As Twitter’s fate remain uncertain, we are comforted that it won’t go out with a bang — but, instead, with a ROFL and a meme.
Once again, it feels like too much and not enough is happening simultaneously.
A billionaire feted by legions of followers as being some sort of visionary despite his history of sketchy companies, has, seemingly single-handedly, sunk Twitter.
I say “seemingly” because, much like a drunk during open mic nights at the local seedy karaoke bar, the social media platform and its irascible owner are still tottering on. Though, in both cases, it seems not many are sticking around for the swan song.
Elon Musk’s eight-dollar-a-blue-tick scheme has delightfully backfired. Stocks for corporations have come tumbling down thanks to his deliciously asinine decisions. And Twitter has been more alive and interesting than ever before as people loosen up and enjoy what might be the last days of a, frankly, bizarrely brilliant platform.
This may come as a shock to some of you. Especially if you’ve been following the doom and gloom news about mass desertions from Twitter to other online platforms, like Mastodon. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise when you realise who the people who are leaving largely are — white and privileged, safe in the secure certainity that any digital space, much like their terrestrial analogues, is welcoming to their anodyne world views.
We appear to be in the midst of a new “digital white flight”, to borrow a term coined by the scholar danah boyd when she examined why white people deserting MySpace for Facebook kept using terms like “ghetto” to justify the former’s undesirability.
It’s slightly different for those of us who do not belong to those groups, or co-sign their beliefs. Mastodon is rife with racists and white supremacists, all of whom have gleefully followed BAME and Indigenous accounts in the ensuing exodus from Twitter.
Whilst it’s federated micro-server model does come with benefits, it also means each instance is akin to a petty fiefdom.
Twitter was hardly good about filtering out racism, even prior to its Muskification. Like all social media platforms in the coldly cynical era of Internet 2.0, it thrived on making a spectacle out of cruelty. Sexism, racism, bigotry — to active collusion with reprehensible regimes in both the Global North and South.
Other have writted about that aspect. But, for many of us, fleeing Twitter is simply not an option because of what it is — arguably the only space on the Internet where marginalised voices and liminal experiences can be posted, shared, and curated en masse.
And that’s without having to append self-serving images, obnoxious videos, or regurgitations of boring Tik Tok routines which commit the ultimate Internet taboo of being neither funny nor salacious. Although I must admit that the plethora of seal videos on Instagram is a bonus.
As an independent journalist, Twitter has been an indespensible resource. It is the only platform where I can find story ideas, and sources, and potential editors and outlooks. It is far more effective (once you set up lists and trick the algorithm into showing you the accounts you want to see, that is) at displaying real-time information than the myriad of newsletters I’ve signed up to.
And it is the provenance of this information that is so radical. It isn’t just legacy media and old stodgy old men. It provides real-time debunking of fake news and trends — insightful criticism and interesting threads, digital friends and comrades to fight the good fight. Hell, it even has Vadivelu memes.
That alone should verify its brilliance, regardless of whether it has $8 to spare at the moment (something which becomes increasingly doubtful with each passing day of the Elon regime).
But beyond professional convenience is the fact that we can be heard and seen. And we can hear and see others too from around the world. I log in and can see what my peers from across the non-white world are up to. What they are working on, what they are watching, what they are listening to, what they are reading — and, most critically, what they are thinking about.
Twitter is a “hellsite” for those who are too privileged to follow these accounts or care. Indeed, the fact that these voices are untrammelled — and the fact that they can push back against false reporting or caricatures passed off as authoritative knowledge — is probably why the site is so “hellish” for the privileged few.
It can be irksome to live in a digital world where you can no longer kick in the teeth of those who oppose you and silence them if you are at the top of the hierarchy.
But for the rest of us? It is a thrillingly vital lifeline. To engage and support and have fun with my peers and comrades is something essentially precious.
As Dr Sunny Singh puts it in a characteristically brilliant and fierce piece: “Marginalised people inhabit Twitter despite its design and intent, not because of it.” And, though Elon threatens the communities we have carved out on there, none of us are planning to leave.
So I will not abandon Twitter until the ship fully sinks following it’s collision with Musk and his iceberg proportioned ego. And I will not mourn its loss either.
We will instead rejoice that, for a brief snapshot of digital time, there existed a platform equal parts brilliant and bemusing; complex and conducive; problematic and personal; idiotic and informative; fun and frustrating; and hateful and hopeful.
And if nothing else, at least the memes will tide us over.