In May 2009, I first dipped my toe into an exciting new social media site. OK, so by new I mean three years old at the time – I am rarely an early adopter. I like most of the bugs to be worked out.
I started accounts for two of our business directory sites – Purple Roofs (LGBTQ+ travel) and Gay Realty Network (LGBTQ+ real estate professionals).
In December of the same year, I opened a third account, a personal one to find other folks who spoke Italian. La Bella Lingua has been a passion of ours since we first started taking regular lessons 2008.
It was fun to tweet, and although I never got as involved with Twitter as I am on Facebook, we still grew our combined audience on the site to a respectable 20,000 folks over seven Twitter accounts. It’s been a regular part of our marketing, something I have used every day for more than thirteen years.
In 2015, a new presidential candidate burst onto the scene, and used Twitter to help engineer his meteoric rise to become our 45th president. It was always an uneasy fit, to be on a site that allowed politicians to lie and misinform and demean others, over and over simply because of the office they held. And yet, I managed to justify it to myself because of all the good people on the site.
Then January 6th happened.
I remember sitting with Mark in our living room all day, watching in horror as an angry horde, egged on by their idol, stormed the US Capitol and sent lawmakers of both parties fleeing in fear for their lives. That day remains a dark stain on our country’s history.
When Twitter permanently banned the commander in chief, I was relieved that they had finally applied the same rules to him as to everyone else on the site.
Fast forward to late October, 2022. Elon Musk used his vast wealth to buy a site that had often needled him in the past, and within three short weeks, he has hollowed it out. It’s likely that the whole thing will eventually crash and burn, as there are very few employees still minding the shop.
It’s a death by a thousand cuts:
Musk fired half of Twitter’s 7000 employees within days of taking over the site, later trying to hire some mission-critical employees back
Musk fired engineers who disagreed with him and tried to explain to him how the site works
Musk issued a loyalty pledge requiring Twitter employees to commit to working horribly long hours on his Twitter 2.0 project. Another 1200 employees are estimated to have left the company at the end of last week.
Along with those departures, Twitter’s Payroll Department and US Taxes team resigned.
Musk fired 4000 contractors, 4/5ths of its contract workforce.
One day before the US Midterms, Musk did what no mainstream social media CEO has done before, putting his finger on the scale for the Republican party. He claimed it was because divided government is good for the country, but there’s no indication he asked voters in GOP-held states to vote democratic. And divided government is most definitely good for billionaires, as it means no new taxes on their vast wealth.
Musk hatched a plan to start charging for Twitter Blue, including selling the site’s valuable user verification service for the low low price of just $8 a month, resulting in imposter accounts and causing chaos that may have cost some companies billions in shareholder value. And incidentally, it also may be costing Twitter too, as those companies cut back on Twitter ads.
An hour after announcing that remote work would still be allowed – “All that is required for approval is that your manager takes responsibility for ensuring that you are making an excellent contribution” – Musk sent out another email saying that “any manager who falsely claims that someone reporting to them is doing excellent work or that a given role is essential, whether remote or not, will be exited from the company.
Twitter is no longer taking down blatantly racist tweets, probably because the department responsible for that safety function has been decimated.
Twitter is no longer enforcing US copyright law. Its Copyright Strike team is gone, and users are uploading entire movies to the site without takedown or penalty.
Musk reinstated two prominent anti-transgender accounts, Babylon Bee and Podcaster Jordan Peterson
Musk reinstated Ye (formerly Kanye West) after the musician was banned for anti-semitic tweets.
But all of this pales in the face of what happened Saturday. In late October, Musk said that Twitter would create a content moderation council to determine, among other things, which banned users to allow back on the platform. This apparently never happened, and on Friday, Musk floated a poll on the site to ask if our 45th president should be allowed back on the platform. Users said yes (by a very slim majority). And although we don’t know for sure yet, there’s a possibility that a number of votes cast in the poll were made by automated bots.
Nevertheless, the very next day, Musk reinstated the former president’s account. Strangely, Twitter’s ex-CEO Jack Dorsey has now backpedaled and claims he wishes Twitter had never banned 45 in the first place, and is now following the ex president’s reinstated account. So much for having done the right thing.
Reinstating the ex-president’s Twitter account was my red line. I have been steadily moving toward exiting the site, appalled by the way Musk is treating his employees, by the way the safeguards against abuse of some of our most vulnerable and marginalized populations have been wiped away, and by the likelihood that the site may soon collapse of its own weight.
But allowing a man who fomented an insurrection against the country that I love, who lied more than 30,000 times in his four years as president, who abetted racists in Charlottesville, who cozied up to dictators and was willing to tank Ukraine’s democracy to taint his presidential opponent, and who was impeached twice only to escape consequence because of the protection of his party, was the last straw.
If such a man can be reinstated, there is literally nothing that Twitter will not allow in the dubious name of “Free Speech.” While I’m all for free speech – my high school Government teacher instilled that deep in my psyche, saying “I may not like what you have to say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it” – it’s not an unlimited right. You can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater. You can’t use your speech to incite violence against others. And private companies have a right to regulate speech on their own platforms.
The speed of Twitter’s downfall has been shocking and heartbreaking to watch – that one man can inflict so much damage on what many call the world’s “digital town square.”
I’m a small fish in the Twitter sea. even with all our accounts combined, we have fewer followers than the mayor of Sacramento. Our leaving will likely be of no consequence to the big blue bird.
But I am reminded of the words in a recent sermon at our church. I regret that I don’t recall the name of the man who said them, and I am paraphrasing here – if anyone else knows the original source, please email me. The gist:
I don’t stand up because I think I can change the world. I stand up because I won’t let the world change me.
I won’t let Elon Musk change me.
Twitter is not the place it was three weeks ago. And it’s certainly not what it was in 2009, when I first joined. I can’t look away anymore. I won’t be a part of a platform that has dropped all pretense of moderation, and that is enabling all the worst impulses of humanity.
So although it pains me to let go of the thirteen years we spent building up a following of wonderfully supportive Twitter fans, I am moving on. I will be transitioning our accounts off the site over the next two weeks.
If you want to continue to follow me on a twitter-like service, you can find me on Mastodon at: https://mastodon.lol/@jscottcoatsworth