Elon Musk is like a real life Ayn Rand protagonist.
While many critics of Twitter’s inequitable content moderation policies have proposed amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act so that Twitter and other social media giants are recognized as publishers rather than platforms, Musk circumvented that less-than-ideal solution entirely. He did the thing that only someone with so much money that it constitutes a superpower could do. He simply bought Twitter.
Come to think of it, maybe that’s not the Ayn Rand-protagonist-approach. Howard Roark dynamited the housing project that strayed from his ideals. Musk, on the other hand, seems sincere about reforming – not blowing up – Twitter.
Among his proposed changes are several easy, low-hanging fruit that ought not to be controversial to anyone. For starters, he wants to “defeat the spam bots.” These spam bots swarm #crypto threads like flies. Worse, I have yet to hear of one that actually followed through on its questionable promise to return double the ETH sent its way. In a space where even the most sincere actors are regularly accused of scamming, the unmistakably fraudulent behavior of spam bots does nothing but harm crypto’s reputation. Good riddance, I say.
Musk has also signaled that he would like to simplify the verification process. I wonder if Musk’s idea for doing so relates to the most intriguing line in his public statement after his bid was accepted: “I also want to make Twitter better than ever by […] authenticating all humans.” To be honest, that line comes across as creepy as when the World Economic Forum salivates over global digital identities.
This is part of the reason why, as interested as I am to see how the Musk era of Twitter unfolds, I still have no plans to return to the platform that I left on acrimonious terms. In an earlier blog post, I described Twitter as a “trauma & outrage information superhighway.” That’s still how I feel about Twitter, and about social media broadly speaking. My problem was not so much with who the CEO was as it was a disdain for the fundamental design philosophy behind these kinds of products. Social media incentivizes users to externalize their locus of control – to seek psychological validation from the retweets, likes, and comments of others, as opposed to from within. This is not a healthy way to go through life. It’s so dysfunctional, in fact, that I predict that a decade or two from now, society will regard social media the same way we now regard cigarettes: addictive and terrible for your health.
Spend enough time on Twitter and you’ll also notice the way it starts influencing you even when you’re not logged in. “We shape our information architectures; thereafter they shape us,” you might say. I think blogger Aaron Z. Lewis described the phenomenon best in this literary vignette:
Before I started posting, my thoughts were more abstract and non-verbal — like blobs of play-doh floating around a zero gravity chamber. I used to spend a lot of time re-molding these amorphous thought forms into Twitter-friendly nuggets. But nowadays my internal monologue speaks tweet by default. Thoughts bubble up from the depths of my psyche readymade for the timeline, already twisted into the pre-programmed shape of a Post. I wonder if the algorithm is starting to interfere with the way my subconscious works. What if it’s filtering out thoughts that it doesn’t think will perform well online?
Source: “Inside the Digital Sensorium” by Aaron Z. Lewis
It took me years to wrest social media’s pernicious control from my life. I quit alcohol before I was able to quit social media. Arguably, I still haven’t quit social media – here I am, talking about it again, right?
Lord forgive me, but I’m back on my 🅱️ullshit: Twitter’s actions during the last election were, to borrow a certain phrase, “deplorable.” Among other things, they forcibly prevented users from sharing information verified as authentic by everyone from federal law enforcement to, belatedly, the New York Times. Information that, as a poll from the Media Research Center would later reveal, would have dissuaded 16% of Biden voters from voting for him had they known about it. That was election interference, full stop. The magnitude and significance of this crime still gets my blood boiling. It’s why I cannot – will not – stop talking about Twitter.
Musk seems to get it: “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.” I can’t argue with that first part, although I wonder for how long Twitter will get to be the “digital town square.” Ideally, the digital town square would not be owned by any one entity – public or private. I prefer the approach of something like Twister, a blockchain-based, peer-to-peer microblogging platform that fundamentally can’t be censored. As the last vestiges of legitimacy vanish from the felled titans of Web 2.0, I think it’s inevitable that these kinds of distributed, decentralized solutions will take over. But insofar as we live in a world where plutocrats purchase platforms, we can do a lot worse than Elon Musk. His tenure at Tesla and SpaceX has shown him to be one of the most capable capitalists in American history. Repairing our fractured body politic? That’s got to be at least as tough as sending a man to Mars. I’m not even sure it will be possible, but at least we’ve got a shitposting supergenius on our side.