There are no grand principles at play with Elon Musk's purchase. It's just one tribe scoring points over another.
High school History and English teacher here. In my capacity as frequent (uggh) evaluator of plodding student essays grasping for greatness, I just want to say how much I enjoy the writing. The thinking is top notch, but it is Gerson's writing that makes me sit back and say NICE! That's it. Gold star or whatever.
Always nice to read something far smarter and more creative than I will ever be :)
This is wonderful. Gerson has embraced the cultural doomism to which people of my experience are attracted like a moth to a candle. Burn, baby, burn. :-)
"Twitter is what the entire goddamn world will look like in 10 years: the emaciated survivors accusing each other of being Nazis among the ruins."
Jen, you have a way with words. Thank-you.
In my nerdy world, I would like to see a discussion of whether or not Musk would welcome Putin onto the platform as a gesture of openness to free speech.
Twitter is useful for real-time news and hashtag sharing and scraping, but it is not irreplaceable. As you say, it is a small media channel with a tiny bit of influence with a distinct group of people comparable to "The high school AV Club" - thanks again for the perfect illustration.
Beautiful!!! Thx Gen
Musk's claim that "Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy" is demonstrably false. Indeed, free speech is regularly used by tyrants, politicians, and activists to destroy democracy. Can democracy flourish without 'free' speech? Sure. If political speech had to be demonstrably truthful, by law, democracy would be enhanced.
I get that many--perhaps most--people are appalled at the notion of any limits on speech. But, there are limits on commercial speech. Monied interests have all manner of curbs on speech used to persuade them to invest. Monied interests know full well that if people wanting them to invest can lie to them with impunity, they would likely be harmed.
Why is political speech different? Politicians and activists and grifters often use lies to convince citizens to 'invest' in their schemes. What are the defensible reason for denying citizens legal protections from liars, charlatans, hate mongers, venal politicians, and other malicious people?
Should "This is why true addicts can EVER leave the site" be "This is why true addicts can NEVER leave the site"
So good! You and deBoer do the funniest, sharpest rants around.
My bet: Musk succeeds when he sees a way to solve a problem with technology that everyone else has mostly dismissed. Battery electric vehicles were considered glorified golf carts with poor performance and range; Musk saw multi-billions being investing batteries in the consumer electronics industry and realized he could ride their R&D coat-tails -- and leverage a lot of government incentives -- to build desireable electric cars. Space is expensive because we throw away the rockets; Musk figured out how to the change the cost structure by reusing rockets.
So -- looking at Twitter (and social media in general) there are a couple of big problems. As scale, figuring out what content to serve up to people without amplifying disinformation, hate and spam is hard -- especially if you want to make money. The current models seem pretty kludgy and either miss a lot of content or accidently kill content which isn't really bad at all. I suspect Musk thinks the AI that's smart enough to self-drive (ish) vehicles should also be smart enough to automate this process at scale in a way that's transparent and defendable. Part of this is being able to track who people are without taking away anonymity.
Given Musk's interest in AI and blockchain tech and the problems around social media moderation and content amplification at scale, I suspect he thinks there is a technical answer that would then avoid a lot of grey-area decision-making (like high-profile bans) while still creating a positive user experience. Is he right? I don't know. A lot of smart people have thrown themselves at this problem. Human language -- with sarcasm and irony -- requires the kind of context that AI hasn't been terribly good at up until now. And, internet identity and privacy are also really, really hard problems to crack. But, so was landing rockets on barges!
All of which to say, I don't think Musk is particularly interested in the culture war aspect of Twitter, his public persona notwithstanding. I suspect he sees the kind of big challenge (electrifying transporation, interplanatary travel) that he's attracted to that also happens to leverage tech (AI, blockchain) he's interested in. If he were able to come up with breakthrough ways of solving these challenges, he'd have a huge leg up on what some people are dubbing Web3, so it's not like there isn't a massive business opportunity here.
