November 5, 2022Opinion

My thoughts on the Twitter Saga


To read through this, it helps to understand a little about how I think. This is a huge blog post in and of itself, but basically, I try to act as an observer and never take sides.

I joke that I have strong, loosely-held opinions, but that's not a bad way to label it.

I don't play political games or favor any one person, party, group of people, identity, nation, ideology. Everything is just a data point in my book and my view is shaped around a collection of those points. If a new data point is introduced that changes the dynamics of the whole picture, I re-assess what I believe to be true and hold a strong opinion, but do so loosely until my view is updated once again with new data.

I hope that makes sense. I only preface with this because I may use words that may indicate my perceived affiliation with some thing, party, group, person, ideology - but this is far from reality. I try to act as a neutral, detached, unemotional observer (though deep down I recognize that this is impossible - having strong beliefs about some topic by default engages emotion).

Quick Recap based on what information I have (may be incomplete):

  • Elon buys Twitter for 44B
  • Elon tweets a ton about free speech (the left gets angry)
  • Elon announces $20/month subscription for blue check verified status. Blue would also give preferential treatment in how your content is shown (a bit), and fewer ads. A ton of people are outraged, citing everything from money grab to elitist privilege for the few.
  • Something happens with Stephen King (apparently complaining about the $20?) I did not see this myself.
  • Elon backtrack a bit, announces $8 Twitter Blue verification status. A bunch of people get angry yet again. Some think this is the opposite of free speech. Others think he is a greedy billionaire who just wants more money. Some think it's a good idea because Twitter needs a good revenue model.
  • Elon treats employees as disposables - asking them to work long hours
  • Twitter lays off a huge number of people by telling them to stay home (for security reasons according to team lead at Twitter)
  • Elon says this was unfortunately necessary because the company is losing $4M/day
  • People mock Elon for buying a company in the red which is losing $4M / day
  • Everyone is outraged at the way Twitter laid off the staff. Supposedly, CA law is broken (and other states?) that says employees must be notified 60 days prior to being let go.
  • Class action lawsuit against Twitter
  • Advertisers start pulling from platform according to Elon, because they are being pressured by activist organizations
  • A bunch of people say that he brought this on himself by talking a lot about the loose free speech policies he plans to introduce - and re-assess who is to be unbanned on the platform.
  • Media makes claims that racial slurs are up 500% since Elon takeover
  • Elon tweets an article from a website that apparently often writes about conspiracy theories - people mock him for it.
  • Elon claims the moderation policy has not changed and that racial slurs are actually down (despite what media says)
  • Head of team confirms that most of moderation team stayed on and the process is still intact.

This is the gist of things. I may have missed some things but I am not following the drama THAT closely.

My take on the whole thing

The drama is way overblown by a vocal minority. Most people just don't care or are not keeping up with any of this. If you look at how many people comment on Elon's tweets, or the comments on his tweets, most don't even make it to the 10k number. This by definition is a vocal minority. My summary of events and people's reactions should be taken with a grain of salt because those events are not representative of the vast number of people who are not engaged in conversations about these events.

On buying Twitter

As a neutral observer, I have witnessed first-hand the censorship of right-leaning accounts. During the days running up to the Trump/Biden face-off, Twitter was very heavy on banning accounts which spoke ill of Biden or his son's dealings with corrupt Ukrainians.

Skimming the headlines, it seems true that Hunter Biden did have some shady stuff going on. But, no matter what the actual details are, what's important is being able to talk about it openly in the supposed "public square".

Clearly, Twitter did not feel this way. I recall stories being completely blacklisted, and accounts banned quickly for just talking about this topic. If that doesn't trigger alarms, I don't know what would.

I stand firmly on my position regarding free speech. Aside from protected speech (shouting fire when there is on fire, or using racial slurs and the likes...), unpopular speech is fair game. Uninformed speech is fair game.

Now, I am not defending Hunter Biden laptop corruption shouters. Perhaps behind the scenes Twitter saw something that we didn't. Perhaps the posts came from state actors. I don't know. It's possible. If that was the case, then banning those accounts seems justified to me. I don't have the level of inside knowledge required to make those judgements and neither does anyone else on Twitter, including Elon.

Regardless of everything, the issue of free speech is too important to let this freedom devolve into a dystopian nightmare that we already see in many nations.

For example, to my understanding, in UK it is already prohibited to talk negatively unfiltered on social media. I have heard stories from people living in the UK of accounts where people literally show up at your door for saying the wrong thing.

In some countries, saying the wrong thing is a matter of life and death. Political prisoners will often spend years if not decades locked up in underground cellars in absolute darkness. No air circulation, 40 other people in a tiny room, for years. Imagine that. This was one account I read about political prisoners in Syria. I imagine the situation is more dire in other totalitarian countries which shall not be named.

Point being, freedom of speech is an immense right that most of the world does not enjoy. The ones who do, are doing so in a very filtered way, afraid of repercussions - official or otherwise (the public mob).

