Elon Musk Is Learning What Twitter Actually Is
Last night, a handful of journalists from outlets like the New York Times, Vox, and CNN, the Twitter account for Mastodon, long-running antifascist news site It’s Going Down, and, also, Keith Olbermann were suspended from Twitter without warning. The reason eventually given is that they had violated Musk’s new vague and worthless anti-doxxing policy that will almost certainly never be enforced on right-wing accounts sharing real-time information about the location of the drag brunches that they want to victimize. According to the Washington Post, the suspensions came from Musk’s new Hand of the King, Ella Irwin, the site’s new “Trust” and “Safety” head.
Because Musk’s entire life is a never-ending loop that one scene from The Simpsons where Sideshow Bob steps on rakes over and over, the suspended accounts were still able to join a Twitter Space organized by my friend Katie Notopoulos last night. If the accounts predated Twitter’s absorbing Periscope in 2015, which is what the Spaces tech was apparently built on, Spaces viewed them as distinctly different accounts. Musk then joined the Space last night, stammered for a while about doxxing in a speaking style I would describe as “uh oh, the smelly guy in a My Little Pony fedora just got called on in your freshman philosophy class,” left the Space after receiving the slightest pushback, and then shut down Spaces entirely across the whole site. Thanks Katie, now where will various tech founders go to brag about how they wake up at 4 AM? Based on Twitter polls Musk has held since, it seems like the suspended accounts will probably be back in seven days.
Up until a few months ago, Twitter felt like a cultural puzzle box that was able to regularly generate new and interesting (and frightening) ideas once a week, if not every day. Now, as John Herrman in New York Mag recently put it, “Twitter is just a guy.” And it turns out trying to decipher meaning from the emotional outbursts of one billionaire is a lot less interesting than spending time trying to solve the existential question of, “why does Twitter make us act like this?”
But if I can attempt one last shot at answering both the question of “what is Twitter?” and also “why is Elon Musk acting like a maniac all the time?” I’d like to argue that there has actually always been one core Twitter experience, going all the way back to its very beginnings, that has remained consistent. And I think podcaster and journalist Michael Hobbes put it best, writing, “I think we'll look back on the last decade as a time when social media gave previously marginalized groups the ability to speak directly to elites and, as a result, elites lost their minds.”
Twitter launched in 2006, with Jack Dorsey posting in March of that year, “just setting up my twttr” (it was called twttr back then). A year later, the hashtag was formally introduced. And I joined in 2008 after a college professor I hated made me make an account for a journalism class. My first username was @ryanpornstar, but he didn’t like that, so I changed it to @ryanhatesthis.
In 2009, at the start of the social media-driven political protests in the Middle East, Twitter famously rescheduled a downtime for maintenance so it could stay active during the Iranian election. And, though Facebook was a major driving force during the wave of subsequents protests over the next few years in countries like Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria, Twitter is the app that ended up getting all the credit for the Arab Spring. Similarly, though Occupy Wall Street started as a Tumblr, once again, Twitter is where the media, and thus, the world, watched it unfold. And every mass uprising since, whether we’re talking about the 2014 or 2020 Black Lives Matter protests or the January 6 Insurrection, they’ve all been filtered through Twitter. Because unlike Facebook, Twitter is still, for the most part, chronological and open.
But it’s not just large-scale social upheaval that has been driven by Twitter. The app has, at this point, disrupted most industries. Newsrooms, Starbucks, and Amazon warehouses have unionized on the app. Studios have ousted predatory executives with a hashtag. Politicians, both left and right, have used the site to sweep elections in a flurry of shitposts and dunk-based populism. And stock markets have rallied, and crashed, thanks to ridiculous Twitter memes turned viral pump-and-dump schemes.
Twitter’s core experience has been, and still is, disruption. And we have spent over a decade trying to determine if it’s good disruption or bad, left-wing or right, progressive or conservative, but the truth is, it’s just disruption. It’s a random social chaos machine. Over the summer, as Elon Musk finalized the purchase of the site, that chaos machine was turned in on itself. The company was overrun with leaks and drama, which all became trending topics. And after Musk bought it, the company literally began livetweeting its own dismantling. Now that it has toppled itself, and all that’s left is Musk’s various whims, the manic energy of the app appears to be localized entirely inside of Musk’s brain. The man is jacked directly into the feed and it turns out the feed is screaming back at him, “you fucking suck.”
And so we all have to sit around and watch the richest man in the world process in real-time how cringe, how embarrassing, how hated he is. The joke has always been that Twitter causes “psychic damage,” but that joke is real now. Twitter is currently doing to one man’s psyche what it has done to countless societies around the world. He paid $44 billion for a website he believed was a “biological neural net,” a digital collective unconscious that he could use to take us to Mars, and it turns out that frothing Id hates him. Can you imagine how painful the cognitive dissonance must be? If people boo you and think you’re a shameless loser then what’s all the money for? Why are you sleeping in your office? If money can’t make people like you then what was any of it for?
The following is a paid ad. If you’re interested in advertising, just reply to this email and let’s figure something out. Thanks!
Reactive creates the live shopping experiences that consumers want and e-commerce companies need directly on your website. Think QVC marries Discord. The future of e-commerce is interactive, and Reactive wants to help companies bring this to their customers.
To show the financial impact of live shopping, Reactive is extending an offer to create an original live selling event on your website FREE OF CHARGE. From software implementation to influencer casting, Reactive will take care of everything. Sign up today!
See You Next Year!
