Is It Ethical to Be On Twitter In the Musk Era? A Personal Answer

John Scalzi

As most of you know, very recently Scott Adams, the creator of the “Dilbert” comic strip, went full racist – or more accurately, went full racist again, just in a way that was entirely unignorable – and as result had his comic dropped by hundreds of newspapers and then by his syndicate, which cut the comic strip off from every other newspaper that had not already dropped him. Adams whined about this in the way that racist people do when their racism finally crosses a line other people can’t pretend they didn’t see, and found an ally in Elon Musk, whose tweets on the subject are of the general “it’s the white people who truly suffer under racism” variety, because of course they are, Elon Musk is hot racist right-wing trash.

Elon Musk being hot racist right-wing trash prompted a question to me in email, which, as it was long, I will paraphrase thusly: Given my position in 2016 that people who voted for Donald Trump gave their assent, implicitly or explicitly, to Trump’s racism and other bigotry and couldn’t pretend they had done otherwise, to what extent do I or other people who use Twitter give assent (and, let’s be real, money) to the practices and policies of Musk, who is, again, hot racist right-wing trash?

This is a reasonable question! Musk is indeed trash! He owns Twitter! And certainly a fair number of people appear to have said “buh-bye” to Twitter once its sale to him closed; anecdotally, I lost close to five percent of my followership from just before the sale to the end of 2022, and I’m still a few thousand followers down from my pre-Musk numbers. What does it mean for the rest of us who stuck around? Is continued use of Twitter an implicit or explicit endorsement of Musk’s personal bigotries and/or patently crappy corporate practices and policies?

My smart-ass answer to this is, “I was on Twitter before Musk was and I will be on Twitter after he sells it for a multi-billion dollar loss.” The first of these is entirely true (my account on the service predates his), and the second I expect will be true within a few years, possibly in 2025, depending on whether or not he’s managed to help trebuchet Ron DeSantis (speaking of hot racist right-wing trash!) into the White House. This smart-ass answer is fun to offer up, and is true as far as it goes.

But it also evades the question, and additionally, it elides the point that prior to Musk taking control of Twitter (or perhaps better to say, having somewhat stupidly overvalued Twitter on a basically facetious offer for the service and then rather begrudgingly taking delivery on it when Twitter’s board didn’t let him out of his entirely self-inflicted sucker deal), the ownership and leadership of Twitter was not, shall we say, a 100% super liberal dream team. Jack Dorsey, who appears to think a really excellent mediation sojourn in Myanmar counter-balances some ham-brained laissez-faire pronouncements and policies over the years, is no great prize, a fact that was reflected in the service’s generally atrocious approach to moderation and enforcement over the years, which was “let shitty people be awful as possible as long as possible, and then only begrudgingly do anything about it, and do even that half-assed.”

Twitter wasn’t and isn’t the only problem child in the social media space — oh, hello, Facebook, aided and abetted any genocides today? — but it sure as hell wasn’t great, frequently was not good, and occasionally, through intention or omission, allowed awfulness and, yes, even evil. If we’re going to ask what the implications of my using Twitter are under Musk, we might as well also ask what the implications are of my having used Twitter before Musk, and to what extent I was aiding and abetting those policies, as well.

And while we’re at it, let’s also look at some other things. Hey, do you know I have (and do!) take money from Rupert Murdoch? Since the 90s at least! I wrote stuff for the Delphi internet service, a company that was owned by News Corporation when I freelanced for it, and more recently, both the pre- and post-Disney Fox entertainment studio has optioned work from me. I like to think that every dollar Murdoch gives me is money that can’t go to, say, Tucker “I’m a bigot helping to sell gold and pillows to other bigots” Carlson, but let’s not pretend we don’t know what Murdoch’s focus is, or that I’m doing the lord’s work keeping my relatively paltry sums from Carlson.

Oh, and on the subject of the lord’s work, you know that church I own now? The money I used to buy it goes directly to a denomination that does not condone or allow same-sex marriage or the ordination of gay people to its clergy. Now, to be fair, many individual churches in that denomination either ignore or actively defy that bit of doctrine, and the whole denomination is in the middle of a doctrinal shift that will likely see it move away from that position, at the cost of shedding a not-insignificant number of its churches in a schism. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that my money went directly to an organization that does not currently share the same deeply-held moral and ethical values that I hold when it comes to people I personally know and love.

Other companies who I regularly get money from include Amazon, which publishes my audio work and also has appalling labor practices in its warehouses, and Netflix, which has several properties of mine under option and also gives money and promotion to active transphobes. Indeed, here’s a list of every US/UK company I do or have done business with; almost of all them have been lovely to work with, and almost all are (or have been) problematic to a greater or lesser degree, across whatever axes people find companies problematic.

Oh, God, this isn’t where you hit us with “There is no ethical consumption under capitalism” is it, Scalzi? It’s not! For one, I’m not describing consumption in general, I’m describing my business associations, temporary or long-term, which are a different if related thing. Nor am I going to argue that there is no ethical association under capitalism, either; there might be, although I suspect these days it’s really really hard to do.

