I’m concerned. I doubt I’ll even try re-joining once Musk makes it a paradise for trolls again….

“ I don’t really have prima facie antagonism of billionaires”

THANK YOU. I’m getting really (obscenity) tired of people kicking at people just because they’re rich. And I get REALLY tired of people kicking at rich people who got rich by inventing of providing something as useful as PayPal or whatever. That’s the only really redeeming value of capitalism, in my opinion: risk is rewarded. Sometimes greatly so. Musk and Zuckerberg and Gates and all the other billionaires the left attacks with knee-jerk regularity may be flawed human beings in many ways, but their wealth was earned honestly, by providing services or goods that people wanted. Or wanted once they heard about them. Thanks for not joining that brigade.

Wait, wut? Tumblr still exists?

And yes, those poor children of (checks notes) millionaire parents dragged themselves up by their own bootstraps and took the “risk” of having to go live in their old bedroom while taking a disproportionate reward from the company that sprung in complete perfect form from the sweat of their brow without any input from anyone else, ever.

It’s not hard to have billionaires as your main villains in SciFi books. Thus far I only know a novella by Cixin Liu in which the poorest people were kind of the villains.

(The Wages of Humanity)

I understand some of what you’re saying, in the abstract. But there will come a time, probably sooner rather than later, when American liberalism deeply regrets allowing the principle of “free speech” to become coded conservative.

I’m sorry that progressive activists and pundits don’t seem to understand that; by the time they do, I expect it will be too late.

I uninstalled Twitter on the phone today, it will still be on the computer, and I will check in on it to see whatever is up, infrequently and irregularly.
Mostly I will miss Scamperbeasts.

Some people do not seem to understand just how vital and fundamental the right to freedom of expression is, and it shows. It is an extremely cavalier attitude to take to hand-wave away as nothing but trolls, bad actors, and dicknozzles all those who feel like their freedom of expression may be in jeopardy as a result of overzealous and capricious content moderation on social media platforms. What a privilege it must be indeed to be so sure that your own political opinions will always pass muster with the opaque content moderators of modern discourse that you can show such blatant disregard and utter contempt for those who are less sure. What an astonishing level of confidence it shows in the curators of “acceptable discourse” to assume that their definition of “acceptable discourse” will always be politically aligned with your own.

Let’s take a relatively politically neutral example from the recent past. Shortly after the emergence of COVID, the lab-leak hypothesis was declared theory-non-grata by those shaping the dominant narrative – including content moderators on social media. The political right was the first to seriously explore the possibility of a lab leak origin, and the left responded immediately by declaring it a dangerous and racist conspiracy theory while overstating the evidence for a purely zoonotic origin. Major social media platforms accepted the narrative consensus of the left on this one, and began censoring discussions of the lab-leak hypothesis, declaring it to be misinformation. Months later it became clear the evidence for the purely zoonotic origin of COVID was paper-thin and no one credible was willing to stake their reputation any longer on entirely dismissing the lab-leak hypothesis, recognizing it was indeed a perfectly plausible explanation for the emergence of COVID in Wuhan.

So who were the real bad actors and dicknozzles there? Those who had the audacity to publicly explore the lab leak hypothesis, or those who called for and carried out the censorship of that conversation?

When people are so quick to dismiss and dehumanize their political adversaries, we should be real careful about assuming people are always acting in good faith in how they are defining “acceptable discourse”. We should be very careful about embracing righteous certainty that we are so entirely on the right side of every debate that it is of no consequence when those on the “wrong” side are marginalized and silenced for expressing views that fall outside of the dominant narratives. Truncated freedom of expression may serve our side today, but there is no guarantee it will tomorrow.

It’s real tidy and convenient to try and shove all discourse that falls outside the bounds of “acceptable discourse” (as we definite it today, who knows about tomorrow!) as hate speech or dangerous misinformation in order to rationalize its excision from the public square. Russia quite cheerfully declares all evidence of attacks against civilians in Ukraine as dangerous misinformation, and forbids it. Do we really want a society where we are not allowed to be “wrong” according to whatever those shaping the dominant narratives have declared to be “right”?