A few holiday schedule housekeeping notes: Regular free issues will be back in the new year. The paid weekend edition will keep going a bit longer. (Subscribe for that here.) Though, I will have a few surprises for you while I’m gone. My podcast The Content Mines is also taking a pause, but will be back next year, as well. I’ll be around though. If you’re trying to reach me, I’ll be available on email, Discord, and my Twitter DMs are pretty much rammed with spam, but if I see a message in there I try and answer.
Have a good New Year’s, everyone, and thanks for all the garbage!
A Good Tweet
Stable Diffusion Is Scary Powerful
DALL-E 2 and Midjourney are the two generative-A.I. tools to get the most buzz, but I actually think Stable Diffusion is the most important because, unlike the other two, Stable Diffusion is open source. Which means it’s sort of limited as it is, but can be used to do some really incredible things. It also means that if anyone still has any hopes of living in a future without A.I., you’re pretty much screwed. Even if the huge A.I. companies are shut down tomorrow, Stable Diffusion, and models built on it, will still exist. In fact, Stable Diffusion doesn’t even need the internet to work. I was able to get it to run quite easily on my Macbook.
So, while you sit with the somewhat horrifying ramifications of what that means for the rest of your life, allow me to distract with a cool new A.I. gizmo. It’s called Riffusion and it’s a music loop generator built on Stable Diffusion. Here’s a “K-Pop death metal” loop I asked it to make, which doesn’t sound like K-Pop or death metal, but it’s still kind of fun.
So you might be wondering, how does a visual A.I. make music? Well, that’s the cool part. It’s generating spectrograms which are then converted into audio files.
Most of what I’ve heard come out of Riffusion still has a distinct robot quality to it, but it’s impressive nonetheless. I also imagine that now that this exists, it’ll only get better and more refined.
I am not a machine learning expert, but I do know a thing or two about music production. So I’m fairly confident that you could use this same technique to generate spectrograms of individual instrument tracks, convert them into MIDI data, which would then allow you to customize and remix the sequences the A.I. was spitting out. If none of that means anything to you, don’t worry, just know that this is probably not the last time you’ll hear about A.I. music.
Welcome To Synthetic Reality
Speaking of A.I., look at this horrifying thing. It’s going viral this week, but it’s actually an older video. It was created by Bob de Jong, a Dutch deepfake and A.I. artist. De Jong has a channel on YouTube with a bunch more, which you can check out here. Also, de Jong didn’t do the Morgan Freeman voice, that was provided by a voice actor.
I saw a lot of folks sharing this with some caption like, “we need to educate people about the dangers of deepfakes!” But I feel like deepfakes have turned out to be the lowest risk use of A.I. so far. There was that one deepfake of Sam Bankman-Fried being used to scam crypto investors a while back, but I honestly feel like that says more about the need for education about crypto than anything else.
We are actually in the midst of some monumental A.I.-related challenges right now and it makes sense that political leaders and the media are concerned with how you can make somewhat convincing videos of celebrities saying things they didn’t say. But that feels way less important than, say, how copyright, compensation, or regulation will work with generative-A.I. But those things are boring, I suppose, and deepfakes make for better scary news packages.
The Senate Voted To Ban TikTok From Government Devices
Welp, on Wednesday I asked how much longer TikTok would be allowed in the US and we just got a bit more of an answer. The Senate voted to ban the app from government devices. It still has to pass the House. But Alabama and Utah have already banned it from government devices in their respective states.
Do I think a full TikTok ban is likely? No, probably not. Though, I do think it would be nice if all federal and state employees were not allowed on any and all privately-owned social media platforms the minute the took office lol.
But I also think now is a good time to diversify your social following no matter what. If you don’t own your audience on the platform you access it with it’s probably time to get a few backups in place. Also, even if TikTok doesn’t get banned, considering how little it pays its creators, maybe it’s time to move on either way.
The Dominos Pizza Tracker Is Fake???
lol so apparently this goes around a lot, but it’s news to me! I looked into it and it’s not that it’s fake, it’s that it’s not a real-time tracker. Once it leaves the store it’s not really tracking the order in real time. Earlier this year, a rep for Domino’s told The Daily Dot, that the tracker “is linked directly to computers in the store, and is based on actual store operations. When the pizza is made and put in the oven, the store team member must press a button, which updates Domino’s Tracker. The same goes for when the pizza goes out on delivery.”
Either way, I find it extremely reassuring to watch it go through the various stages and I’m not totally sure why.
New Leyawn Album Dropped
Internet artist Leyawn (Leon Chang) has a new album out called leon kart and it’s extremely fun. I recommend logging out of Twitter for the weekend, putting this bad boy on, and forgetting that one sad billionaire controls the world’s media now.
Some Stray Links
I went on Yeah Nah Pasaran! to talk about Elon Musk this week
I also wrote a thing about Twitter for PoliticsHome this week
Last spring, I made a podcast pilot with my buddy Bijan Stephen and he’s currently sharing it around with folks. Have a listen and let me know what you think!
P.S. here’s a very peaceful capybara video.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
Good post! I still think Jaron Lanier had the Musk situation basically right when he wrote that Twitter poisoned Musk's mind.
Ryan – love, love, love your writing (especially your commentary on the demise of Twitter is spot on). To add insult to injury (and correct a minor point in your writing about Musk): He is NOT the richest man in the world anymore. That title has been taken by luxury empire baron Arnauld!
It must hurt to suck and not even be the richest bro in the world anymore…