Twitter: Is the outlook terminal? If the time of the tweet is drawing to a close, will you mourn Twitter?
The excellent David Quantick once wrote that the closing notes of Motörhead’s immortal Ace of Spades* (I paraphrase from memory) see the band not so much finish the song as bang it against the wall until its head falls off. Watching events at Twitter since Elon Musk became proprietor, you have to wonder if this is precisely the approach he is taking to this once-beloved social medium.
After much banging of Twitter against the wall, its poor head would seem to be just about hanging on right now. At least at the time of writing. But by the time you read these words?
I do wonder if the outlook for Twitter might be terminal. Sweeping job cuts were followed by Musk’s ultimatum of sorts to the survivors. Musk offered them the choice of signing up to the “hardcore” culture he envisions for “Twitter 2.0”, or exiting with three months’ severance pay. A skeleton staff is believed to be all that now remains at Twitter, according to Al Jazeera:
“While it is unclear how many employees quit following Musk’s ultimatum, the latest departures come as the company’s workforce is a fraction of its usual size after the Tesla CEO fired more than half of its 7,500 staff.”
These past few days, my Twitter timeline has been full of folks speculating that we are likely now in the last few days of Twitter itself. Amidst the disbelief at what is happening at Twitter, there is much emotion at what we might be about to lose. A kind of mourning.
Twitter’s transformative effect
Twitter has meant so much to so many. My friend Gem Dale tweeted some poignant words of tribute to how her time on Twitter has changed her life:
“I’m sad about what’s happening here. I met my husband on Twitter. Made some great friends and professional connections, and learned a lot too. Also sad for their many employees who don’t deserve the Musk treatment.”
Twitter has had a transformative effect on my life, too. I am so thankful for all the people I’ve met and experiences I’ve had because of it. I joined Twitter in early 2009. I could never have predicted how life-enriching and life-altering my time on Twitter would be. The 13 3/4 years since then have seen Twitter play a huge role in my life.
I have met so many wonderful folks through Twitter, many of whom I will be friends with until the end (and not just until the end of Twitter). I have learnt so much, made so many connections and often just marvelled at the seemingly near-psychic manner in which it can enable serendipitous connection and interaction.
What has Twitter meant to you?
Creative destruction, or plain old destruction?
Why is all this happening to Twitter?
Twitter itself is full of folks trying to make sense of it all right now. Despite the end-of-days feel to the place, Twitter’s ability to throw up interesting new perspectives is somehow undimmed. For example, just yesterday (Friday 18 November 2022) two different Twitter types who were previously unknown to me were retweeted into my timeline, each bringing a thought-provoking take on the events leading up to these potential Twitter endtimes.
The first was Kyle Drake, who – in a post entitled Goodbye, Twitter – argues that what we are seeing now has been a long time coming:
“I could write a book on why Twitter failed, but I won’t do that here. I’ll just add to the conversation that I’ve always felt like Twitter has already been dead for a long time, the seeds of it’s destruction planted very early in it’s life. The moment that its short-sighted leadership decided Twitter should be a toxic community that allows and enables harassment was the beginning of the end of Twitter. The rest of Twitter’s history has just been a slow and inevitable collapse caused by that original sin, and now we get to see it’s conclusion. Elon Musk, like the Goths that sacked Rome, didn’t cause the collapse. It was caused by corruption and rot, the failure to provide a healthy and prosperous community. They were just there at the end to trash the place after the core had been so thoroughly hollowed out.”
The second of these new-to-me voices was Caroline Orr Bueno, Ph.D., who offers a compelling theory on what is currently being done to Twitter. In an excellent Twitter thread, she speculates as to what might be going through Musk’s head:
“I think Elon Musk bought Twitter b/c he wanted to control the incredible amount of influence that flows from the platform. He wanted to grab that power & influence — which belongs to us, the ones who create it — and use it for his goals. He wanted to mine Twitter all for himself. He’s currently in the process of stripping apart Twitter like a mad scientist looking for a nuclear reactor core. He wants to find where the influence comes from, how it flows, and how he can control those valuable pipelines. I think he really believes it’s possible. It’s not. The problem is that he’s stripping apart the very essence of what makes Twitter work. In his effort to mine the fruits (influence) of our labors, he is taking apart the reactor core where influence is produced. He’s breaking down the networks through which influence flows.”
So is this a modern retelling of the old fable of the goose that laid the golden egg?
Or is Musk destroying everything that came before so that a new and gleaming Twitter for the future will rise in its place? Or is he just destroying everything? So-called “creative destruction”, or plain-old destruction?
Amidst all this uncertainty, the exodus of Twitter users to Mastodon is ongoing. If you have either made the leap to Mastodon, or are Mastodon-curious, please consider reading my recent post Mastodon FAQ: Toot sweet?
And as for the outlook for Twitter?
I will leave the last words to Stephen Fry, once a giant of Twitter, but who recently closed his account and made the move to Mastodon. The other day, Fry shared a wonderful Mastodon post alluding to Monty Python’s dead parrot sketch:*
“It was alive when you bought it.”
* No day is ever the worse for hearing Motörhead’s Ace of Spades, from their incredible Ace of Spades album.
** Few days are ever the worse for revisiting Monty Python‘s parrot sketch, either!
- Mr Skeleton mourns his avian friend, as drawn by MJCarty.
- Bird’s eye views of society (1864) (14565817069) via Wikimedia Commons.
- Dead Parrot O2 Arena via Wikimedia Commons.