People may believe they are protecting the most marginalized by wishing for narrower constraints on acceptable speech. Those people are what I like to call wrong. You know whose voices most consistently fall outside the bounds of the dominant narratives? The most marginalized. By protecting freedom of expression, as a matter of principle, we are committing ourselves to defending the rights of those marginalized by society’s dominant narratives at the cost of having to abide some people being “wrong” and sometimes offensive in public. Have people ever seen some of the dominant narratives our society has accepted over the years? Historically, not a horse you want to hitch your wagon to.

So Elon Musk comes along and says he wants to take a more liberal (do people even remember the definition of this word?) approach to content moderation, and it’s full on hair on fire on the left. We can also learn something from who seems to be in full-on rending of garments and gnashing of teeth mode. It’s almost like there’s a political bloc that feels like it currently has the upper hand in the narrative shaping on social media and they are afraid of losing it. Maybe that warrants some reflection.

@ Aaron:

“when American liberalism deeply regrets allowing the principle of “free speech” to become coded conservative.”

With American so-called “conservatives” (a.k.a. clerofascists and white supremacists) engaging in literal government censorship, in the concrete, and on a daily basis, I believe the possibility of free speech becoming “coded conservative” is so remote as to be negligible.

My wife just made the comment (re:Twitter purchase) that having leveraged a chunk of Tesla to finance this, Musk most likely bought the dip (it dipped a fair bit), and will leave Twitter at the altar.

Just a thought to consider, he’s not above doing this just for market manipulation.

I quit twitter a long time ago because it was no fun. That was years after I quit Facebook because I did not like their invasiveness. The only way to stop the destruction of society that is mediated by these mindworms is to walk away from them.

As we said when I was a kid, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

@Aaron

“But there will come a time, probably sooner rather than later, when American liberalism deeply regrets allowing the principle of “free speech” to become coded conservative.”

Amen to that. Have we completely forgotten the moral panics of the 70s and 80s when the political left was the resolute defender of freedom of expression against the religious right? Now it is the left rationalizing constraints on freedom of expression on behalf of its own pet moral panics. The political left needs to begin examining this much more seriously, much faster. This is not ground it should want to cede to the political right. To say nothing of the fact that abandoning freedom of expression as absolute-bedrock is an unprincipled position for the left to take.

@ Graham Blake:

“So who were the real bad actors and dicknozzles there? Those who had the audacity to publicly explore the lab leak hypothesis, or those who called for and carried out the censorship of that conversation?”

You conveniently omit that zero evidence has been presented for the lab-leak theory either.

The “political right” embraced that explanation to deflect responsibility for the catastrophic mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic (under a right-wing administration) onto nefarious activities by America’s new favorite bogeyman, China. The “political left” (correctly) identified this attempt as racist deflection. Then (hypocritically) embraced it themselves, when it became clear that COVID-19 was still taking a toll on Americans, despite the change in government.

“no one credible was willing to stake their reputation any longer on entirely dismissing the lab-leak hypothesis”

Wow… that’s a mealy-mouthed, hedgy statement, wouldn’t you say?

@ Graham: “Now it is the left rationalizing constraints on freedom of expression on behalf of its own pet moral panics.”

[looks at the rash of book-banning, library-seizing, and teacher-muzzling laws being passed by right-wing legislatures all over the country after panics whipped up about “CRT” and all manner of transphobic nonsense]

Sorry, I’m not seeing where it’s the left that’s engaging in freedom-of-expression clampdowns based on “pet moral panics”….