What I am noting here is that with each associative opportunity, I have to do a personal calculus of whether the commercial/personal benefits outweigh the moral and ethical costs. Sometimes that decision is easy for me to make, sometimes it is not, and sometimes the answer is “no,” in which case I don’t accept the offer or otherwise do business with that particular person, group or corporate entity. Whether anyone else agrees with that calculus is another matter entirely, and it’s possible that people won’t, or don’t, and that’s fair. We all have different standards.

So, now back to Twitter. I would not consider my use of the service to be a business association, precisely; I don’t take money from Twitter, nor, since I stopped subscribing to Twitter Blue since it’s not worth $8 a month to me, does it directly take money from me. But I also won’t pretend, with nearly 200,000 followers there, that Twitter does not offer me a benefit, in terms of awareness of my work and my own self. If the Twitter servers were repossessed tomorrow (and they might be!), or if I otherwise parted ways with the service, I would miss it. Would I lose sales or career opportunities? Meh — experience teaches me that day-to-day Twitter isn’t a huge mover of books (which IS why I said “awareness” rather than “sales” back there), and my career was doing perfectly well prior to Twitter. I would be fine. But there are both personal and professional intangibles that give Twitter value for me, not (yet) easily replicated elsewhere.

Twitter is, definitively, owned by a piece of hot racist right-wing trash. No getting around that, and if I continue to use the site I have to accept that a) he won’t change, and indeed will probably get worse, because billionaires in general do not surround themselves with people who can haul them back to the path of ethical non-horribleness, and this one in particular sure as hell doesn’t, and b) his practices and policies, both technological and social, aren’t going to make it better, ever.

Countering these:

1. Musk will never, ever, ever make money off of Twitter. He paid too much, has too much debt to service, and no way to ever claw a path to profitability. His best option will be to declare bankruptcy, restructure his debt, take a write-down and then eventually sell the cheaper company at a fire sale price. So I honestly don’t worry too much about him making money off of me, especially since I stopped subscribing to Twitter Blue.

2. Indeed, if anything, my presence on the service represents a net financial loss to Musk, since he has the burden of the (admittedly infinitesimal as an individual but a large as part of an aggregate) costs associated with my being on the service, and none of the benefits, i.e., making a profit off of me. Pre-Musk Twitter had the same problem, I will note, which is why it would absolutely not let him out of the foolish deal he had made for the service — finally, Twitter was profitable for the shareholders! — but now the problem is worse, not better. And I must admit, costing Musk even a teeny-tiny bit of his (and his creditors’) money every time I tweet brings a smile to my face.

3. Every attempt by Musk to monetize Twitter, or to make it a temple to and for his own self-aggrandizement, reveals him to be a vain, confused man-child of little sense and an even smaller amount of business acumen. His personal further slide into right-wing shittiness, while certainly signaling his virtue to an audience of virtue-free sycophants, isn’t helping his reputation, either as a businessman or as a human. Whether this matters to Musk is an open question — he’s the richest person in the world again, thanks to a surge in Tesla stock that has almost nothing to do with him, weird how his companies do better when he’s busy playing with a different toy — but it does make clear to everyone who is neither a sycophant nor beholden to him for a wage that his companies do well not because of him, but in spite of him.

4. The good things of Twitter, all of which pre-date Musk — the communities sharing experiences, the journalists and writers talking shop, the thrill of being able to chat directly with people whom you admire — are still there, to a greater or lesser extent, still have value, and would suffer or disappear in the absence of the service. Some of these might transfer elsewhere if Twitter disappears, but some might not. To the extent that these self-organizing communities and aspects of Twitter remain, they’re worth supporting and participating in.

All of which is to say, the good aspects of Twitter are still there, for now, and the less good aspects of Twitter are actively hurting Elon Musk, or at the very least, not doing him any damn good. He’s trash, and a racist, and a bad business person, and every day he’s on Twitter reveals all of that further. Every day I’m on Twitter, on the other hand, I can still reach people who like me and who I hope benefit from my presence there, and there are people whose presence I like and get benefit from. All of this inclines me to believe that, at the moment, there’s still more value to me staying on Twitter than leaving it.

This could change! Musk might decide that only Twitter Blue users get to thread tweets, or use 280 characters, or embed outside URLs or use the block/mute functions, or some other damn fool “business” decision that eats into the actual functionality of the site, or he himself might finally reach a state of petulant bigoted toxicity that I can no longer abide. And then I’ll be gone, to here, where I’ve always been, long before Twitter, and to the other various social media I am on, some of which also have questionable ownership/leadership, and for which another calculation of value meriting participation must be made. I’m not yet to this point, however.

There’s another thing, too, which is this: When Trump was elected president, it was without my vote. He was elected by people who knew he was a bigot, but for various reasons, didn’t care (or didn’t care enough). When he became president, I didn’t leave the United States for somewhere else. Trump might have been my president, but it was my country, and worth spending the time and effort to counter his personality, policies and plans. Then one day — not without effort, if we all recall — he wasn’t president any more. He did his damage and it was not trivial, but we were around to try to make it better.

