I’m going to talk about Twitter again. After having prepared and announced my departure for a long time. Then analysed the first weeks of crazy Twitter/Musk news.
So here I share again my conviction that Twitter has already become the new Truth Social. Was it a cleverly calculated strategy, or the (catastrophic) result of a poorly prepared purchase, and a series of erratic actions by a drifting entrepreneur? I don’t know, but the slide seems undeniable, and as I have read here and there, irremediable. The news are multiplying, to testify of the explosion of hate speech on the platform, of the almost methodical dissolution of the moderation authorities. Of the autocratic suspension of journalists’ accounts (!!!). And even the brain death of Twitter. All of this in the context of Elon Musk’s still violent and erratic management, which alternates between harassment of his own (ex-) employees, dissemination of false information, ultraconservative speech, and so on.
In short. Simply put, Twitter has (already) become the new Truth Social. Except that it still has well over 200 million users, where the network created by Donald Trump never managed to take off (because of the network effect, which makes it extremely difficult for an emerging social platform to succeed).
Leaving becomes a moral choice
In October, leaving was a activist choice for me. I noticed, after years of using Twitter, that this network was globally toxic (before the arrival of Elon Musk, that is). Data capture, algorithms viralizing buzz, aggressiveness and radicalism, mechanisms facilitating harassment but also a form of addiction, non-existent moderation capacities, etc. I had to choose, and I chose to be coherent. At the risk of depriving myself of thousands of relations who followed me and whom I followed in return, contributing to my own audience and capacity to diffuse my articles (and find clients).
Leaving was an activist choice. I think it has become a moral choice. Staying on Twitter is not trivial, especially if you are a major contributor (by the number of posts you make, the engagement you generate). Staying is nothing less than feeding the beast. Sorry to say, but staying is being an accomplice to Twitter’s transformation. It’s helping to create a violent, right-wing, ultra-conservative social network with over 200 million registered users. Including you.
The eternal tension between individual and collective action
What’s hard on a social network is to leave alone. That’s the network effect, quite simply. We would like, as often, that the responsibility is not individual, but collective, political. Like when you have to wear your mask. Or eat less meat. Or ban airplanes. Except that no political action (unless Twitter is totally banned, which is not totally excluded in Europe) will make us change our social network. Fortunately, in a democracy. The change must therefore come from us, individually and in small groups.
So, go as a group. Ask yourself what you are looking for on Twitter. Active monitoring? Discussions on your favorite topics? Audience? There are alternatives for each of these needs. One thing seems certain to me, however, and that is that serene and useful political and activist action is no longer possible on Twitter. First, for the moral reasons I mentioned above. Then, because in concrete terms, Twitter is less and less frequented. And even less and less safe. Wanting to keep on “occupying the field” at all costs would be a bit like trying to convince people in an extreme right-wing bar 1.
I don’t minimize the difficulty of leaving Twitter. This is especially true for precarious people that need it to find missions, jobs. As with other actions, it’s probably up to the most privileged to leave first, to set an example, to take the risks. Elton John showed us the way, after all.
While waiting to have a little distance…
We are still a little short on time to fully understand what is happening with Twitter. I imagine that we will take the time to analyse it later, with scientific data and long term journalistic work. What is certain is that from a pedagogical perspective, it is a case study, or an already powerful pretext for discussion. In turn, it allows us to study the consequences of the extreme concentration of the Internet, the problems of the network effect, reinforced by the absence of interoperability between platforms. To realize what a social network is finally, what we do, what we contribute, why, and for whom? For your followers, maybe. For oneself, certainly. But foremost for the platform, which is just an empty shell.
It finally allows you to ask yourself, 10 years after the creation of your account, what you can retrieve from Twitter when closing your account. The platform, GDPR [in Europe] obliges, allows you to download your data. You will get an export of all your messages, but also of the advertising profiling that the platform had made of you. Concerning the profiling, it is educational, interesting and sometimes funny. But what value can the export of all your messages have? How to find and store the few threads where you have created unique content? How can you find the exchanges where you learned something and even, let’s be crazy, changed your mind? You can’t. What you post on a platform like Twitter is ephemeral, by design. If you want to archive, you need other platforms, other tools (like a blog).
Let’s take the Twitter case as a shock. Let’s continue to build and value more open, respectful, and ethical tools.