Elon Musk is saying the quiet part out loud
But you do not, under any circumstances, “gotta hand it to him.”
Sorry to keep referencing @dril tweets. If the rest of Twitter burns to the ground, he’s what I hope we remember. —Kate
Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote that Instagram is Facebook now. I was referring to an algorithm update that transformed my feed from a “pleasing mix of content from friends and aesthetic creators into a jarring, inconsistent grab bag of content I follow and wildly misplaced content Instagram erroneously thinks I’ll enjoy.” This remains true, but the recent goings-on at Twitter suggest it may be due for an update: Maybe Facebook is the harbinger for all social media. Maybe everything becomes Facebook, eventually. The algorithm is updated, and, poof, the platform is worse for users and (theoretically) better business for owners.
But what’s happening to Instagram is happening behind closed doors (save for some awkward announcements and walk-backs from Instagram chief Adam Mosseri). Elon Musk is saying the quiet part out loud. Musk laid off half of Twitter’s workforce on Friday (and reportedly began some rehiring and recruiting on Saturday). He also began rolling out some of the features he had been
threatening promising, like an updated Twitter Blue—the paid tier that now costs $8 a month and grants anyone who signs up a verification badge. The announcement, riddled with copy errors, promises things like “better ads,” something only a billionaire would think sounds appealing.
Twitter is gonna get bad. I don’t even mean scary or dystopian. I mean not enjoyable to use. (Counterpoint: Ryan Broderick's grand theory that “the American authoritarian movement wants to use Twitter to run the country” and—hat tip to Ryan for the link—Dave Troy's argument that Musk and Jack Dorsey are conspiring to destabilize the entire world. —Nick, a worrier.) I didn't ever leave Facebook, exactly. I stopped getting tagged in photos, friends found different ways to invite people to events, and eventually, there was no reason to log in. I would post an update when I had a new job or something else I was particularly proud of. Now I don’t even do that.
This isn’t to say Twitter or Instagram are going to die. Facebook still has billions of users. But these places used to be representative of our broader society, and now they are deeply insular. The execs running them are desperately grasping for the thing that might turn it all around, but are really just innovating their way into irrelevance.
It's telling that the social media platforms that rose to ubiquity around the same time appear to be meeting their downfall the same way. They all wanted to be the Everything App, but this desperate need to keep growing has come at the expense of users.
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter tried coming for every second of people’s time and attention. They created algorithms to incentivize people to document every moment or thought and duped them into thinking they were asserting their own existence. When that ruined those people’s senses of self and relationships to others, the execs blamed it on things like content moderation while doubling down on the mechanisms directly responsible for the behavior, because that behavior is what makes them money. Of course social media got fucked up. The whole conceit is fucked up!
Elon Musk didn’t do anything special—he just decided to accelerate Twitter’s inevitable Facebook-i-fication. What’s different is he’s directly telling us how and why he’s ruining the party: Twitter needs to make more money at all costs. But like every other social media owner, he refuses to acknowledge that this means the party’s over.
A note on the new Twitter competitor people keep wishing for, and what it might look like. I keep getting notifications that, like the cannon that goes off in The Hunger Games whenever a contestant dies, tell me when my Twitter mutuals have joined Substack. Clearly I love Substack, but a true alternative to Twitter can’t be a place that’s substantially more work. Cultivating a Substack following requires having something to say that’s worth reading on a routine basis. You can’t send a Substack that’s just “Leg Butt” (although I hope someone proves me wrong).
“Creating an account on mastodon.social is currently not possible, but please keep in mind that you do not need an account specifically on mastodon.social to use Mastodon … Since Mastodon is decentralized, you can create an account on another server and still interact with this one.”
What!!!! “Leg Butt” makes more sense to me than this.