The analogy here is far from perfect, companies are not countries (yet), but it will work well enough: If it had been up to me, Musk would not be running Twitter. But it wasn’t up to me, and he was put in the seat by people who didn’t really care what he would do to the service, because they were going to get paid. It’s Musk’s company now, but all he owns are the servers; everything else that Twitter is comes from the users. At the moment it’s still worth it to counter Musk’s querulous, grasping venality. Because one day — perhaps sooner than later — it won’t be his company any more. He’ll have done his damage and he’ll have moved on. Perhaps we’ll still be around, to see if it can’t be made better, too.

— JS

67 Comments on “Is It Ethical to Be On Twitter In the Musk Era? A Personal Answer”

  1. 1) Various Twitter feeds (rahaeli, etc.) indicate that running a social media enterprise is a risk-fraught (both to the owners and to users) and highly nontrivial exercise. Getting rid of Twitter is likely to dissociate its communities, because it will be very difficult (though not impossible) to create another iteration.
    2) Spoutible and other Twitter replacements seem to be run by people with significant less forethought and (perhaps) not much better intentions than those of Twitter. Musk is trying to be Scott Adams with f-you money, but his precursors and replacements may not be better.
    3) I think having Musk show his nethers to the world on a regular basis is interesting because it allows ready compilation of an opposition file. The Internet doesn’t forget.

  2. I don’t think we can live a clean pure life if the world is grubby and impure. Even hermits have to muck around to eat.

  3. Just one voice out of hundreds of thousands, that feels that your continued engagement on Twitter is not admirable, it lessens you.

  4. I left Twitter not when Musk took over – I really don’t care who’s in charge there, as long as they’re making reasonable decisions – but when he allowed Trump back on – which, I think was not a reasonable decision: Twitter-the-company had said “Trump violated the rules egregiously enough that he should not be allowed back on”, Twitter-the-Elon-Musk-sock-puppet said “You know what, we don’t have to abide by the rules when we don’t feel like it”; and that, in my opinion, is no way to run a business (especially one as large and public-facing as Twitter is).

  5. I happen to have expertise in Virology (I’m a Computational Biologist and my analysis of drug resistance mutations helped put five antiviral drugs on the market), so much of what I have posted on social media for the past three years has been about the latest scientific developments. I’ve basically been trying to improve the signal-to-noise ratio on the subject of COVID.

    In this context, despite the rather large amount of crud (including some of the nasty ad hominem attacks that nearly every expert in Virology and Public Health has endured during this pandemic, such as being compared to Nazis for suggesting people wear masks and get vaccinated), Twitter occupies a niche that no other platform fills for me at this time.

    A number of the world’s top experts in particular subspecialities relevant to COVID-19 have deep discussions on Twitter that I cannot find anywhere else. I have learned a great deal from conversations on Twitter with these people. I have been actively engaged in discussions of COVID on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and by far the most informative discussions have taken place on Twitter.

  6. Frankly, your entire comment thread is nothing but a BS rationalization, IMHO. But it’s a free country (so far) and you can do whatever you want to and can live with.

  7. I miss following you and many others on Twitter. I would probably still be there if Musk hadn’t killed third party clients, because the official client simply does not work for me for the way I use Twitter. It seems unlikely that that will ever return, so I’m probably gone for good (well, my account is dormant, not deleted).

    I’ve been putting my tweeting energy into trying to make Mastodon a better experience for people like me.

    I don’t begrudge people who are still there. Even though being there benefits assholes like Musk, there’s still a lot of good that can be done there to help balance it.

    I don’t really miss the more toxic aspects of the service, though.

  8. I was on Tumblr when Yahoo was setting bushels of cash on fire, maybe I should spend more time on Twitter… 0w0

  9. Twitter does, in fact, make money off of you by running ads next to the content you generate. If you’re not the customer, you’re the product.

    A minor point in the scheme of things, and probably not enough to change your argument, but worth noting.

  10. “… none of the benefits, i.e., making a profit off of me.”

    Musk profits anytime someone interacts with ads in and around your tweets. He profits when someone joins Twitter – for any reason, but in part to follow popular accounts like yours – and buys a blue checkmark.

    Of course Musk benefits from your presence on and continued use of Twitter. In fact, he makes most of his profit from users with large followings like yours, both directly (ads) and indirectly (the allure of a social network is often its influential users).

  11. “Scott Adams…went full racist again.” John, could you so kindly provide a citation or three?

  12. Thanks. Good to know. I appreciate hearing your thoughts. You are one of the few people I still come to Twitter to visit.

  13. Well if we toss stones at users of twitter [seems like there are a lot of them, but not me] I think we would also have to toss stones at people driving Teslas. If you bought a Tesla, you gave Musk money, and whenever you get it serviced or repaired, you give him more money.

    If the owners of Teslas sell off their EV, maybe they can go back to their gas-guzzling SUVs. But I don’t own a car, so you can skip me there too.

    I do read the Wall Street Journal though. And I am of mixed race. Does this make me a traitor? Well I like the capitalist system, because it seems to be the best one available.

    And a final piece of advice about tossing stones. If we start that, we will probably run out of stones quickly. And humans tend to graduate to more lethal stuff far too quickly.

  14. [This part deleted for being a direct quote of a deleted post. No worries, rochrist, I figure you missed the deletion – JS]

    Way to tell me you know nothing whatsoever about Scalzi without telling me you know nothing whatsoever about Scalzi.

    Twitter is costing Musk millions of dollars every month so I’m fine with sticking around until he makes it intolerable. You make your own community there, and @block is your friend. Also, AdBlock is nice.

  15. I think you underestimate the value to Twitter of you being there. You have all those followers because a people like reading the things you write there: you were, in fact, one of the reasons it was difficult for me to leave when I did.

    If you left, more people might find it easier to do the same. IMHO, this would be a good thing.

    You do you, though.

  16. I’m quite surprised that Scalzi, a professional writer with a strong awareness of the value of his labor, is not bothered more to be giving free content to this hot racist right-wing trash.

    Scalzi addressed this in his article “No, In Fact, You Should Not Write For Free” (2018), and his position has apparently not changed in the intervening years.

    But still, I have trouble grokking that Scalzi, feeling as he does, is not more bothered to be writing for MUSK. For FREE.

  17. @ Michael Muller

    You may want to consider that maybe an author does not write only and exclusively for paid content.

    Did you notice Whatever isn’t paywalled? Kind of a giveaway, that.

  18. Michael Muller:

    I’m not sure whether you’re disingenuous here, or merely confused about the nature of writing on social media. If it’s the latter, however, the answer is I don’t write for Musk on Twitter, I write for me. And I write for myself for “free” all the time, for various reasons.

    On a similar line, some folks have noted that writing on the site Musk owns still provides value to Musk; I don’t disagree, but given Musk’s atrocious business sense, the value of my or indeed anyone else’s contribution to the site is far outstripped by the amount he paid for it and the service he must provide for the debt.

    It doesn’t matter how many ads he runs, they’re not going to make up for that, and he’s lost roughly half of Twitter’s previous advertisers anyway. As noted in the piece, I cost Musk money every time I tweet, and he’s extremely unlikely ever to get it back. If I’m the product, he’s doing a shit job of selling it.

    Which, again, amuses me. Other companies don’t have the same issue; I make lots of money for them. Maybe the problem is Musk.

  19. There’s probably a pool somewhere here in San Francisco as to how long he’ll last.
    It seems like every day is another article–more laid off; he hasn’t paid the rent on the offices; when will he be evicted?
    He’s gutted content moderators (some deservedly, in my opinion) and watching the “You’re fired! Wait, come back!!” debacle was entertaining.
    We all have to make those decisions constantly–do I not watch “Radio Days” because of the Woody Allen allegations but then I deprive myself of the wonderful acting of the others.
    P.urity of artists is a fool’s game

  20. I left Twitter when Musk took over and don’t really miss it except for being able to follow you, Stephen King and @TheAuthorGuy. I can read your stuff here though and as long as you throw me a bone once in a while and post pics of Charlie and the Scamperbeasts I’m good. I am on Counter Social but I find I am spending less time on social media and more time reading.

  21. I miss something in this calculus. The more famous people are on Twitter, the more the platform as a whole has power. That power forces people to be on the platform (journalists, writers pushed by publishers, etc.) Those people are increasingly being abused on Twitter, especially minorities. And they can’t leave, as long as it’s ‘the place to be’
    So doesn’t that make your presence on Twitter — in a sense — an enabler for that abuse, because it makes it harder for those abused people to leave?

  22. I was there in the first place because of a few people I stay in touch with there, and nowhere else. I’ll leave when they’re gone. Until then, I’ll keep on blocking ads and Elno’s lickspittles.

    It would help if I could find a functional alternative site that didn’t make my teeth ache.

  23. You noted that having someone other than Trump win the presidency took effort. Is there effort that would be more effective than to deny the platform its popular users?

  24. Count me among the folks disappointed you’re still on Twitter. You’re one of the few big names around with really strong principles, and it’s a big part of why I’ve been a fan of your work for so many years. I’m happy to boost your signal over the likes of JK Rowling who now devotes her wealth to trying to get people like me killed. Unfortunately, with all due respect, what I see here in this post is rationalizing keeping a large audience that you enjoy having. I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t do the same in your position. I’ve never had an audience that large that I’ve been forced to consider giving up, so I don’t want to armchair moralize here. I guess it would be different if the audience was important to your business, but you’ve said it isn’t. So, it’s just the vanity of an audience at the end of the day. As someone who has run enterprise services, trust me your tweets cost Musk a lot less than they benefit him. The network effect of you being on the service is also slowing its decline and allowing Musk to save face longer. You tweeting does not even register as a rounding error on any cost balance sheets. The ad revenue you bring in sure does though, as does his ability to claim user numbers for you and all the people who stick around because of you.

  25. John, I wonder what percent of your followers on Twitter are only there to read your stuff. And how many would leave if you did.

    Imagine if a bunch of the most-widely-followed left and (many of) their followers left with them.

    That’s real impact.

  26. I want SO BADLY to agree with you. i literally dreamed about going back to twitter! i miss my casual digital pals so much! but my personal calculus remains different. i think (and hope) that Musk will make a significant loss too, but i want to be part of that fall. i want that website to atrophy users and money so quickly that he has to live in a modest apartment somewhere unimpressive.

