I joined Twitter in April 2007, a year after it was founded as a “microblogging platform”. I didn’t give much thought to my username. At first glance, Twitter looked like a place where I shouldn’t be seen, like a strip club, so I chose an anonymous alias that combined my middle name and date of birth: @ page 88. I didn’t expect to be stuck with him for 15 years or more.
When I learned that contacts on Twitter are called followers, I found the concept cult and unnerving. My first tweet: “If they follow, will I lead?” didn’t get likes.
For two years, I basically ignored Twitter. Then, in 2009, at the South by Southwest technology conference in Austin, I thought I understood its purpose. It was compulsively used by conference insiders, especially for scheduling bar meetings. When in Rome. I moved on looking for a companion to come with me to see Metallica at a club on 6th street. Once again: nothing.
Then I spoke at a conference and understood what Twitter is.
The crowd in the hall applauded my presentation generously, but later I discovered that they were broadcasting it live. Sometimes brutal. I was moping when I ran into David Carr, the late media critic who was then my colleague at the New York Times, and he told me to laugh it off: “People who use Twitter are dumb.”
However, none of us gave it up. I liked Twitter, even though it was edgy. Most of the time it was insightful and funny. At first, it seemed obvious that people weren’t really tweeting about “what they ate for lunch” as they were in the flashy articles. Instead, they dropped the jokes and learned a new way to not be a shriveled violet.
I huffed for a couple of years aimlessly tweeting about something – I really don’t remember. TV shows? Babies? Maybe I tweeted about lunch. When Dick Costolo became CEO of Twitter in 2010, he admitted to the crowd that he didn’t know what Twitter was for. Me neither.
At 23:11 on Monday, Costolo, who retired from Twitter in 2015, tweeted: “Cheers to the Silicon Valley writers’ room for today’s wild episode.”
Costolo was referring to the hype surrounding the sudden sale of Twitter to Elon Musk, Tesla’s eponymous “techno-man” for $44 billion.
Referring to a story as a television series made up in a writer’s room is a common thing on Twitter. The meme reflects the widespread impression that world events are so fast-paced and dramatic now that they have just happened. there is be scripted.
Indeed, in one day Musk, an icon of an industrialist who, well, is too many to mention, but includes a wide range of controversies. allegations of horrendous racism swooped in like a 1980s corporate raider and grabbed the company.
On Monday, Erica D. Smith remarked bluntly what many on Twitter fear most about Musk’s takeover: in the name of “free speech” for the right and trolls, Musk will silence the fringe voices that are the soul of Twitter.
“Consider this the beginning of the end for #BlackTwitter,” Smith wrote, “communities of millions who figured out how to turn the nascent social media platform into an indispensable tool for real activism, political power, and change.”
Smith hit the spot. Over the past six or seven years, Twitter has become an indispensable reason for existence, and racist feudalism is not like that. At its best, Twitter encourages non-dominant subcultures — from socialists to the #bancars mob to former Republicans — to create subversive commentary, strategy, solidarity.
When twitter prohibited then-President Trump off the platform for inciting violence (and sabotaging democracy) in January and thereabouts. On September 6, 2021, these other users were able to tweet and chat with even more verve and nuance because the bully didn’t gobble up all the air. Now some are predicting that Musk will bring back @realDonaldTrump. (Trump, for his part, said he would refuse.)
While the highest and best ways to use Twitter are under threat, the desperation of swooning on the couch may not be necessary. Musk is certainly not a benevolent actor, but it’s likely that he won’t be able to destroy Twitter without destroying something he truly cares about: $TWTR.
Rick Wilson, author and co-founder of the Lincoln Project, tweeted:“Call me crazy, but I don’t tear out my (remaining) hair because of this.”
He went on to say that “Papa Musk”, despite all his uninformed ranting about “freedom of speech under the 1st Amendment”, is not going to stop content moderation on Twitter. And if Musk brings Trump back, Wilson added, it will only hurt Trump’s political career by bringing his worst features back into the light of the league.
Indeed, Musk is unlikely to completely abolish content moderation lest the platform be filled with filth like the OnlyFans subscription site. And if far-right voices fill Twitter, and it “fills up with Holocaust denial, racial revanchism, bitcoin spam, Russian propaganda and Sebastian pornography” (as Wilson put it), revenge will be swift: the market will devalue Twitter.”
I was reviewing Wilson’s observations when I laughed out loud at Seb Gorka Porno. The phrase is vintage Wilson and very Twitter-like. That’s why I liked it.
As long as dangerous and ridiculous real-life jokes like Gorka and Musk can be ridiculed mercilessly on Twitter, I stay.
Virginia Heffernan is a columnist for Wired magazine and a podcast host. “It’s critical.”