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Nov. 17, 2022

11: Time To Twexit

11: Time To Twexit

On Nov 1st, I created an account on Mastodon.ie. I’d been triggered by a news story. What was that story? Two days before, Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter, had shared a scurrilous tale about Paul Pelosi, husband of Nancy, one of America’s most powerful politicians. Mr. Pelosi had been the victim of a serious assault by a deranged attacker hopped up on right-wing political rage. The attacker had hoped to kidnap Nancy Pelosi, who is the target of much right-wing animus.  Fortunately, she was not in her San Francisco home and escaped the ministrations of the attacker’s hammer. Sadly the same could not be said for 82-year-old Paul Pelosi, who suffered a skull fracture, among other injuries. Fortunately, he survived the attack, and the perpetrator was taken into custody. 

As would be expected, these facts dominated American news media for a few days. Unsurprisingly, a counter-narrative slithered out from underneath the rocks of the right-wing media disinformation machine. A concocted story of a gay assignation gone wrong was conjured up by some twisted mind. This kind of stuff is sadly par for the course in these days of QAnon conspiracy theories. 

Like many Americans, I’m disgusted by the appetite for this kind of media filth and I’ve become accustomed to this kind of dreck. What changed things for me was the sharing of this calumny by Elon Musk on his recently acquired Twitter platform. Only Musk can explain why exactly he thought this was a good idea. Apparently, he changed his mind about the virtue of the post and deleted it. Again reason unknown, but we can all hypothesize that he likely realized sharing salacious, politically motivated, contra factual stories is not a good look for the CEO of Twitter

Truth is, even before all this idiocy, Musk’s acquisition of Twitter had made me queasy. His rash decision to purchase the platform, which I believe he now regrets, was likely triggered by a poorly thought-out inflated sense of self-belief. A sense of himself as a man who created an innovative rocket company and brought an electric car company to profitability. Surely he could solve the piffling problems experienced by social media platforms in the throes of wimpy woke management and add another 100 billion to his richest man in the world pile.

It’s pretty clear, Musk had buyer’s remorse,  especially when many of Silicon Valley’s marquee brands were recently subjected to the gravitational force of markets foisted on overpriced stocks that get too far ahead of themselves. Musk had offered too much money for his shiny new bauble, and he tried to escape the deal claiming that Twitter had not been forthcoming on its disclosure before the acquisition was inked. However, there was no way out from the contract, he had signed, as Twitter shareholders had grabbed hold of his deep pockets and would not let him escape. 

The whole thing had ended up in the courts and on the eve of a trial to resolve the dispute, Musk relented; rumor had it that the impending legal showdown might result in some unpleasant revelations better avoided. Frankly, I’ve no idea if that was the reason, it would have to be a pretty bad revelation to be willing to go forward with a 44 billion acquisition. More likely, it seems, that the terms of the purchase contract were sufficiently watertight to make escape highly unlikely.

So now we have an angry and capricious man in charge of one of social media’s primary platforms. A man with a history of making outrageous pronouncements periodically unmoored from observable reality. Posting spurious stories, both hurtful and damaging directly or tangentially, might be acceptable for the wealthiest man in the world. That’s Musk just being Musk, after all. It is not, however, helpful to an internet property whose finances have never been particularly robust. Indeed said purchase by the world’s wealthiest man might have been expected by many to help shore up Twitter, but that’s not how things went down. While Musk might be the richie numero uno in the world, most of his wealth is tied up in stock and assets that he likely did not wish to liquidate to complete the Twitter buyout. 

So what to do? Taking a page out of the leveraged buyout raiders of the 1980s, think Ivan Boesky - the “greed is good” man for those old enough to remember that lizard, Musk decided to lard up Twitter with additional debt. Now, Twitter’s balance sheet is rumored to carry $5 billion of debt. This on a company which in its most recent financial year had only produced 5 billion in revenues. The problem with borrowing money is that lenders usually want borrowers to pay it back. Those payments are expected to amount to $1.2 billion annually, this before paying the electric bills or the 7,500 people employed by the chirping bird company. That’s not really a sustainable financial profile. 

Something had to give.  On Friday, Nov 4th many Twitter employees woke up to find they’d been riffed. Don’t you love that word, RIF? A three-letter acronym meaning Reduction In Force, created by high-priced consultants for types too gutless to say you’re fired. Even more gutless, most of the riffed Twitter employees learned of their new status via an email even more gutlessly signed Twitter.

So why am I leaving Twitter? Let me count off a few of the reasons

  1. Its business model is predicated on selling its users’ data to the highest bidder. I have no doubt that I consented to this when I clicked some EULA agreement to use the platform. Just in case you’re wondering what a EULA is - it's an End User License Agreement - that nobody reads when you agree to use a company’s software. You have undoubtedly clicked through dozens or even 100s of these in the software-enabled world we all live in these days. All that said, I don’t want to give my data away anymore, especially if there is a better alternative.

  2. Twitter’s algorithms are designed to advertise products that are unneeded and unrequested by me. But isn’t that the way of the world that we live in? Yes, it is, but given an option, I’m happy to pay, not to see another turgid pitch providing an unneeded solution to a problem I didn’t know I had.

  3. Other Twitter algorithms are likely designed to stoke my emotions to maintain my engagement with the platform. Let’s say those stimulated emotions are not the better side of me, and likely not the rest of us. There is enough anger and rage in the world without it being cultivated by a sinister corporate overlord motivated only by the desire to sell me as a product to advertisers.

  4. I cannot be party to a corporation whose sole leader lacks the common decency to treat his employees with a modicum of respect and decency. While there are types in the corporate world who believe businesses are only charged with maximizing shareholder profitability, that is a style of capitalism that belonged in the 19th century. Things have moved on from the Robert Barron era. Sustainable capitalism is stakeholder capitalism with an emphasis not just on profits but also employees, customers, and community.

  5. Social media forums are too important to lie in the hands of one person who cannot separate his personal viewpoints from the overall welfare of those that use the platform. Speech is regulated in most places in the world, including America, especially in cases of disinformation and incitement. I’d suggest that Elon Musk has violated reasonable speech restrictions recently and in the past. He should not control the public square, and a good case might be made for restricting his speech

It is for those reasons that I choose no longer to participate on Twitter other than to persuade users to leave. There are alternatives where civility is placed at a premium. I choose Mastodon because, in my view, it has the right structure and combination of features to make the increasingly unruly squawking utterances of Twitter extinct.

In my next episode, I’ll tell you why I think Mastodon is a better social media platform, and why I think you should leave the chirping blue bird behind. It’s time to Twexit folks