  27. I appreciate you still being there and also blogging about the reasons (instead of, say, a Tweet thread), inhabiting non-Twitter space.

    The thing I’ve always appreciated about Twitter is the straight chronological feed. It’s where all social media started, but quickly others turned to algorithms that benefited them in one toxic way or another. On Twitter, I’ve always felt like I can control what I can consume. Except today. Using the app, my chronological feed is stuck at around midnight east coast time between Feb 28 & Mar 1. (Shout out to Gwenda Bond replying to a snow-covered Kelly Link). Without the chronological feed, Twitter is going to be way less palatable for me. Like, I only found my way to this Scalzi post via the lists function (which is in fact something you’ve mentioned).

    As long as I’m still addicted to it, I’m glad you’re there.

  28. Your rationalizations and justifications are of course your own, whatever helps you sleep at night, I suppose.

    It is disappointing to me, but hardly surprising. Reminds me of back in the internet forum days, when people would self rationalize staying around toxic people.

    “But I’m a good person, that makes up for it.”

    At least just admit that you’re hooked and can’t bear to give it up. That would at least feel more honest.

  29. I used to think somewhat along these lines, because it’s obviously true that just about every large organization is problematic in one way or another.

    But when Musk decided that Starlink shouldn’t be used by Ukraine? That was the end. I was actually off before that and had been dithering but this sealed it for me.

  30. “Oh, God, this isn’t where you hit us with “There is no ethical consumption under capitalism” is it, Scalzi? It’s not! For one, I’m not describing consumption in general, I’m describing my business associations, temporary or long-term, which are a different if related thing. Nor am I going to argue that there is no ethical association under capitalism, either; there might be, although I suspect these days it’s really really hard to do.”

    Strangely, there was an ENTIRE sitcom that covered that in DETAIL…no need to try and top “The Good Place”.

  31. I’ve been on Twitter since Feb 2007, and I’ll be buggered if I let Elan Dusk chase me off. Plus there are so many communities that I’m part of or follow on Twitter that can’t leave for a myriad of reasons that to leave feels like abandoning them.

    When the last twitter server sputters out, I’ll still be on Dreamwidth which will probably outlast every twitter replacement.

  32. You’ve actually kind of made me feel better about loving and missing Dilbert, while fully supporting its removal from my newspaper.

  33. My $0.02: Elon buying Twitter and making it an even more toxic shithole gave me the impetus to finally quit. Honestly, I was a bit addicted to it and it was making me a worse human. So I guess, thank you Elon?

  34. To the folks expressing disappointment in my decision here:

    That’s fine.

    To the folks okay with my decision:

    That’s fine, too!

  35. I understand, but I’m not sure I agree. Twitter and Musk diminish the world and the internet. I think there would be value to taking a principled stand against his ownership, even if doing so causes you a marginal loss in utility/comfort/convenience. You would not be losing much.

    You could simply lock your account and log off the site. If Musk ever sells the site, your account will still be there waiting for you.

  36. Argument seems to rely heavily on what-aboutism.

    Not your strongest piece. You normally give fairly concise and clear arguments for whatever position you hold.

    Or are you just thinking aloud here?

    (Note: did not read very attentively, as it seemed like a mess to me. At a more fundamental level, it very much suits corporate monopolies to have us thinking about personal responsibility rather than plausible solutions to the problems they cause. One can certainly argue that what you do in this instance should matter more to you than to anyone else.)

  37. glc:

    “I didn’t read your piece very closely” doesn’t incline me to give much credence to your thoughts here, I have to say.

    That said, yup, it’s a long piece with discursions, as I talk in a larger context about my decision-making process in associating with various organizations. There’s a lot going on here!

  38. You briefly mention the reasons you stay on Twitter (“he communities sharing experiences, the journalists and writers talking shop, the thrill of being able to chat directly with people whom you admire”) and express concern that if you were to abandon Twitter you wouldn’t be able to preserve those elsewhere, at least not all of them. But there are less noxious alternatives to Twitter, that could serve those purposes, if only enough people would make the transition. You could be doing more to encourage that transition, including in this piece, which doesn’t really mention any of the less objectionable alternatives to Twitter, especially not by name.

  39. You have to do you, and I have no issues with that.

    But my conscience is a heavy-handed bastard, so I had to leave the day Musk took over. For all of Twitter’s many faults, there was still a sense that some grown ups were in charge until Elon walked in with his sink.

    I miss my mostly-fun Twitter feed badly. Especially Gail Simone.

  40. You did not say whether the congregation you paid the money to for the church is one of the United Methodist churches that support LGBTQ rights. Which is important.

    Over 340 pieces of anti-gay legislation have been introduced in Ohio. I feel like well intentioned liberals are not quite understanding what it’s like to be queer today in this country. States are erasing us from history, the classroom and now passing laws to restrict how we dress.

    You are a good guy and I do not doubt your sincerity in your commitment to gay rights. However, as a queer agender person, doing business with an anti-gay organization makes me feel like my rights are of less importance than your financial gains.

    I understand that you have to be morally flexible to live in an extreme red area. Just wanted to let you know how I felt reading it.