@Fatman

My point had absolutely nothing to do with whether the lab-leak hypothesis was correct or not, it was about social media dictating the acceptable bounds of discourse. Asserting that the lab-leak hypothesis was a conspiracy theory was never banned from major social media platforms. Discussing the lab-leak hypothesis, in fact, was. It is an example of how over-zealous content moderation can shape public discourse based on the ideological positions people have staked out, not evidence.

There is nothing mealy-mouthed about that explanation for the about-face that social media platforms eventually made to allow people to discuss the lab-leak hypothesis again. No one serious in the scientific community was willing to dismiss it anymore, and those who had done so earlier were shown to have done so prematurely.

FWIW, your definition of “zero evidence” conveniently ignores the, you know… actual evidence. Most specifically, the reporting done by WSJ of high quality intelligence that identified a number of workers from the Wuhan lab getting sick with COVID-like symptoms in November 2019. That reporting made it impossible to dismiss the lab leak hypothesis entirely.

But again, that is beside the point. The point is that it was always debateable, but that debate was, for a time, made verboten. That is the problem I am underscoring.

I can see this being a massive failure for Twitter. Personally, i think the current Twitteratti mindset coddling the far-Left is foolish. They loved to see free and open speech against all those who’d stop them from speaking out, especially when done in foreign countries but seem to hate it when done towards subjects they like. Those they want banned.

As a not-bad movie President said “America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” I still think that is the best line describing the US ideal of free speech (and a damn good movie speech).

That used to be the mantra from the Left (or at lest the Clinton center Left to the standard Liberal like President Biden – a wide spread). Sadly, we’ve seem to be losing it.

I think Musk will make Twitter worse and it will fade away. Something else will come (Not Trump’s Pravda) and hopefully it will remember that free speech is hard – both side have to accept that the others can have their say.

I retired a couple of years ago and recently got a Twitter account primarily because there were writers and artists (and certain scamperbeasts. I refer to my own as The Texas Thunderbeasts.) I wanted to follow. And, yes, I am aware that I have zero followers. I can’t think of any reason for anyone to follow me.
As to Musk taking over Twitter: I don’t think it will affect the reason I use it. I post rarely on my account. If many of the accounts I follow begin to close, then I will consider closing it.
When I think about it, the only way I would get a following is if I created an account for the hairy horde. My cats and I could mutually follow each other.
Also, Scalzi posts pictures of Spring in Ohio and Spring (and 4 seasons) is the one thing I really miss about southern Ohio. UC alumnus here.

It seems to me that the secret to mostly not being miserable is to be fairly aware and curate your community pretty carefully. I don’t plan to leave till it becomes clear that strategy is untenable. Too many people I’d miss.

But I do think calling SpaceX who has quite literally revolutionized the space transportation business an ‘affectation’ is a little out there. Of course, the secret to their success is that Musk was smart enough (unlike Trump) to hire /really/ good and competent people and then get out of their way.

I think if the loss of followers everyone with lots of followers was a bot purge, as some think it might be, twitter wouldn’t be choosing right when they decide to accept a buy offer to do the purge. Lots of people said they would leave if Musk bought, and the day the deal is accepted people are seeing thousands of followers disappear? That’s the kind of thing that could break the deal, so they wouldn’t risk it.

@ Graham Blake:

“Most specifically, the reporting done by WSJ of high quality intelligence that identified a number of workers from the Wuhan lab getting sick with COVID-like symptoms in November 2019. ”

So in other words… no evidence?

The only actual research into COVID-19 origins thus far returned a conclusion of “inconclusive, but most likely not engineered”. That’s the reason behind scientists refusing to eliminate the “lab leak” theory, not speculation in newspapers.

“No one serious in the scientific community was willing to dismiss it anymore, and those who had done so earlier were shown to have done so prematurely.”

No on both counts, because above. Conversely, no one serious in the scientific community is willing to accept the “lab leak” theory as a valid theory, because… the evidence is not there. Hence your hedge-filled statement.

“The point is that it was always debateable, but that debate was, for a time, made verboten.”