If Musk completes the purchase of Twitter, we can look forward to the spectacle of him re-learning and re-inventing moderation policies through empirical attempts to apply his "first principles" approach to freedom of speech. He's a smart guy, but terribly arrogant and tends to assume he knows better than anybody else. This has brought us the attempt to develop a hyperautomated "Alien Dreadnought" car factory that wound up with cheaper, more efficient manual assembly of cars in a tent in the factory parking lot, a vision-only based self-driving system that's repeatedly run cars into white trucks that it can't discriminate from the sky, and a tunneling company that's so far produced only an expensive low-capacity amusement park ride at a convention center in Las Vegas.
Not "we", ma'am. I don't talk about Twitter, I have no friends who talk about Twitter, not even the ones in their 20s. I only even know about Twitter because so many of them are screen-snap posted into journalism I read.
I'm certain that Twitter has no place in helping research engineers pursue science; I read those journals, and it doesn't come up. It isn't causing more progress in chemistry or physics, either; non-entertainment interest in it is pretty tightly confined to certain jobs.
You have to talk about Twitter, though, because you're a journalist. They're all addicts, and joke about their addiction in journo podcasts, where everybody seems to think it funny, while I roll my eyes and drum fingers.
I.F. Stone would not be impressed by people who spend, I'm told seriously, a couple of hours a day "On Twitter". Izzy would have spent the time poring over dry pages of financial records.
Well, have fun. Maybe it was rude to read the headline, roll my eyes, drum my fingers, and skip the actual column, before leaving a note ... but OMG I am so sick of people "having to talk about Twitter" this week.
Why is "groomer" homophobic? Isn't it equally negative towards boy or girl pedophilia and hebephilia? Since most of the old church scandals involved boys, does that make charges of pedophilia 'homophobic'?
Thanks for the excellently bright spotlight “from both sides now” to quote Joni Mitchell. I have been avoiding Twitter but will now check them out to see what this freedom talk is all about. Will Canada's elected poltroons again send out bucket-headed jack-booted storm troopers and woman-trampling horses (or their electronic equivalent) to nip this in the bud since it might violate “such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society” ? I await with bated breath.
I write - as always - in praise of the writing on The Line. Way to go, Jen (in this instance) and Matt!
Now, as to (very slightly) more substantive comment.
I absolutely enjoyed the disdain with which Jen wrote about Twitter users and their absolute assurance of their worth; in truth, those comments made sense to me in her description of the self-importance of those users. The problem with that self importance is that far too many mainstream folk pay far too much attention to the Twitter commentariat. I offer as an example the recent absurd comment from the Steamwhistle Brewery about their renting of space to Pierre Pollievre wherein they distanced themselves from the racial makeup of the audience, etc., etc., etc. All, as I recall, because something like seven twits and their Twitter commentary objected.
So, as I say, far too much attention seems to be paid by the public at large to the Twitterariat.
Of course, it is ever so easy for me to make these assertions as I have never used Twitter and have no intention of ever doing so. Luddite that I am, I believe in letters to the editor, letters to public figures suggesting action, commentary on internet opinion, etc. Of course, now these letters, etc. might be electronic missives but I continue to think that many recipients consider actual letters that take some effort and time to have somewhat more import.
Luddite; unrepentant; curmudgeon. My comments being unworthy of consideration, to be sure.
An excellent piece that takes a fair shot at all sides. But here is my concern: At this point Twitter and social media in general have too much power to censor viewpoints that the powers-that-be have deemed as “misinformation”. The fact is, certainly when it comes to pandemic and vaccine issues, you either repeat the officially approved narrative and can go on forever, or you are spreading misinformation and are immediately de-platformed - no matter your credentials. Like it or not, social media has a lot of influence throughout society, and the fact that it has free rein to censor reasonable debate whenever dissenting data or opinion arises is not good. So while Musk is clearly flawed, I applaud his attempt to overcome an abuse of power that if left unchecked is a clear threat to the democratic exchange of ideas.
A tiny squeak from a really old guy: what is this "Twitter" that everyone seems to be talking about?