  41. So here’s my take – we get the world we put in the work to build.

    I’d like a better world. I’d also like to be in touch with people who I’m currently only seeing on twitter. I’m trying my best to push gently towards Mastodon because I think it’s got the best shot at being a better world than twitter.

    By being on twitter and not unplugging, I’m slowly dragging out the better world I’d like to see from coming into existence. I’d much rather everyone made the choice to jump elsewhere. I think the sooner that everyone who’s a decent human being leaves twitter (hopefully for masto) the better the world will be.

    I think a slowest-motion-demise of twitter is what we’re left with. I’d like to get everyone to move elsewhere please.

    I’m not judging anyone for staying thought. That’s counterproductive. However, I will clearly state that Mastodon is a place with better vibes. You will likely be a lot happier there. I’m happier when I’m there. It’s less stressful. There are far fewer trolls. There are nearly zero nazis or transphobes in the mentions of people’s posts. It’s wonderful.

    I’m on masto at

  42. I am not a public person. So while I have a collection of accounts on Twitter that I technically follow, there are relatively few accounts that follow me.

    But, I never log in to Twitter to actually read the tweets. I’ll likely read whatever is at the top at the moment, but that’s it.

    The only thing I use Twitter for anymore is direct messaging. It works far better for me than DMs at FB. In the case of some people that I’m not personally acquainted with, it’s the only channel I use for contact. For friends, it’s a pretty comfortable vehicle for quick shots that don’t rate an email. If Twitter goes away, I won’t miss it much.

    I follow you, John, here on Whatever. It’s in my RSS feed so I never miss a post. I don’t even read the Twitter feeds that you and Athena post in the sidebar, although I appreciate that you both do that.

    I did join Mastodon, and find it a pleasant, congenial place. But I now never remember to log in there. Then again, I rarely find the energy to socially engage with anything, real life or online, that’s not well established in my life, so not too surprising.

  43. I quit Twitter last November and am now something of a Mastodon convert. I think I had something like 300 followers when I quit so I had less to lose. I’m sure that made it easier for me. What I think you’re missing here is the affirmative case for helping to build Mastodon. Shouldn’t the most important social network be non-commercial and more resilient? I’m looking at this whole debacle as an opportunity to create something better than Twitter.

  44. Expressing your moral views through commerce quickly becomes exhausting and nothing more than performative. It’s relatively easy to refuse to invest in say, tobacco companies. Not hire the electrician who’s an out and proud member of the local chapter of the American Nazi Party. But how about a FL vacation to Disney World? Support a company that’s attempting to fight the good fight while also giving business to a state where the Governor is doing his best to do the opposite? My local CBS affiliate is owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, a company with a strong right wing/MAGA bent — should I never watch 60 Minutes to avoid goosing their ratings? Should I boycott my local Wegman’s because they sell GMO products? I’ve got some good friends who are well off and retired — should I call them out and jerk their choke chains because their multiple European vacations this year will create enough CO2, more than they’d generate in the rest of their lifetimes driving an ICE vehicle, and that their buying an EV is nothing more than expensive virtue signaling? (although last time we met I did note the absurdity of their supporting taxing the rich while complaining that they — who had just spent the cost of a house buying into an exclusive retirement community and dropped 65 large in cash on their EV and paid for two European vacations this summer –were paying too much in taxes. Tax the rich? You’re the rich!) Should I patronize, or refuse to patronize, small businesses with the Christian “fish” decal on their door? But what if they’re the best bakery in town, and despite their known beliefs bake wedding cakes for anyone who walks through their door with the green?

    Having to take sides in every battle, and slamming a large number of unrelated positions (Environment! GMO! Conserving Water! Racism! LGBTQ Rights! Abortion! Vaccinations! Tax Rates! Deficit Spending! Religion in Society! Books in School and Public Libraries! Just starting to write the list is exhausting…) into each side, and requiring Chinese Great Cultural Revolution self-criticism sessions for anyone who doesn’t publicly support each and every one of the positions my side holds to be correct, is more than I’m willing to strap on.

  45. I’ll be honest, my twitter use has plummeted due to three factors:
    1) People tend to post less there, now. And then fun vs. anger ratio, which was never great, has plummetted.
    2) Discord seems to have a higher content value for me.
    3) Marvel Snap happened, which fits in the same spot as a ‘I’ve got five minutes, maybe I’ll see what’s on Twitter’ gap.

    A few quick google searches suggest to me that while Twitter continue to lose money, a vast majority of users globally continue to use the service in some capacity. While the service has shed 33 million users since 2021, much of that probably was owed to the Pandemic, when Twitter hit an all-time high. They still retain about 335 million users now. In 2022, the service made 4.4 billion in revenue, an 11% decline from 2021. I find it hard to believe that anyone, even a more popular person like Scalzi, is actually impacting that bottom line all that much (and let’s be clear, he doesn’t have millions, let alone tens of millions of followers).

