Is it Finally Time to Quit Twitter/X?
Elon Musk is turning the platform into a haven for hate, but does that mean we should quit instead of fighting?
Yesterday, Andrew Torba, the self-described “Christian nationalist” CEO of the far-right Gab platform, tweeted that “In under five years we went from having every single one of our guys banned from the big tech platforms to the richest man in the world noticing, naming, and waging total war on our largest enemy while running one of those platforms. Let that sink in. Keep the faith. We are winning.” He’s referring to Elon Musk, the CEO of Twitter (now known as X), who has just declared that the reason his company’s ad sales are down 60% is “primarily” due to pressure from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Musk is now threatening to sue the organization.
Musk has also claimed that since he took over Twitter last October, the ADL “has been trying to kill this platform by falsely accusing it & me of being anti-Semitic.” This latter claim is not just a great example of Naomi Klein’s “mirror world” but also richly ironic, since ADL director Jonathan Greenblatt actually went on record back then praising Musk as “an amazing entrepreneur and extraordinary innovator [who] is the Henry Ford of our time.” Considering Ford’s history as America’s most notorious antisemite, whose newspaper The Dearborn Independent ran a series called “The International Jew: The World’s Problem,” perhaps Greenblatt’s apparent memory lapse was more of a Freudian slip.
But I digress. The Musk-ADL flap feels like an inflection point for those of us who still have Twitter/X accounts. Is it time to delete them? Here are the arguments running through my head (hit this link and turn the sound up if you want audio accompaniment):
Why to quit:
Musk is a terrible human being. Not only has he made many antisemitic gestures and statements on Twitter (here’s a running list compiled by Adam Kovac of The Forward), he treats his workers terribly, he’s a Covid denier, a transphobe, a crypto-shill and market manipulator, breeder/population decline conspiracist, and an alleged serial sexual harasser.
Twitter/X under Musk’s control has gotten more chaotic and visibly riddled with hate speech, as his decision to fire most of its staff, including its whole trust and safety team, and to reinstate the accounts of many previously banned far-right figures was bound to produce.
Twitter/X is already facing a big privacy ruling from the FTC and one should assume that using its direct messaging tool is not private.
Lots of valuable users are leaving. For example, Nature magazine reached out to more than 170,000 scientists to ask about their use of the platform; nearly 9,200 responded and of those more than half said they have reduced the time they spent on it since Musk took it over. Only 9 percent said it had increased. Seven percent have stopped using it entirely.
Why to stay:
Because the real-time network effects that Twitter produces as the de-facto global town square are still substantial. And this isn’t just because journalists remain preponderant Twitter users; during all kinds of live events it’s clear that many other interesting humans are also there sharing what they are seeing or thinking.
Because we don’t defeat hateful ideas by running away from them, but in part by facing them and responding to them. Being on Twitter allows me to see what others are saying and to engage if I feel like it, or to block those I don’t want to engage with.
Because none of the alternatives—Mastodon, BlueSky, Threads or Post—have achieved anything close to critical mass, though I am definitely in favor of shifting time and attention to the first two. (According to that Nature survey I cited above, about a quarter of the scientists who responded said that they had opened an account on Mastodon in the last year.)
And because the social capital that many of us have built on the platform, either as individuals or as organizations, remains primarily valuable to us. I think I get more value from the 7,000+ people I have chosen to follow, and also from the 15,700 who follow me, than I put into the platform by posting on it occasionally.
This doesn’t feel like all that satisfactory a resolution. If I was paying a subscription fee to Twitter, I’d definitely cancel and give up the benefits I describe above—but since I’m not paying anything that tangible, this doesn’t feel like a necessary choice. How about you? Are you still using X/Twitter? Have you quit? Leave a comment explaining your thinking—this is definitely a time for more shared thinking.
Odds and Ends
—New free book: The Routledge Handbook of Collective Intelligence for Democracy and Governance, edited by Stephen Boucher, Carina Antonia Hallin and Lex Paulson is available for free-download.
—Here’s a great list of 33 leaders standing up to big tech in the age of AI, compiled by Drew Lindsay in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Maybe AI isn’t going to replace us?