RIP (?) Twitter

Note: All links in this post lead to open access information that is *not* paywalled, and open in a new tab.

There is a very real risk that Twitter as we know and have known it will become unusable in the near future. This has been the general sentiment and concern since Apartheid Clyde (Elon Musk) bought the platform a month ago. That sentiment and concern came to a head late last week when many of the company’s remaining employees quit after Musk issued another ridiculous ultimatum (stay on board and be “hardcore” or quit and get three months of severance pay), leaving entire departments and teams and a number of critical systems unmanned.

Many of the employees who “chose” to stay are in the States on H-1B visas, meaning they must remain employed to remain in the country, which means they likely didn’t really have a choice. Last night, on Thanksgiving Eve here in the States, Musk fired a number of those employees, with no notice and only four weeks pay (v. the three months of pay they would’ve received had they not “chosen” to stick around when given the “choice” last week).

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here are a few articles to better understand what’s happening at Twitter.

Why do I care? And why should you, even if you don’t use Twitter? FOR A WHOLE BUNCH OF REASONS!!!

Much of it boils down to community, mental health, care, safety, and general/overall wellbeing.

Twitter is a lifeline for a lot of people. It’s vital for community and connection for many marginalized and disenfranchised folks—Black folks, Indigenous folks, and other people of color; disabled and chronically ill folks; queer folks; social activists; mutual aid organizations and facilitators; freelancers; artists; journalists; writers; and sex workers.

For many of us, especially those of us for whom the “real” world isn’t safe or accessible, Twitter is real life. It’s where we congregate and socialize and network and connect and build community. It’s where we find social, emotional, intellectual, and financial sustenance. It’s a place where we can make friends and family, and find help and answers. Twitter has been especially important to so many of us throughout the pandemic, WHICH IS STILL HAPPENING BY THE WAY, because it’s been a source of consistent, immediate, and reliable information about Covid, Long Covid, and disability, providing instant access to both scientific research and anecdotal evidence from care providers and patients—and has been a safe way to socialize.

“Can’t you just go elsewhere?” Yes and no. There are other places to hangout online, sure. There’s nothing else out there (yet) like Twitter. The places that people most often suggest as alternatives cannot (or at least, don’t currently) compare to the way that certain communities use Twitter.

One of the things that’s unique about Twitter is that it’s not siloed or federated. You don’t have to join certain groups or sections of the site. Everything’s just kind of…there. In the open. This makes finding community and information much easier. Another thing: its immediacy. Things happen—and travel—in real time on Twitter at a scope, scale, and speed that they don’t elsewhere. And, unlike most of the other popular social media platforms (at least, the ones that are popular here in the States), Twitter isn’t about aesthetic or performance or curating only the most palatable moments of life. It’s a place that a lot of us feel we can go to be real, without pressure to turn ourselves and our lives into ~**~content~**~.

This Washington Post article does a good job of explaining why Twitter is so important to disabled folks in particular. If you take only one thing from this piece, let it be this:

“Twitter has long been uniquely suited for people with disabilities in a way that can’t be easily replicated elsewhere. Because it’s primarily focused on the written word, it’s easier to use for blind people, deaf people and those who struggle with speech or fine motor control issues, compared with social media sites like TikTok and Instagram, which emphasize visuals and audio.

Twitter also has broad reach. Platforms like Reddit and Mastodon group people into specific community spaces or servers, making it harder for posts to gain the attention of the general public.”

Plus: there’s the extremely resource-intensive labor of starting over.

The platform is also essential for public safety. Tons of people, communities, and governments rely on Twitter for mass and instant global communications, coordinating emergency/disaster response efforts, and real-time organizing and mutual aid facilitation.

For a few messy hours late last week following the news that entire teams of engineers had quit or been fired, it felt likely, even imminent, that the site would completely collapse from a technical perspective. Today, that scenario seems a little less, but by no means entirely, unlikely. The more immediate concern now is that Twitter will become an unsafe and inhospitable space for those of us who rely on it most for community, connection, paying bills, and general quality of life—especially during the ongoing pandemic.

Gutting staff (including content moderators), canning policies (like ones governing hate speech), and reinstating people/accounts who were suspended or banned—all things that Musk has done and continues to do—have huge potential to turn Twitter a cesspool of fascism, white supremacy, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and other such -ists and -isms and -phobias. A lot of this is already playing out, this Wired article explains.

As I was drafting this post Musk reinstated a handful of accounts that had been permanently suspended for, among other things, hate speech and inciting violence—Donald Trump, Kanye West, Jordan Peterson, Andrew Tate, etc. Just before I hit “publish” on this post, The Oregonian reported that Musk has granted “amnesty” to those previously suspended accounts. Since Musk took over, there’s been a sharp rise in unmoderated hate speech (use of the N-word was up nearly 500% in the 12 hours following Musk’s takeover, and there’s also bee a significant rise in anti-Semitic, misogynist, and transphobic language on the site). Brookings points out that this “speaks to how fringe, alt-right networks not only feel empowered by Musk’s takeover, but protected as well.”

The same article closes by stating:

“Collectively, recent changes to and at Twitter disrupt the ability for marginalized people to find community, produce useful discourse to share ways to foster equality, and protect themselves from hate speech and trauma. Musk’s acquisition of Twitter and his potential plans to loosen moderation guidelines will continue to increase the use of hate speech and likely inhibit the ways that marginalized groups have organized and mobilized on the platform to resist harmful language and discrimination in their everyday lives.”

Twitter isn’t perfect. It never has been. It’s always been home to misinformation, trolls and bots, and hate. But not quite like this. And it’s terrifying. It’s not just the prospect of losing Twitter that’s concerning. It’s who we might lose it to, and what that could mean for individuals (people absolutely will die as a result of Musk’s unmoderated, “absolutist” free speech Twitter), and for democracy and humanity. I know that will sound dramatic to some. It’s not.

I’ll leave y’all with this thread that details lies Elon’s peddled about his credentials and why this is part of what makes him such a dangerous person, and the following embedded tweets from others who are also concerned/sad/pissed about what’s happening at Twitter. (Yes, I’m aware of the irony of embedding tweets into this post. The labor to screenshot, crop, upload, and ALT text all of these tweets, some of which are multi-tweet threads, requires more resources/spoons than I have available right now.)

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