  46. Alex G: “What I think you’re missing here is the affirmative case for helping to build Mastodon. ”

    People keep presenting Mastodon as a substitute for Twitter, but its a very different service with a very different approach. Everyone rushed to create a Mastodon account last year and then….left the service or didn’t use it. Before Musk bought Twitter, there were less than 500,000 users on the service. After the purchase and the mad rush for accounts, there were 2.3 million active users (out of 6 million accounts) in December. Today there are…(checks)…1.3 million active users. A lot of people ran to join Mastodon, having heard it would be a replacement for twitter…but it’s not. The design intent is considerably different (not better or worse, but different…it has different goals). For users who wanted the broad reach of twitter, Mastodon doesn’t provide that. It’s much harder to use, more limited and the federated approach means that there are lots of well-moderated balkanized systems. Following people is much more complicated and many folks dropped the service very quickly once it became clear it wasn’t going to be ‘Twitter by an open-source company’.

    The reason so many people haven’t abandoned Twitter is because no other service duplicates it’s benefits, per se.

  47. @WizardRu, I don’t really disagree with any of that, which is why I wrote that Mastodon needs to be ‘built.’ Maybe I’m being Pollyanna-ish, but I strongly feel that Musk buying Twitter demonstrated that private ownership of social media is fundamentally a problem.

  48. I’m with @Martin Stellinga on this one. There are network effects and issues of credibility which I don’t think are well addressed by the arguments in the main piece. Whether Twitter is making money is only one factor; it’s also whether legitimizing Twitter (by producing content for it) empowers Elon. Money is not the only form of authority.

    That said, I have nothing but sympathy for folks like @Matthew D Healy who stand to lose critical professional communities (or activism networks, etc). And I know some folks for whom Twitter’s a lifeline keeping them from social isolation.

  49. I created a Twitter account some fifteen years ago, got a message the next day (tweet or email — I don’t remember) from some female stranger asking to follow me and I cancelled my account the same day. Back then Twitter was a way to let your friends where you were at that moment.

    I created a Facebook account thirteen years ago for the birth of a granddaughter. Got pictures and comments. Facebook soon decided to change its privacy policy (a frequent occurrence I found out later). I read the policy, made as much of my account as private as I could, and have ignored Facebook since then despite their regular emails encouraging me to decide on a friend request or new pictures from someone I might know.

    If I were prone to give a stranger some advice, which I am not, I would recommend abandoning Twitter because it’s a sink for work time, a Barbie Doll of significance, and so on. This paragraph intentionally ignorable.

  50. I do freelance/contract work (that isn’t graphic design or web design), and the big concentration of networking opportunities (to attract clients and contacts in the know) is on Twitter. A few years ago, I joined because of the work advantages. I enjoyed those new connections – it brought in a ton of work and really helped me build my reputation – but overall I didn’t like it. Quit, which was a relief, but I may have sabotaged my career while I was at it (I’ll never know – I’ve been getting by, but it might have been much easier if I hadn’t walked away from Twitter). Still unsure how to feel about my decision even if it was the more ostensibly ethical. Sort of the opposite of you, for what it’s worth.

  51. Berke Breathed wrote a line in Bloom County about a million years ago that has always stuck with me: “Despite what they tell you, there simply are no moral absolutes in a complex world.” I wish that the answers were easy, but hey, if they were, we also wouldn’t have The Good Place, one of the best TV shows in recent history.

  52. Musk bought Twitter not because it was a money maker, but because it is a vert significant place for the news media thanks to Twitter being a place where journalists promote their stories and themselves. Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post not because it makes him a pile of money, but because it is a highly visible and thus influential news source that reaches out to millions of people. Don’t think of it in terms of money, think of it in terms of minds, and don’t think that politicians don’t notice that.

  53. Musk bought Twitter because he had no choice; let’s remember how frantically he tried to back out of the deal once he realized he’d done something foolish. That being the case, attributing a darker and more nefarious reason for his purchase falls a little short.

  54. I don’t have any social media apps on my iPhone and never joined Twitter. I do have a Facebook account, but only check in once every other week on a web browser. I prefer to commenting and joining discussions on my favorite blogs.

    Oh, I did have a LinkedIn account for several years, but got rid of it since I wasn’t looking for new job and found it more annoying than anything. Getting notices like “Dale, do you know this person?” and it would be people in my department that I work with; or “Dale, people are noticing you!” and the people who were noticing me were all insurance agents. The news feed would be full of announcements for events for the school I work for that I was already getting the same announcements via my work email.

    I’ve been planning on starting an internet-based business at some point soon. If you want to promote and grow your business from a website or blog, you pretty much can’t avoid using social media. However, I will never join Twitter, and there are other choices.

  55. Sure, Musk didn’t like the deal he’d agreed to, however why didn’t he just pay the penalty for backing out rather than fork over far more? I’m not looking so much at the deal itself but rather what motivated Musk in the first place to want to own Twitter. To quote from one of my favorite movies, maybe it’s like this:

    Jake Gittes : Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What could you buy that you can’t already afford?

    Noah Cross : The future, Mr. Gittes! The future.

    For whatever the future is worth.