No, it was not. As I mentioned earlier, “lab leak” conspiracy theorists were never prohibited from airing their points on Twitter. And a lively debate continued unabated on multiple other social networks, which Twitter of course has no control of. Therefore you either don’t understand the concept of “free speech”, or are simply arguing for the sake of argument.

“Do we really want a society where we are not allowed to be “wrong” according to whatever those shaping the dominant narratives have declared to be “right”?”

We are 100% free to be wrong. If we’re banned by Twitter, we have the option to choose one of the eleventy thousand other platforms where we can exercise our “freedom of expression”. There we can explore free speech topics such as racist memes, planning synagogue shootings, and even ISIS recruitment/beheading videos to our hearts’ content.

Hell, I don’t even need a single social media account to do so.

@ Deborah Dewart:

“As to Musk taking over Twitter: I don’t think it will affect the reason I use it.”

As a Twitter outsider, concerns about Musk taking over seem relatively overblown to me.

One, Musk enjoys trolling people. It’s part of his bizarre attempt at a human sense of humor. He has a history of posting nonsensical things to stoke controversy, which he later deletes (from his Twitter, no less) and never brings up again.

Two, Musk has a tendency to overpromise and later deliver on a much more modest scale. A more realistic read of his grand scheme for Twitter is that he’ll probably purge a few tens of thousands of bot accounts, and tweak some rules around who gets banned. There’s no getting around hate speech and privacy laws in other countries, where I imagine most Twitter accounts originate nowadays.

Three, unmoderated content is extremely difficult to manage, and “free speech” platforms have so far proven to be anything but. Not sure if anyone here has been following the GB TV debacle on the other side of the pond, but it demonstrated rather conclusively that the conservative version of “free speech” translates into “free to say what we like to hear”. There’s a reason why 4chan never attained the popularity of Twitter, and why all attempts to imitate Twitter have failed. A vocal, disgruntled loser-minority is not what you base a global platform on.

Not on Facebook, not on Twitter, not on any other social media, never have been, never will be.

Will this be “better” for “free speech”?

Bwahahahahaha! Good one.

Yes, Musk is a thin-skinned troll who has way too much money for his (or our) own good. \

I can’t help but think Twitter is just another data mine for Musk.
Much like Tesla is currently with every vehicle sending information back to the cloud.

He is another rich git who uses his money to overcompensate for his lack of actually interesting things to say and rarely delivers on the promises made.
I feel like I should be playing buzz word bingo everytime I read about him or hear him talk.
It’s like being back in the world of advertising but his product he’s selling is Elon Musk & he is selling it hard before the coming fire sale.

But weirdly has a huge pool of people who have never actually met him but are willing to defend him.
It’s an odd cult of personality for someone not very likeable.

Weird the people in the comments equating marginalized people on the left not wanting to get death threats as being equivalent to conservatives banning books about the holocaust (and math books and gay people mentioning their spouses and etc.) The definition of false equivalence.

Maybe not so weird though. It’s like, bad guys should be allowed to hurt people AND bad guys should be allowed to hurt people.

Ok but Twitter has a clear policy on death threats and yet some accounts are still around and tweeting out threats. They don’t apply their ToS evenly and it’s clearly weighted against conservatives. And yes we get death threats in a higher quantity.

Anyway if your life is unhappy then you can remove yourself from Twitter. It’s either your jam or it’s not.

I don’t see this issue as anything different from the billionaires who run other media companies and conglomerates the way they want, using platforms such as Facebook, The Washington Post, and various TV and cable networks to put forth their messages and politics. This is not a new thing (yellow journalism, anyone?). In the last 30 years we’ve seen much of our legacy media, such as the New York Times and CBS, change from fair and balanced world-class news journalism and reporting to cesspools of biased crap that can embarrass even the National Enquirer. We’ve seen the rise of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News and their generally one-sided reporting, and extreme disinformation and lies on both sides of the aisle make us wonder if The Onion and Reader’s Digest may not be our actual best sources of news. Journalism, real journalism, in general just doesn’t seem to exist anymore, getting lost in the sensational search for eyeballs.