I say "free speech" and "freedom" cautiously because both have been associated with right-wing talking points. It's sad that this is the case, but that's how the Twitter vocal minority mob frames these topics.

Back to Elon and his claims that he bought Twitter to protect free speech. I believe this to be an honest statement. Though I do not hold the man on any pedestal (I have many disagreements), my assessment is that he is a righteous man of principles, no matter how great or flawed those principles may be.

Twitter is a giant mess, political and otherwise. Buying Twitter for the sake of turning it into a profitable business is a terrible idea - many more opportunities exist which do not involve descending into the nastiest political pit in the world. For this reason, I do not believe Elon bought Twitter to turn a profit. Any action he takes to turn things around will be in the interest of free speech, but also to repay investors.

This is not to say that Elon is not benefiting from this acquisition in other ways. The phrase "all publicity is good publicity" rings true, despite the apparent chaos. Buying Twitter puts Elon and his companies in the perpetual spotlight for years to come (assuming things don't go down in flames). He has basically secured "marketing" for as long as Twitter exists. It is in his best interest from marketing perspective to keep the platform alive for as long as possible.

Do I think his primary motivation is marketing? No. But, I cannot deny that he has considered this and may think about it as a nice bonus. Who wouldn't? Still, I think being front and center of every major media outlet in the world is a bonus, not the primary motivator.

On previous Twitter leadership

There's no denying that Twitter has done a very poor job of growing company revenue. While the claim of users is up, each and every one of us knows that spam is a huge problem on Twitter. We've all gotten those scam DMs, and there is no shortage of fake scammer accounts.

I don't blame the Twitter team for doing a poor job though. It is difficult to say how much of an improvement a team can make when you have a platform which is seemingly at the center of world politics, with so much more at stake than the bottom line of one company. Elections hang on Twitter's ability to keep state actors from doing malicious things. People come to Twitter for real-time event information which could mean life or death. Today, Twitter is as much a public good as it is a company seeking profits. This may be a tough balance, but time will tell if I am overstating the matter.

My personal opinion of the platform and how well it functions for creators is that it needs a lot of work. But I also recognize that creators are a small minority of the whole user-base and what's good for this group of people may not be great for the entire platform. Twitter has a tough task of staying the course on the core concept of Twitter, and creating value-adding features which benefit certain groups of people. Ultimately, I think Twitter can do a lot to improve many aspects of the platform including monetization, tooling and distribution.

Elon recognizes the opportunities, and despite being focused on the democracy-preserving aspects of access to Twitter, he sees the opportunity to turn the company around for the betterment of all involved - with financial interests or otherwise.

On blue checks

I fully agree with Elon that the current system of lords and peasants is bs. Does charging for blue checks fixes this? I don't know. It does add a revenue stream which was not there before. This is a plus in my book. The people who get the most benefits from the platforms are the blue checks, so paying a monthly fee for those benefits makes sense. The return on audience building is massively larger than any fee Elon introduces.

People complained at $20, but I thought he should charge even more. LinkedIn already charges people $40+ for the sales navigator. Rumor has it the fees run into the hundreds of dollars for the highest tier (you have to request a demo to find out). If I were Elon, I would create multiple tiers for different types of groups - creators, media, public officials, sales people etc... I'd start them at $30 minimum, and scale all the way into the thousands for media organizations that do not wish to offer their content for free on Twitter.

If you don't want to pay the price - just don't sign up for Twitter Blue. If you don't like the level of service provided by the free tier, start organizing an alternative platform. The bills don't pay themselves, and as much as it would be awesome for everything to remain free, the reality is that companies need to make money to survive - to pay their employees, decision makers and investors.

On firing Twitter staff

I'm baffled when I see people rage about Elon letting go so many people. This is the default behavior of most companies acquiring another. When you acquire to take a poorly performing asset to a well-performing asset, the first thing you do is restructure. Once complete, you focus on the product. This is textbook investment value-add.

Is it a terrible thing for the employees being let go? Yes. I feel for them, as I have gone through this myself. But, if you were in their shoes, you should have seen it coming the moment rumors of Musk taking over Twitter surfaced.

Any sane person would at that point start looking at their options. To stay with your head in the sand, pretending like things are going to be OK is not a great choice. I would think a Twitter employee would be smart enough to know this.

On abruptness of firing

Like the head of Twitter security and Elon, I see the issue as that of securing company property.

With so many opinionated and single-faction-leaning employees, it is a matter of security to give no notice. Giving notice would have enabled people in their privileged positions at the company to potentially retaliate - harming the brand beyond any scandal we have seen already. It's not like Twitter is letting go of a general laborer where little is at stake. If something is broken or stolen at Twitter, there are much bigger repercussions and the possibility for great financial damage.

Do I like that they were let go without notice? Of course not. People deserve the chance to know and given time to search for options. But at the same time, I think this is a bit of a unique situation involving knowledge workers with a lot of potential for power abuse. My understanding is that the people who were let go were compensated beyond the standard practice.

