Twitter on the Brink. Thoughts on the Loss of a Community

Photo of a muskrat with its nose to the short grass on the ground.
Muskrat.
Photo by Fabian Willer, Follow my Instagramud83dudcf8ud83dude01 on Pexels.com

If you have been paying attention to the news lately, you are aware that billionaire Elon Musk has purchased Twitter and is running it into the ground. Lauded as an entrepreneurial genius and visionary of the future, Elon Musk’s behavior has once again revealed that the Emperor is indeed naked. As anyone with any kind of insight into business administration knows, it’s not the CEO who keeps a company running. It’s Brenda in Accounting and her Excel sheet.

Musk claims he bought Twitter to protect free speech, which he said was being suppressed on the platform. Once Twitter was his, he changed his approach to making the company profitable through massive lay offs and a business plan known as Throwing Shit on the Wall and See What Sticks.

Chaos, of course, ensued.

And not just any kind of chaos. Twitter chaos.

Twitter chaos is a particular type of anarchic and irreverent behavior where random people pick up on something equally as random and run with it. Through its retweet function and hashtags, Twitter is primed for this kind of behavior, which this time around was aimed at none other than the Naked Emperor himself, Elon Musk.

As hilarious these hi-jinx have made Twitter lately, there is a backside to all of this. Users are leaving the platform in droves, while Musk’s behavior are driving employees from the company in large numbers, either because they resign or are fired at will (some of them publicly on Twitter). The result is a glitchy platform where functions, safeguards, and ethics no longer exist.

While all of this is happening, Twitter users are taking stock of this bastard child among social media platforms. Nicknamed the Hell Site for its toxicity, the community without borders (and often without boundaries) that Twitter has offered is suddenly endangered. People and groups who have been denied a voice by mainstream society have made themselves heard on Twitter, and forced society to change as a result. Black Twitter, Disabled Twitter, LGBTQ+ Twitter, Jewish Twitter.

Twitter, with all its madness, is what kept us sane.

For academics, hashtags such as Medieval Twitter, Twitterstorians, and AcademicChatter have provided a community and a lifeline for those who are on the fringes of academia, such as minority scholars, contingent faculty, and exploited early career scholars on the tenure track.

Twitter, with all its madness, is what kept us sane.

I still remember the feeling I had when I joined in January 2013.

I was scared. That’s right. Twitter scared me. But in an enticing way. Similar to the first time I heard Guns N’ Roses. I put the record on (I don’t even remember what song. I think it was “Paradise City,” but I’m not sure), and when the music started, it felt dangerous. So dangerous that I had to look away from the speakers. But at the same time, the music was enticing, and I of course immediately became a huge G N’R fan.

Same thing with Twitter. I was familiar with Twitter because Stephen Fry and Eddie Izzard were on there, but creating my own account felt like stepping into the maelstrom. There were no rules on Twitter, it felt like. I understood that Twitter could hurt you because of the anarchy of the platform, and so my approach has always been one of caution. And since the platform algorithm favors engagement and engagement is driven by rage, I never garnered a large following. Which is okay. I can live with that.

Over the years, Twitter has given me a place to find and develop my voice, deprogram myself from the indoctrination of academia, learn from communities I am not part of but who I need to listen to.

Over the years, Twitter has given me a place to find and develop my voice, deprogram myself from the indoctrination of academia, learn from communities I am not part of but who I need to listen to. I have gotten jobs through Twitter. My first freelance job was at Book Riot, who I found on Twitter. I have found amazing author’s through Twitter. I have found books that inform me as a person and a scholar that I otherwise never would have heard of.

If this is the end of Twitter, Elon Musk will have done something unforgivable in destroying a platform that has engaged millions of people for more than a decade just because he could. But if this is the end of Twitter, we will regroup and find each other again. Communities form, thrive, and disappear. Sometimes naturally, sometimes through deliberate actions.

If this is the end of Twitter, I will miss it. It has been one helluva ride.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

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