  56. Oddly enough my bailing on the Twitterverse was already in motion before Elon started making grabby-grabby motions at it. Lucky timing on my part I guess…

  57. For all its many faults which you’ve already touched on, I stay on Twitter because I would lose touch with huge swaths of my community without it. I already have lost a fair number of them as it is, but as someone whose social interactions are deeply limited by chronic health reasons, having the ability to quickly connect to my various communities on a less than ideal platform is better for my life than near complete isolation. Facebook is not an option, Mastodon and other newer sites simply don’t provide the needed connections. No, I don’t want to give that dumpster fire any money but this is the one place I have been able to be myself, have friends and effectively fundraise to support families on the Pine Ridge reservation. Does he make some money off my use? Maybe but I block all his ads to try and prevent that, and I’m a pretty nobody sort of user.
    On the flip side, we’ve been able to directly help dozens of people without enough to survive on for a few years because of my connections on Twitter. Direct and mutual aid are huge on Twitter, and the source of many people’s survival. That last item is the one I mourn the most and am least willing to give up.

    Also FWIW, I started reading your books, Kate Elliott, Ursula Vernon, JB Spangler, DJ Older and a dozen more authors because I found each of you on Twitter and enjoyed you as people. I realize I’m a single person and that’s a drop in the bucket to y’all authors but that was meaningful to me, especially since I got to meet Kate and Ursula in person over the years and hang out for a bit.

  58. I (mostly) quit Twitter when Musk took over mainly because I hardly used it anyway – over the years I’m finding it stopped being an interesting experience and just became a very crowded room with everyone talking at once. As someone who is autistic and has audio processing issues, “a very crowded room with everyone talking at once” is one of my personal definitions of hell – and I already suffered through ten years of working retail, so I figure I’ve done my time in hell and get to bow out of all the other iterations I’m offered. Musk taking over (and the first few chaotic days and such) just helped hasten a decision I’d been slowly making over the previous two or three years – I wasn’t liking it, and I didn’t trust him to be able to run it anywhere other than “into the ground”, so I downloaded my data and deleted my main account. I still have a side account which is getting sent bits and pieces, and none of it interests me enough to really be worth actually digging up the password and logging into the account for. Eventually someone over there will get around to going through the namespace to clear out “dead” accounts, and that one will be zotted. Oh darn.

    But you raise an interesting point – just as there is no entirely ethical consumption under capitalism, I’d also posit there’s also no entirely ethical production under capitalism either. If you dig hard enough and look far enough up and down the various supply chains, your labour will almost certainly be benefiting someone loathsome, no matter what you do. The question becomes “how much control do I, personally, have over who benefits from my labour?” For example: I work doing data entry, which means I spend the day slaving over a number of different hot Excel spreadsheets to earn a crust – and indirectly, my labour on these benefits Microsoft (to the tune of the license fees every year). Could it benefit someone else instead of them? Almost certainly. Do I have the power to change this? Heck no – I’d need to change the minds of every single person in a medium-to-large sized organisation, all of whom are used to using Microsoft products to do their jobs, and many of whom are entirely unaware there might even be alternatives. We’d need to re-train everyone in the place in how to use the computer systems, how to use email, etc etc etc and so on. Not gonna happen.

    Sometimes, you have to do your best with the world that’s in front of you. We can try and bend it toward the ideal.

  59. So my last name is Cornwall. A few years ago, when I got involved in the whole Comicsgate disaster, someone had the bright idea to create an account @RayCornball and parody me. Which is weird- I’m nobody.

    It got crazy when said person said I was leaving pornographic magazines in a Chik-Fil-A for children to read. Apparently, that was funny to someone. Not to me, who was getting death threats as a result. While I don’t approve death threats for anybody, I can certainly understand why the idea of exposing porn to children would upset people. It upset me! But I wasn’t doing it. People didn’t realize Cornball Cornwall.

    It took nearly a year for Twitter to kill the account. They claimed it was an acceptable parody account. Um, sure.

    So I have no love for the previous owners of Twitter, or the current owner of Twitter. I’m assuming if someone did that today, there’s no one there to even ask to take down a “parody” account with all the layoffs.

    Twitter is useful for reading the comments of carefully-crafted lists of people, and little else. And that’s all I use it for now, and that’s all I will ever use it for.

    I miss message boards. I hope they make a comeback someday.

  60. @Carolyn

    I used to read twitter for breaking news. But a few weeks ago the ability to sort Twitter search results chronologically disappeared. Which makes Twitter nearly – someone might link to a useful tweet thread (which is how I got some of my COVID news) – useless to me, as it results in it feeding me old news.

    Hanlon’s Razor applies, but the conspiracy theory is that chronological ordering was removed as a favour to authoritarian governments.

  61. “little sense and an even smaller amount of business acumen.” The fact that He is a billionaire contradicts this statement.

  62. Rembrant:

    Lol, no. Musk’s business history is one of aligning with people who have better business sense, and then being actively managed by people who actually run his businesses for him. Which is great for him! When he freelances on his own he gets himself in a bit of trouble, as Twitter makes clear.

    The good news for him is that he’s so immensely rich he has margin for his mistakes; he’s taken a $200 billion net worth haircut in the last several months (would you consider the person who lost the most amount of personal net worth ever, and in such a short amount of time, someone with good business acumen? I probably would not) and is still the richest person in the world. That’s a nice place to be in, for sure.

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