Is it cool that Twitter may have potentially broken state laws? No. But, I also think we should consider such laws in context of how they are being applied and to whom. The court may disagree with me on this - the law is the law, but I still feel the actions Twitter took are justified. I don't like how it went down, and I don't like that people were hurt in the process, but I don't see any way around it.

Maybe Elon contemplated as much, maybe he hasn't. Perhaps the company considered the threats of lawsuits and decided it was still worth going forward. Perhaps they overlooked it - I don't know.

On Elon's erratic tweets

People put too much weight on one person's words. The best way to look at a person is to judge their collective actions, not words or selective words alone.

It is not surprising that people get outraged at Musk's tweets. Sometimes he says the craziest things which turn out to be false. Sometimes he speak out of his lane in areas where he has not done enough research. Do I like it? No. But do I judge a person by a few things I disagree with completely? No.

We're all flawed. No matter what we say, people will find something to hate and to complain about. The louder the voice, the greater the cancel.

Elon's profile raises his opinion in people's eyes. They cling on to every single word he utters as it's some sort of gospel. One wrong word and OMG the sky is falling! Elon the fascist! Elon the Putin sympathizer! Rah rah rah!

This is a symptom of an empty life - not Elon's but the one experienced by the person being offended.

Busy people who are taking care of their families, trying to put food on the table don't care what Elon thinks or says. To them, it is not that much different who is in the White House. All of these things are noise and the majority of people fall into this category. It is the vocal minority on Twitter that must always have an opinion on everything and care about every word spoken by every billionaire and politician.

The man is flawed, as are you and me. Accept it. Recognize it. Ignore it. Move on.

It's okay if he's wrong. It's ok if he uses humor you don't like. It's ok if he acts immature - that's his decision. Don't like it? There are the mute and the block functions. You can even use them on the chief hotline operator at Twitter.

On the exodus of advertisers

The prevalent pressure of cancel culture is doing a great deal of harm to society as we speak. This is clearly visible in popular culture and currently in behavior exhibited by advertisers.

To be clear, I don't blame the advertisers from pulling out. When you have tools such as (ironically) Twitter, a handful of hateful and ignorant people can do a great deal of harm to your brand. Staying on signifies support or indifference. It only takes a handful of angry people to trigger a movement to boycott a brand and to harm an image decades in the making. Brands act in their best interests - I get that.

On cancel culture

On the other hand, the issue of cancel culture is something that needs addressing. I am not sure how to best solve it, but it is a looming danger over the concept we know as democracy. The hive minds of social networks and the impact they have on the broader views of the general public are not insignificant. A few hateful people can trigger an avalanche that engulfs a few louder voices - celebrities, TV personalities, which can echo down to even larger audiences. This is a dangerous recipe for uninformed opinions to spread through society through misinformation or lack of access to more truthful version of the transpired events.

Sadly, it is the social networks themselves that train people to act this way. Prior to access to always-on, always-everywhere steams of infinite information, people lacked informed opinions on topics they were not read up on. You had to put in the time to learn about a topic to have an informed opinion. Usually, that meant having more information at your fingertips.

With the advent of social media, everyone is suddenly an expert in everything. Spicy takes drive engagement, enlarging uninformed egos and fueling even worse takes. Soon enough, you see tribal behavior and formation of a hive mind. "Liking by association" becomes a thing. "I like this person, so I should probably like this tweet - the think like me after all". People form personality cults. All it takes is one consistently witty commentator and a swath of bored readers to form a personality cult. Unlike the days of the past, you no longer need to have an opinion on a subject - that would involve learning, who has time for that! Now, you press the like button and retweet, sometimes with your own uninformed, clever-on-the-surface take, and you've got yourself a cancel movement.

Imagine landing on this planet as an alien, and observing large groups of people shouting and running after one another angrily without physically engaging in violence. That would be a strange sight. But this is what people do online every day. Once they classify you into the bad guys category, now anything you say is something worth shouting about. I find this to be pathetic and sad.

My hope is that humanity will once again engage in meaningful debate - the likes of long-form podcast interviews where people can access all nuances of each topic before shaping strongly-formed loose opinions.

If you are one of these angry, always-triggered, eager to react people, considering taking a Twitter break. Surround yourself with positive people and look at the bright side of things. Identify the good in people and focus on that. Don't let a handful of poorly-formed 2am tweets define an individual in your view. You can disagree with specific views while recognizing the good in a person. Resist the temptation to classify people into neat categories - we are all much more than convenient labels - stars in our own stories, crafters of our own journeys.

I only write all of this to practice. As someone who is new to writing, I'd like to be able to express my thoughts on paper (screen). I could care less about anything happening with Twitter, Elon or advertisers. Like most people, I have my own problems in life. I trust that Elon will do the right thing. If he doesn't, the matter will resolve itself in due time.

Enjoy your day!

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