As you probably know by now (even if you didn’t want to), the social media site Twitter was recently purchased by Elon Musk, the world’s richest person, for $44 billion dollars. He immediately took the company private, fired much of the workforce in performative and arbitrary ways and with relished Big Male Energy meanness. As advertisers fled, he tried to assure them that invitations to purchase their goods and services wouldn’t appear in users’ feeds flanked by hatred and bigotry. Shortly thereafter, Musk reinstated some of the site’s worst actors, including the former president, and disarmed defenses against misinformation and foreign meddling, all supposedly in the name of a kindergarten-level understanding of free speech.
Even at its best, Twitter has always been a mixed bag, often hard on women and minorities and the vulnerable, frustratingly slow to grow and change for the better, both as an experience and a tool. But that stupid website has also become a locus of culture, full of writers and journalists and creatives and intellectuals, including some of the funniest and most clever people I’ve ever known. For some it serves as a powerful tool of protest and organization, and for all it provides access to communities that so many can’t find or easily access in other ways. Over time, Twitter came up with itself, as clusters of accounts formed constellations connected by interest, shared experience, or by the sheer pleasure of trying to make themselves and others they respect laugh. I’ve been pleased and proud to be among some of these little stars, constantly astonished that people have found my small weird thoughts worth noticing.
Being on Twitter these days feels like watching someone bang on a increasingly rickety machine until its works inevitably seize up. Why is Musk doing all this? Probably because he can. As the private owner, he can fire whomever he wants, kick out and let in users as he likes, bend the algorithm into his preferred shape. It’s his toy now.
I’ve seen pleas from some Twitter users not to abandon the site, to persevere in the face of rising hate and dysfunction in order to offset the growing toxicity for the good of the good people who remain. Problem is, it’s hard to see the point. Musk’s imaginable wealth, and the wealth he has recruited from others, has insulated him from any meaningful consequences. Even if…