May 20, 2024, 06:27AM

Feelings About Twitter, and Feelings About X

They're so intense! But no one knows why.

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Circa 2021, every journalist and academic was on the social media site/app then known as Twitter. This was interesting, because using Twitter was, these same journalists and academics repeatedly asserted (often on Twitter), pure torture: it was a hellscape, a hellsite, a cesspool of conspiracy theories and right-wing populism that was just about to bring the world to an end. Then Elon Musk bought Twitter, changed its name to X, fired its moderators, and started dicking around with the format in various ways on an almost daily basis.

Michelle Goldberg, who was tweeting all the time while characterizing the site as like "a bad dinner party full of people who hate you," said that she hoped that Musk would kill Twitter. Also she hated him for any change he proposed to her beloved infernal realm. But at least it looks like she did hop off. Though she hasn't deleted her account (@michelleinbrooklyn), she hasn't posted in a year and a half. I hope I didn't mess up her dinner party by criticizing one of her columns about Twitter on Twitter.

As Musk acquired, lots of people issued "goodbye, cruel world" tweets and fell silent. One I really miss is the philosopher Jason Stanley, who I got to argue with from time to time. For awhile, everyone was declaring that they were off to... Mastodon? Or that Facebook version? Or whatever Jack Dorsey was doing. Many of these people seemed to be quitting specifically because Musk proposed to reinstate Donald Trump's account, thus enhancing the fascist acquisition of the globe. On the other hand, Trump has a right to speak, and we'd better hear what he's saying whether we like what he's saying or not. So I was a puzzled by the whole dispute.

"Under Musk," Washington Post columnist @milbank predicted, "Twitter [will] quickly become a cesspool of conspiracy mongers and white supremacists ...a haven for disinformation, white nationalism and Russian sympathizers: the 1 in 5 Americans who embrace QAnon, the antisemitic, sometimes violent and always ludicrous and debunked extremist ideology that a satanic cabal of pedophiles runs the government."

However, @milbank is still posting on X all the time, and so are a lot of the people who threatened to leave or who did leave.

You and @milbank may already be aware of this, but X under Musk is pretty much like Twitter before Musk. I have the same number of followers, more or less, probably including more or less the same number of spam accounts. But there was no collapse or sudden influx on anyone's account that I could see directly as a result of the takeover and the changes Musk instituted in moderation and other policies and procedures. People screamed. A few lefties left. But the site just kept right on.

Musk tried a number of quick experiments, including the name change, but the ones that have stuck have enhanced the experience. People lurch into personal and political crisis whenever Musk messes with blue check marks, for example, an issue that strikes me as about as significant as whether my text messages are green or blue. It means something to millennials? He made people pay for blue check marks there for a while, then introduced paid subscriptions.

This doesn’t strike me as bizarre, and I'm happy to pay a small monthly fee. I use Twitter as much as I use cable news or The New York Times or the local NPR station. I send all of them a little money from time to time. I have a premium subscription to YouTube. It seems like X needed a tweak to its business model to keep going; this move strikes me as very acceptable and completely typical in the evolution of the internet. But somehow this one sent opinion writers spiraling into crisis once again, because once again Musk was killing (= slightly adjusting) the site they hate so much and use all the time.

Musk introduced some kind of AI device called "Grok": I haven't figured out what to do with it yet. But I have figured out what to do with the editing function that Musk's people introduced, for no one ever threw down more typos than me. And Musk's X has introduced one change that is making things very different and better very quickly: you can write as long as you want, and there are new formatting options that can turn X into a page for opinion columns or a platform for newsletters. I'd rather use it than Substack or Medium in that capacity, though I haven't yet explored all the possibilities.

There’s been an increase in spam on my X feed, but there’s been an increase in spam in every mode and medium. I haven’t noticed a vast new splash of hatred, conspiracy theories, anti-science ranting, Russ-symps, or really of anything else, except maybe a lot more Christians, for some reason. At any rate, Musk's X has fundamentally the same strengths and the same drawbacks as Dorsey's Twitter. I don't see what you're squawking about.

It seems like total users on X are still in the process of bouncing back to pre-Musk levels, and it’s still mystifying whether there can be a revenue model that makes X profitable in the long term. But those aren’t really my problems. Indeed, in this regard I don't have any problems. From my perspective, nothing has fundamentally changed, and the incremental changes and improvements aren't worrisome.

I've got actual issues, bubba. When I get them all resolved, I'll be ready to join your social media panic.

Follow Crispin Sartwell on X: @CrispinSartwell


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