Will Twitter change? Yup. Change for the worse? Depends on who’s being asked, of course. I think that the Twitter issue, though, is minor compared to Facebook. If Facebook ceased to exist later today, the world would be much better off.

@ Cam S:

“They don’t apply their ToS evenly and it’s clearly weighted against conservatives.”

Interesting. Could you point to anyone receiving death threats for stating that they want a smaller government? Or lower taxes?

@ Spoon:

“In the last 30 years we’ve seen much of our legacy media, such as the New York Times and CBS, change from fair and balanced world-class news journalism and reporting to cesspools of biased crap that can embarrass even the National Enquirer.”

Care to provide an example in support of this statement? Or is it just more whining against “biased facts and reality”?

Twitter and most social media is a channel for amplifying our quest for status. That is why people with whom we agree can still be insufferable online. Trolls flourish because just pissing off someone is a win, even if they are demonstrably lying. All of this digital chest thumping is done with lesser-evolved parts of our brain. That is why we simply cannot give up on a fight on Twitter and love to pile on to an existing feud.

My last expedition onto Twitter was to share my creative coding hobby and mathematics. Even then, politics made up a nontrivial proportion of my feed. I stayed as long as I did because I was proud of a few things I shared. Once Musk was announced to be joining the Twitter board, I took that as a sign it would no longer be worth my while to stay on the service.

Frankly, humanity would be better off if we all had a productive hobby and went for a walk outdoors once a day.

“there will come a time, probably sooner rather than later, when American liberalism deeply regrets allowing the principle of “free speech” to become coded conservative.

I’m sorry that progressive activists and pundits don’t seem to understand that; by the time they do, I expect it will be too late.”

It codes conservative because many, many conservatives are twisting free speech to mean consequence-free speech and are counting on their terrified and outraged adherents to perpetuate and embrace straw man arguments against holding folks responsible for what they do and say. As for things being too late, I’d say consequence-free speech advocates working actively to silence folks with the right to speak freely about the actual history of this nation might be indicative a slip down this particular slope.

Also, when “[saying] gay” isn’t an issue for right-wing reactionaries and statis anxiety stops informing pedagogy and text selection, we can have a conversation about how snowflake lefties harping on free speech are too stupid to realize that they too could end up “canceled” for speech folks don’t like.

I’m not on Twitter because I only like to be nice and polite to people who. I talk to on the internet, and I only want to talk to people who feel the same way.

I wasn’t always like that. It took me a while to come to the conclusion that any other form of discourse on the internet was pointless and immature.

In person, hostility anger and aggression are useful and used very selectively because of the potential consequences and our discourse has evolved (or we have evolved) with this in mind.

However, on the internet there are are little or no consequences to rude or aggressive behavior like their are IRL. So, there are a whole bunch of “internet tough” people who treat people very poorly. They say and do things they would never do in real life. They hope to get the effect that their anger and hostility generates without the consequences. This to me is a pretty fundamental problem. I only say things to people on the net that I would say in person, and I treat people the way I would like to be treated in person. So yeah, Twitter is not for me.

Perhaps we will see more trolling there. On the other hand, the NY Post is not a troll. Their story was accurate. It was suppressed prior to an election. Twitter being a private company and being able to do what it wants is an ethic in conflict with it’s role as a de facto public square. Many industries are considered a public trust and regulated accordingly. I think social media is as well and needs to be regulated accordingly so that all viewpoints have their fair shake. This is not to say that all viewpoints are equal, or should be heard. I just don’t trust anybody or any group to make that decision.

So to me, Nazis, flat earthers and Alex Jones being able to get their voice out there is a sign that opinions are not being suppressed . When the NY post and a sitting President are removed I take it as a sign they are. I think Twitter had become a selective and one-sided political tool and that was inherently dangerous because of its power.

