Saturday, December 17, 2022

Today's News: Twitter, We Hardly Knew Ye


The chaos on Twitter continues -- but I am now thinking it is forcing us to think about social media in a new way.  I am seeing a number of thoughtful posts lately and here are some good ones. 

This is a great summary from Ryan Broderick at Garbage Day - Elon Musk is learning what Twitter actually is:’s not just large-scale social upheaval that has been driven by Twitter. The app has, at this point, disrupted most industries. Newsrooms, Starbucks, and Amazon warehouses have unionized on the app. Studios have ousted predatory executives with a hashtag. Politicians, both left and right, have used the site to sweep elections in a flurry of shitposts and dunk-based populism. And stock markets have rallied, and crashed, thanks to ridiculous Twitter memes turned viral pump-and-dump schemes.
Twitter’s core experience has been, and still is, disruption. And we have spent over a decade trying to determine if it’s good disruption or bad, left-wing or right, progressive or conservative, but the truth is, it’s just disruption. It’s a random social chaos machine. Over the summer, as Elon Musk finalized the purchase of the site, that chaos machine was turned in on itself. The company was overrun with leaks and drama, which all became trending topics. And after Musk bought it, the company literally began livetweeting its own dismantling. Now that it has toppled itself, and all that’s left is Musk’s various whims, the manic energy of the app appears to be localized entirely inside of Musk’s brain. The man is jacked directly into the feed and it turns out the feed is screaming back at him, “you fucking suck.”
And so we all have to sit around and watch the richest man in the world process in real-time how cringe, how embarrassing, how hated he is. The joke has always been that Twitter causes “psychic damage,” but that joke is real now. Twitter is currently doing to one man’s psyche what it has done to countless societies around the world. He paid $44 billion for a website he believed was a “biological neural net,” a digital collective unconscious that he could use to take us to Mars, and it turns out that frothing Id hates him. Can you imagine how painful the cognitive dissonance must be? If people boo you and think you’re a shameless loser then what’s all the money for? Why are you sleeping in your office? If money can’t make people like you then what was any of it for? 
Here is another good comment:
At Defector, David Roth writes about The Eternal Mystery of a Rich Man's Politics when he delves into Musk's recent posts denigrating Fauci and his supposedly-"woke" fans:
There are many such posts out there, because this sort of thing—signals of distress that toggle between thundering proclamations of Total War and a sort of sweaty gloating—is more or less the sound that older conservatives and the people who make their living pandering to older conservatives make. There isn’t a political program to speak of, beyond some dire retributive fantasies—prosecutions, tribunals, prison camps, political murder, normal shit—buffered with ROFL emojis and opaque in-group jargon. It is not important, or anyway not very interesting, how serious these people are about this. Given how heatedly they fantasize about it in public, they surely wouldn’t have any problem with mass violence against their enemies, although they’d prefer someone do it for them. But also there is not a great deal of thought evident in it. When you hear a bunch of dogs barking, you wouldn’t assume that they’re having a conversation. They’re just doing what their buddies are doing.
Online reactionary politics is a fan community before it is anything else; as with Donald Trump, the way to tell that Musk is an active participant is how obviously starstruck he is by the corny dingbats that make up its firmament. Where Trump lived for the approval of Fox News’s glitching poreless on-air goblins, Musk has been queasily quick with an “exactly” in the mentions of various reactionary influencers: the anti-trans activist that solicits bomb threats to children’s hospitals, or the one fellow from the Koch-backed Turning Point USA organization whose face seems to be shrinking, or Cat Turd 2. If it is embarrassing to know who these people are—and it is extremely embarrassing to know who those people are—it is more embarrassing still to have mistaken these relentlessly self-serving grifters for friends.
What all of that decidedly is not, however, is mysterious. Musk’s politics, however heterodox he himself might secretly be, appear very much to be those of an extremely wealthy 51-year-old man with an entirely commonplace conservative media diet. There are only so many interesting ways and even fewer interesting reasons to adopt these politics; the most common one, which again is the one that Musk seems to have chosen, is to simply let the combined inertia of your circumstances and incuriosity back you into them. That he is now someplace so strange—winking at QAnon shit, already—seems mostly to reflect how conservative politics have moved in that direction; Musk, typically, seems not to have given any of it much thought. The extremities of his wealth and strange upbringing, and his personal peculiarities and the limits of his capacities for empathy or insight all probably played some role, but this is true of every other butthead that ever aged into reactionary politics. In time, these people realize what they actually believed all along and embrace what has always mattered most to them. In this sense, too, Musk’s little blurts of umbrage and upset are just like those of all the other reactionary pilgrims on their own lonely journeys. Separately but in unison, they slough off everything and everyone that is not them, either out of principle or pique or just because they find themselves losing interest; instead of talking to the people they used to talk to, they just shout at everyone. Twitter has always been a good place for that.
Over at The Atlantic, Tom Nichols writes about Musk's "calvinball" games in The Childish Drama of Elon Musk:
...Musk’s weird rampage does have an impact on the way the world around you exchanges information. Twitter has many levels; for some people, it’s a place to talk about oddball hobbies and exchange pet pictures. (Have you met my cat?) But it’s also an extremely valuable conduit for news, information, culture, and argument. Twitter doesn’t control the news, but it helps to shape public debate about many issues. Indeed, Musk’s entire public rationale for taking over Twitter was to preserve an important venue for free speech.
Musk’s defense of free speech is nonsense. One of the world’s richest men—who is not shy about his politics or his contempt for the free press—has reinstated Donald Trump, white supremacists, and any number of dangerous malefactors to Twitter, but he has made it clear that Donie O’Sullivan is beyond the pale. He has purchased an important and influential piece of the public square not to enhance public debate, but to punish people who annoy him....
I think he lost his cool because for more than a month, he’s been in way over his head with an impulsive purchase, his fortunes are plunging, and he got booed by a crowd of thousands of people at a Dave Chappelle performance—which, for a guy like Musk, is probably an unforgivable injury from what should be an adoring public.
But we can at least shelve all of Musk’s blather about free speech. Twitter is an important part of how we disseminate and process news, and it’s now in the hands of an irritable and unpredictable child. This is one more step in the infantilization of American life, in which we must accommodate and work around the behavior of grown men and women who not so long ago would have been pushed out of public life either by our collective political disgust or by responsible shareholders who would insist that their corporate leaders get back to work instead of making a spectacle of themselves.

No comments: