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One giant slow-motion fail whale
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Elon Musk Doesn’t Care About Twitter Outside Of America
Elon Musk over the weekend apologized for Twitter being “super slow in many countries” and then blamed it on “poorly batched RPCs [remote procedure calls].” First, let’s get this out of the way now: According to many former Twitter engineers, still on Twitter, this is bull shit. “As the former tech lead for timelines infrastructure at Twitter, I can confidently say this man has no idea wtf he's talking about,” former Twitter engineer Ben Leib wrote.
But the fact is that Twitter is breaking and, as someone who has spent the last two weeks outside of the US, it is breaking down in different ways depending on how and where you access it — I’ve seen upside down threads, disappearing tweets, my spam filters are broken, and I’ve seen links being incorrectly blocked for malicious content. But it’s not just falling apart on a structural level, it’s also creating a cascade of bizarre sociopolitical effects across the world.
In Japan, the lack of curated news topics has turned the site into 4chan. There are reportedly about a dozen people left working for Twitter in India, where the company is still actively suing the country’s right-wing government over content removal. Twitter Mexico is shut down completely, much to the excitement of Mexico’s left-wing populist president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who celebrated that the “snakes” were gone. Twitter’s entire operation in Africa is also gone. And there are only two people left working for the company in Brussels, literally days before the European Union enacts the Digital Markets Act, which will, among other things, force interoperability between app stores and messaging apps. It’s also possible the site has already begun violating the EU’s GDPR.
As Musk continues to fire employees and contractors and the site falls further into disrepair, we will start to see exactly how reliant many of the world’s democracies and media ecosystems have become on the platform. Because more so than Facebook, Twitter is what created the global social internet. For all the platform’s faults when it comes to context collapse, nuance, and abuse, it had several attributes that made it the easiest and best app for global communication:
It’s still mostly text, which means it’s basically the only social app that you can reliably use on 2G
It has a non-algorithmic global search
Its content can be easily read and cited by people who don’t have an account, giving it a news ticker-like quality
Its single unit of content — the tweet — can be screenshot and, for the most part, will contain enough information to communicate a single idea, which means you can share it simply and easily inside messaging apps like WhatsApp
It, also, crucially, acted as an important lifeline for both content creators in the Global South, activists around the world, and diasporic minority communities such as Black Twitter, which, at one point, was the majority of the users on the app. Also, it all happened so quickly over the last decade it’s hard to remember, but Twitter not only connected journalists across continents, but also freed a lot of reporters from the confines of an editor. This is not always a good thing, but it does mean that a lot of younger writers in more rigid journalism environments could get an idea out into the world without having to jump through the hoops of a traditional newsroom. This is doubly, if not triply true for women writers, writers of color, and queer writers. Twitter, for as much as it is maligned as a drama machine, was an app built by mass shootings, natural disasters, terror attacks, wars, and uprisings, as much as it was with memes and trends. And as Twitter suffers one giant slow-motion fail whale, all of this is at risk of being snuffed out.
The narrative right now is that Musk’s egomania drove him to buy and inevitably ruin Twitter because he hoped to transform it into X, his totalitarian “everything app” WeChat clone he wanted to send us to space with. But there is another, simpler narrative here. A man who grew up in apartheid South Africa, whose family owned a diamond mine, who made his name helping cyberlibertarians bypass banking laws, manipulating the US tax system to build faulty self-driving cars, and shooting rockets into space in the hopes of establishing debt slavery on Mars, bought an app built by activists and Black Americans, and that is relied on by the Global South as a valuable democratic tool, and is used by journalists around the world as a free and open source of information, and tried to turn it into his personal country club. This is just the mundane nightmare of watching a wealthy man wreck his new plaything — an imperfect, but vital communication system for some of the most vulnerable and marginalized communities in the world. This is a colonialist doing what colonialists do. And I hope that when this embarrassing circus is over, we can figure out how to build something back that someone like Musk can’t turn into his new diamond mine.
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Why Twitter Users Click On Substack Links
Twitter users don’t click on links. In all my time working in digital media, this has been the rule. Unlike Redditors or Pinterest users, Twitter users have no intention of leaving the site to read something — with one interesting wrinkle. Twitter users will click on Substack links. At one point Twitter was the second biggest source of traffic for this newsletter, just behind direct traffic. And in the weekend edition yesterday, I wrote that I had a theory as to why.
I think every once in a while, a platform, on a macro level, becomes curious about another. It used to be that if you put “tweet” or “Twitter” in a headline, Facebook users would click on it. And the opposite was also true. Twitter users would retweet anything with Facebook screenshots in it. This also happened to Reddit and Tumblr for a while. These quirky little relationships have all but collapsed nowadays, with screenshots of tweets and uploads of TikToks being basically 95% of all content online. But these dynamics usually occur when one website offers something the other doesn’t have. Facebook users were curious about the drama of prominent people and Twitter users love to gawk at small town America. Redditors can’t communicate as well as Tumblr users and, thus, can’t make their own memes as easily. And Tumblr users can’t ever find or organize anything.
The dynamic between Substack and Twitter is the same kind of deal. Substack’s team actively went after big Twitter users, got them to launch newsletters, and, many of those writers now just write about stuff that’s happening on Twitter. I mean, that’s basically my strategy. And it turns out Twitter users will click to read that.
The question I have is if Substack can hold as a Twitter replacement. I think of all the platforms it has a better chance than, say, Mastodon, even if the latter resembles the bird site more closely. But I also think the real test will be what Substack is like if Twitter gets unplugged. Right now, Twitter is the battlefield and Substack is the announcer box. Can it be both?
The Right Is Going To Turn SBF Into Their New Boogeyman
If you click through on the tweet above, political analyst Arieh Kovler has a great rundown of how sites like 4chan are trying to spin together a conspiracy involving FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried and the recent not-quite-red-wave US Midterm election results. As a member of my Discord said, “they’re going to try to turn him into Epstein 2.”
The specifics of what is being claimed don’t really matter, but I do want to make a few things clear in case this grows. First, crypto Twitter, though it leans heavily right, should not be treated the same way as the far-right. A lot of insane things happen in the world of crypto and investors tend to cope by constructing elaborate fantasies and conspiracy theories as to why all their money is gone. There’s no one in charge of these communities, but because it’s still overwhelmingly male, they very often become violently angry against random women or minorities. Think of it like if Gamergate was a hedge fund.
On the other side, you have right-wing and far-right influencers who have spent the last nine months tweeting like Star Wars villains about the inevitable red wave that would crush all the purple hair and pronouns in America. These freaks are desperate for a way to dodge their absolutely embarrassing loss at the polls this month.
The good thing is that, after the midterms, I’m pretty convinced that the shine has rubbed off on the whole “talking about internet posts in real life” political strategy. But it is annoying and still very dangerous.
Anyways, the most important thing about this new round of SBF conspiracies is that, yes, SBF was a Democrat megadonor, but his partner was doing the same to Republicans.
The Search Of Shame
I will not be embarrassing my mutuals by screenshotting them, but if you would love to see who you follow that paid for their checkmark on Twitter, you can click the link in the tweet above. Please be nice.
Congratulations To Porter Robinson For Finally Making It
EDM producer and famous weeb Porter Robinson made a super cute video about his songs “Look at the Sky” and “Something Comforting” being added to the Dance Dance Revolution. If you’ve never heard of the game, it’s that one with the two pads you dance on at arcades. Robinson played it a lot growing up and said he can retire now that he’s been added to the game’s soundtrack.
In the video, Robison talks about how the mat for Dance Dance Revolution that let you play the game at home on a PlayStation would slip around. Well, check this out. When I was a kid I loved playing DDR so much that I had my dad cut a big piece of wood and we basically Velcro’d the mat down on the plank so it wouldn’t move as I danced. I have enough distance from this now, as an adult, that I think it’s actually awesome and not extremely embarrassing.
The “Adobe Creative Suite” Of Generative A.I.
Suhail Doshi, the co-founder of the Mighty browser, who back in October was super defensive of Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse legs, has launched what he called a “new kind of Adobe Creative Suite” for generative A.I. images. Doshi has been a pretty cringy supporter of A.I. art, but I do think the impulse to create more user-friendly interfaces for playing with A.I. is smart. And his new website is fine. It supports Stable Diffusion and Dall-E 2, but only Stable Diffusion works if you don’t have Dall-E 2 credits.
I think there’s a lot of interesting questions to ask about access to A.I. On one hand, you have people who are saying this could spin out of control in dangerous ways if not closely monitored. It’s also still fairly expensive, which immediately adds a certain barrier of entry. But I think there’s also an argument to be made that, for the most part, more access to creative tools typically makes them better. I suppose I rankle a bit at the assumption that there are technologies that certain people believe other people can’t handle or aren’t ready for. Maybe it’s naive, but when I look back at the last decade of web 2.0, I don’t think it was a mistake to connect the world like we have. I think the mistake was not giving more people more ability to learn about and control how they were connected. And I worry we’re about to repeat a lot of those same mistakes with the rollout of A.I. by siloing it in the hands of a few corporations, giving early access to those who can afford it, and not allowing everyone else to establish their own relationship to it.
Good Lecture On Beef
DeviantArt Steps On The A.I. Landmine
Long-running art platform DeviantArt built a new tool called DreamUp, which uses Stable Diffusion to generate images. As Ars Technica reports, users are not happy about it. The biggest issue is that now all DeviantArt posts are by default being used to train the A.I. You can turn this off, but it’s still a bad look.
As for what users are doing with DreamUp, I went over there expecting to just take a little screenshot for the newsletter, but the picture above is as much as wide as I could crop it. It seems like most people are using it to generate A LOT of hentai.
Let’s Check In On How The NFT Space Is Doing
Ah. I see.
If you click in to the tweet, “Dr. Nick” says that the mistake was making all the attendees speakers. They only showed up to their talk and left. This is a rookie mistake in the live events world. What you need to do is operate under a ska concert mindset. Back in high school, we’d try and put the bands with the biggest horn sections on towards the end of the night. That way you have the six-piece and eight-piece bands waiting around to go on, so the room looks fuller, longer. You have a show with four ska bands, you don’t even need an actual audience. That’s like 30 people right there.
A Good Tweet
Some Stray Links
***Any typos on in this email are on purpose actually***