I’m a big Musk fan. I wish him luck.

John, you never got to the question I am most curious about: Will Musk ultimately go through with the purchase?

I love Twitter, which does a huge amount to help keep me in the loop on matters in historical musicology and the general worlds of European classical music and opera. Would hate to leave, also hate giving anything at all to Musk.

Must about this:

Get an RSS feeder!

Did you mean an “RSS feed [for your blog]” or an “RSS reader”? I have both. The blog has been around since 2004.

I can only think of two real possibilities for Twitter under Musk, either that will become a cesspool for right wing trolls including Trump, or that it will just fade into oblivion.

I honestly don’t see the point in dumping billions of dollars into, unless there is some kind of fantasy about total information control worldwide, but I really think that ship has sailed.

People don’t trust social media anymore, so Musk is throwing good money after bad.

I for one welcome our new evil overlord
.
hmmm… how to snark? …ah mashup of franchises!
.
“Twitter: The Next Generation”
.
Darth Musk (what would an epic be without a villain?)
.
aboard the Debt Star ($44B is deep red ink)
.
fending off the good guys (“Democrats Assemble!”)
.
and…
.
[ visualize horde of enraged ComicCon nerds are chasing me off this thread ]

@ Just sayin’:

“I think social media is as well and needs to be regulated accordingly so that all viewpoints have their fair shake.”

Social media already presents a fair shake to all viewpoints. People who don’t like what Twitter has to offer can choose from multiple other platforms offering unmoderated content. Pretending otherwise is… disingenuous, to use a polite word.

Plenty other outlets continued to accommodate the former President’s calls for violence and sedition. Therefore I don’t see how you can argue that his “view” was suppressed. Even though it actually does not come under the protection of the First Amendment:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_free_speech_exceptions

(There are also main articles on Incitement, Clear and present danger, Imminent lawless action, and Sedition, should you wish to familiarize yourself with the US Constitution).

John, obviously I’m not going to defend ineffectual right-wing book bans or (rather more seriously) anti-LGBT legislation. Are many of these conservative free speech warriors hypocritical? Sure, although there is a significant and growing contingent of center-right libertarians who I think are sincere. But there is a salient difference: contemporary American liberalism is both rhetorically and ideologically hostile to free speech as a principle and ethos. I don’t see how you can honestly survey our political landscape and come to a different conclusion.

And to be clear, that’s not even a value judgment, not exactly. I don’t agree with the positions liberal intellectual culture has taken on matters of free expression and censorship over the past half-decade, but I also understand why many progressives feel the way they do. (Honestly there’s a great book to be written on the subject.)

But from the outside, can you see how it looks to have what appears to be the entire liberal intellectual class reacting to an explicitly nonpartisan endorsement of “free speech” with horror and derision? Yes, I understand that the context informs a particular interpretation of the phrase. It doesn’t make it any less striking. And America is watching.

I’ve disliked Musk since the Thailand cave disaster when he suggested building a mini-sub to rescue the people who were trapped. When a leader of the rescue team gave a perfectly reasonable explanation for why that wouldn’t work, what did Musk do? He accused him of being a pedophile on Twitter. Anyone who thinks he’s a “champion of free speech” is a fool.

@Aaron:

Please give some specific examples of what you perceive as recent suppression of free speech or free expression by American liberal culture.

Also, please indicate if these are by state actors or not.

Also, please indicate if these expressions are directed to harm some group of people or some individual.

Now it looks as though Musk may be looking for a back door exit from the deal, possibly because Tesla has lost more than $130 billion in value since the deal was announced the other day. He’s now made disparaging remarks about two high-level Twitter employees which is apparently a violation of the presale agreement he made. Additionally, the EU is making disapproving noises.

I think Musk is in for a rude awakening.

