Elon Musk Doesn’t Realize It’s All Already Over
Yesterday, Elon Musk shared some details about his Twitter Blue verification plan. I’m sure you’ve heard too much about this still largely hypothetical idea, but on the off-chance you haven’t, it’s supposed to be $8 a month, you’ll be verified, you’ll be ranked higher in replies to tweets, mentions, and in search, you’ll see less ads, and you’ll be able to post longer video and audio.
It is Twitter reimagined as an NFT and probably the best encapsulation of late-stage Silicon Valley greed and hubris: Pay us for the privilege of producing free content for our website.
Musk’s plan is being celebrated by right-wing users who believe that financially locking out anyone they don’t agree with or anyone who is rich enough to qualify as a fellow human being deserving of a voice is the answer to all their problems. And crypto investors believe it will fix the bot problem that they don’t seem to realize they, themselves, created by using the platform to pump and dump their various scams. It will topple any sort of egalitarian benefits that twitter has afforded the world over the last two decades. It will disproportionately shut out reporters and activists in the Global South, who already live at the mercy of inauthentic trending topics, politically weaponized content farms, and botnets. And, if Musk’s plan works it will, most devastatingly of all, turn Twitter into LinkedIn.
But it’s also very clearly an idea formulated by a man (and a “war room” of his weird friends) who doesn’t really get what’s happening right now.
When large platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube first appeared a decade ago their whole deal was about sharing. They wanted us to share our posts, our life updates, our news, our memes, and our friend networks with them. Then, about seven years ago, they started telling us that we needed them. Without them, we wouldn’t have easy access to all the information we had given them. This is why we had to accept that they couldn’t moderate themselves at scale. By 2019, Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg was basically begging critics of the company to just hold on a bit longer for Meta to figure out how to use artificial intelligence to moderate their platform which had grown so large and so global that humans couldn’t ever really understand the whole thing anymore. But we didn’t wait.
Facebook is losing users. Meta, the site’s parent company, is losing outrageous amounts of money. Twitter is, as well. YouTube’s revenue decreased this year for the first time ever. Instagram is finding new ways every day to alienate its core users. Meanwhile, Patreon, once the only creator paywall platform in the game, lost 70% of its value this year, though, not because people aren’t making money online, but the opposite. Influencers, once tethered to the algorithmic whims of a home platform, have freed themselves and become a creator economy, which now encapsulates sex workers on OnlyFans, writers on Substack, and every form of content producer in-between. And, following the ascendence of the app Wordle last year, we have firmly entered in a new era of small pop-up apps like BeReal and Gas that spread via word-of-mouth buzz, largely across messaging apps, group chats, and in the Stories tools of other, larger apps. The only centralized platform that’s doing well right now is TikTok and it’s closer to Netflix than it is Facebook.
And a funny thing is happening. The public digital square isn’t dying with these large platforms, it’s just evolving, spreading out piecemeal across platforms, spreading via aggregators and local networks. Justine Moore, a consumer investment partner at Andreessen Horowitz, had a great take on this the other day, tweeting, “I’m convinced there will be several billion dollar startups that ‘unbundle’ Facebook, across a few categories: Events, groups, live, personal CRM (e.g. birthdays, life updates), business profiles with social context and reviews.” Not only do I think she’s right, I think these apps already exist. Three of those categories are basically just Discord.
This shift isn’t all good, of course. I recently reported two different stories for The Verge about how a more pluralistic internet landscape is actually creating new, weirder problems for disinformation. In Brazil, during the lead-up to their election, right-wing users figured out how to use YouTube as a bat signal for pro-Bolsonaro propaganda. They’d post videos to the platform they knew would get banned, share them across Telegram and WhatsApp as fast as possible, clipping them and remixing them to fit other platforms, and then when YouTube eventually pulled down the video, they’d shriek about censorship. And in the last few weeks leading up to the US midterms, conspiracy theory cults like QAnon have learned to exploit the various gray areas that exist between these large, but now aging platforms. If they want to share a video to Facebook, they have realized they can share it as a YouTube embed or a TikTok and Facebook will be slower to moderate it because it’s not their native content. I reached out to Meta, Google, Twitter, and TikTok for the story and not a single company would tell me if they coordinate with other companies during elections. I’m going to guess they don’t because they seem to think they’re still the walled gardens they once were.
But for better or worse, a large platform in 2022 telling us that we need them — let alone saying that it wants us to pay them — to navigate the internet is wildly out-of-touch. And I’m not saying that because we aren’t using social networks anymore, but actually the opposite. We’re using more social networks more often than ever before, which makes any one single app kind of irrelevant. So, yeah, make verification a paid subscription and let it boost replies. I may even do it. But there’s only so much longer a site like Twitter can pretend that we need it when the truth is all around us: It needs us.
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There’s A Weekend Edition Of Garbage Day
It’s for paying subscribers and it’s called Garbage Weekend (obviously). It’s very good. Think of it like a big rundown of the latest news and trends like Axios or Morning Brew, but for dumb internet junk you can terrorize your friends with. Hit the green button to check it out!
A Very Funny Video Of People Trying To Eat Matcha Ice Cream
#TrumpIsDead And Sandman Was (Not) Cancelled By Netflix
Comedian Tim Heidecker decided to help Elon Musk achieve his vision of a new Twitter where free speech reigns supreme and got #TrumpIsDead to trend on the app in the United States last night. According to Heidecker, Trump actually died and Elon Musk is currently suppressing the news. I went on Twitter to see if this was true and I saw a bunch of tweets from verified users saying it was, so I assume it is.
Meanwhile, a Twitter account pretending to be another popular account called @DiscussingFilm tweeted that Netflix had cancelled the show Sandman. Author and showrunner Neil Gaiman, who is verified, tweeted “Just think. Now even parody/scam sites clickbaiting false news will be able to buy blue ticks. What fun it will be.” Which I think means this isn’t true. Because Gaiman is verified, I assume he’s telling the truth.
Completely unrelated to both of these things, here’s a fun fact: As journalist David H. Montgomery pointed out the other day, Twitter started verification in the first place because Tony La Russa, the former manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, sued the site because someone was impersonating him. Fascinating!
The Gas App Gets Its First Moral Panic
Gas is an interesting new app that basically only lets you share positive messages. I assume teenagers will eventually figure out how to use it to psychologically terrorize each other, but for now, the app seems pretty wholesome.
Except, recently, the Piedmont, Oklahoma Police Department claimed on Facebook that Gas was being used to kidnap children. The police department eventually shared on Facebook that it was a hoax, but not before it was picked up by local media and turned into A Whole Thing.
One thing I’m very excited about is that as we start to use centralized social platforms less, we’ll hopefully begin to see awful social media posts from the police way less often! Go back to your websites! Stop blogging!
Nudity Has Returned To Tumblr
It’s not a full reversal of the infamous porn ban, but it is a big change to the site’s community guidelines that is definitely headed in that direction. According to Tumblr’s Staff blog, “We now welcome a broader range of expression, creativity, and art on Tumblr, including content depicting the human form (yes, that includes the naked human form).”
This is huge! First off, Tumblr is still a site widely used by women and queer people and the internet is sorely lacking a platform that allows NSFW to be posted and curated by people in those communities. Second off, more selfishly, I’m hoping this means I start seeing less weird fetish content. Though, I suppose, knowing Tumblr, it’ll mean I’ll start seeing even weirder fetish content.
Josh Sundquist Remains The Undefeated Halloween Champ
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Paralympian and social media personality Josh Sundquist crushes Halloween every year, but this year he really went all out. (Here’s a Tumblr mirror for folks in non-TikTok regions.)
That said, the only other person on Sundquist’s level is probably Heidi Klum, but in a completely different way.
Some Stray Links
“Why Are Male Horror Directors So Afraid of Old Women’s Bodies?”
P.S. here’s a funny little guy (Tumblr mirror for folks in non-TikTok regions).
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
Ryan, if you invented a new social network called Gas, you have to tell us, just like cops have to tell you if they're cops.
I was a little surprised by your analysis that musk's moves will result in twitter losing much if not all its egalitarian benefits. Uplifting right wing voices amongst it's majority leftist base (Many of whom are siloed relative to a lot of the far right stuff) is going to result in some loss but I don't think ppl who are enjoying their experience are going that much of a toxic change enough to leave. So I think a good chunk of egalitarian benefit remains, though diminished (more than probably 50%), and obviously you know better about global south reporting. And obviously it's a very bad business model.
I appreciated the Tumblr update and the patreon data. Good stuff.