Tesla’s valuation compared to its earnings is almost 40 times higher than any other automaker. Is Tesla’s stock really worth 40 times more than Toyota’s? I seriously doubt it.

It is what it is because up to now, Tesla has had the electric vehicle space all to itself. That is no longer true. And it is going to be more and more untrue in the near future.

Tesla has shown a distinct inability to make anything other than luxury cars for the very rich. There once was an affordable version of the Model 3, but it was never made in significant numbers, and, I don’t know if anyone noticed, that version no longer exists. The cheapest Tesla is about the same price as a Mercedes C class.

On the other hand, both Hyundai and Kia introduced vehicles this year that occupy the affordability space and have a range close enough to Tesla’s. More are coming. As are more luxury vehicles.

It is pretty stupid to think that because you are currently, on paper at least, the richest man in the world that you will always be the richest man in the world. But if Tesla’s stock value falls back down to Earth, his net worth declines by an order of magnitude.

Twitter has never made money. It has been on the auction block a few times and no one made an offer because of that. Musk’s plans do not address that problem at all. And in a couple of years, he will have difficulty continuing to pour vanity money down the Twitter hole. He will really need it to make money to service the debt he took out to purchase it.

Musk has an unearned reputation as a great innovator. He invented Tesla, after all. Except he didn’t. Tesla and its basic technology were created by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. in 2003.

Musk took some PayPal money and invested the next year, becoming chairman of the board. He made significant contributions to securing investment funding, but not the technology. In 2007 and 2008, he forced Eberhard and Tappening out, effectively stealing their company from them. In 2009, Eberhard sued Musk for libel, slander and breach of contract over being forced out, alleging that Musk “set out to rewrite history by falsely claiming that he was the founder or creator of Tesla Motors.”

Eberhard also criticized Musk for massive layoffs, labeling it a “stealth bloodbath.” The lawsuit was settled for undisclosed terms.

I’m probably largely unqualified to comment here as, neo-Luddite that I am (he says via computer), I’m not, and have never been, on any social network.

That said, a few thoughts:

1.) Having once been Malletted here myself, I think the idea of moderation (on Twitter–or, for that matter, anywhere)–is a good and necessary one. Free speech notwithstanding, no one has the right to yell “fire!” in a crowded theater (although I defend the right to yell “theater!” at a crowded fire), and I don’t think hate speech should be considered “free.” Who decides what is and isn’t hate speech, of course, is a much harder (but hopefully not ultimately insoluble) problem.

2.) I wonder if there might be money to be made with an “anti-social network?” Sign up, send them money to be distributed to some worthy cause of your choice, and they’ll promise to leave you alone. Or maybe John’s paid Twitter filtering service is along those lines.

3.) W/R/T John’s comment about “signal to noise ratio:” no electrical engineer I, but as an erstwhile radio ham I’ve always been led to believe that as bandwidth increases, SNR must inevitably deteriorate.

Free speech warrior: The constitution gives me the right to threaten and bully women, non-straight, non-white, non-able-bodied losers with impunity.

Social media mods, employers and decent people: Sure, but we get to hold you to the terms of service, morals clauses and codes of conduct you agreed to when signing the contract/taking the job/ joining the community. We also get to shun or criticize you when you behave like a garbage person and to not have you as a representative of our brand or mission.

Free speech warrior: How dare you advocate for the government’s right to punish me for speaking freely!

Social media mods, employers and decent people: The free speech clause in the constitution doesn’t mean what you think it means, and it doesn’t mean what you want it to mean.

Free speech warrier: I’ve been bullying people, posting folks’ personal information and, even after having been warned several times, have continued My regular threats to murder or rape girls, women and other marginalized people. I’ve repeatedly violated the terms of service/morals contract/code of conduct and had the consequences applied to me just like anyone else! Even worse, keeping up my end of the agreement I made means having to behave like people with whom I disagree! Tyranny! Dystopia! Communist China is upon us!

Social media mods, employers and Decent people: No one is going to imprison or exicute you for pushing the narrative that Asians of all nationalities are to blame for Covid, inviting black people to kill themselves, advocating for eugenics or prescribing genocide and mass deportation as a panacea for the encroachment of multi-culturalism and ethnic diversity on America. On a side note, are you sure this is even a thing in communist China? In any event, you just can’t say those things and be part of this online community/represent this company/ have your intolerance tolerated. You also can’t plan an insurrection on this platform or try to dress up storming the US capitol as “legitimate political discourse.” Your free speech rights are not under threat just because you and/or people who look and think like you have and continue to be held accountable for your words and deeds. You aren’t being oppressed or suppressed just because others are exercising their right not to employ, host or associate with those engaging in harassment, domestic terrorism, hate speech and violent rhetoric. Words and deeds that serve you and yours and meet your partisan criteria for “legitimate political discourse”aren’t outlawed. Why aren’t you getting this?

Reactionary free-speech warrior: You’re wrong! If I harass or threaten groups I hate and are denied my God given, constitutional right to flip the bird at morals clauses, codes of conduct and terms of service, I might as well be living under a tyrannical government. Nevermind the dozens upon dozens of other communities available to me. The right to protest is also something I enjoy as an American, and that constitutional right means I get to stretch protesting to mean threatening to break democracy when me and mine don’t get what we want. Besides, my storming the capitol or calling for the deaths of my political opponents isn’t anything like those n****s throwing a tantrum over cops doing their part to keep them in line and protect the white majority of my country. In any event, it’s a slippery slope Holding people to codes of conduct, terms of service and morals clauses will ultimately lead to the kind of oppression going on in autocratic governments. It’ll get so you can’t so much as roll your eyes at a n*** without being arrested. It isn’t fair that many of the ideas I say and/or agree with are objectively terrible and are treated as such by the public! Waaaaa!

Decent people: I just can’t with you.

@Aaron
Any horror and derision from the left about Musk’s endorsement of FreeSpeech™ is far exceeded by the exultation now coming from the most despicable corners of the right. In other words, everyone knows EXACTLY what the subtext is here, so it’s disingenuous to pretend that FreeSpeech™ is the same thing as “free speech.”

Nods. The possibilities of complications are why I’m not getting very hyper about the whole thing. Plus…I paid attention to who was making the most drama about it, and took notes accordingly.

Hubris is a thing, as I suspect Elon Musk is in the process of discovering.

Tumblr very much still exists. The new management has even figured out a way to monetize it without pissing off the user base–allow the /users/ to pay to inflict their shitposts on vast numbers of random other users.

Tumblr users seem to be reacting to the Twitter panic and exodus by hoping they don’t come back here (the general opinion is that users who defected to Twitter when “female-presenting” nipples were banned were the annoying ones), and by preparing to share “the best” of Tumblr blogs with newcomers. You know, just they get an idea what they are in for.

Tumblr reminds me of Usenet’s Alt.* groups, in a way.

Someone above wondered what Heinlein would think. It occurs to me that what Heinlein did for each decade was look at what society currently believed, and then write the opposite.

For example, before sputnik, back in the years when society (peers) pressured Ray Bradbury into ripping up his collection of Buck Rogers comics, Heinlein wrote stuff to show that moonshots were not crazy.

I think his novel “Friday” came from when part of society (not you and I) believed in switching away from civics stuff to “market fundamentalism.”

Today when society as a whole (not you and I) believes in forwarding social media outrage, canceling, and the “attention economy,” Heinlein would strategically imagine how society could be otherwise, and tactically imagine how individuals could act.

I mean act like blogger Mark Manson’s tips for understanding social media and web essayist Paul Graham’s latest piece against the horror of being accused of “heresy.” Paul wrote to offer “antibodies” to help good people find permission to speak and think.

Surely Heinlein would come up with antibodies for media too, by fictionally showing not telling.

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