The Other Columbus: I don’t care who owns Twitter because it’s Twitter
Elon Musk’s purchase of the social media platform doesn’t change anything about its rotten core
There is surely something nefarious about yet another billionaire consolidating mass communication under their control, and yet I can’t seem to get to the caring part. My not caring about who owns Twitter is not meant to absolve Elon Musk’s behavior in any way. He thinks and says horrible things and should be responded to in kind by those who have the strength. My position has less to do with the purchase than with the product. I don’t care who owns Twitter because at the end of the day, it’s still Twitter.
People on Twitter spend all day complaining about it. Every hour of every day, thousands of people who use the forum complain about it, and in several languages. And they aren’t just lodging complaints about the app crashing every time they try to post a picture, or how much they don’t like the new default font. They’re calling it evil, a veritable cancer on our civilization. And it is! It is both of those things and more! Twitter is so diabolically anti-human that there is no bad thing you can say about it that isn’t true.
Among other things, Twitter is one of the most powerful opiates conceived to distract the masses from how deeply broken the world is on every front except for manufacturing distractions. As of this writing, it is still the most talked about subject on Twitter, and yet isn’t a consistent trending topic. That’s unlikely to be the work of an algorithm. That’s somebody on the back end putting their thumb on the scale. This kind of selective information throttling is clearly a problem, but then, no one should be getting their news from Twitter in the first place. Yes, it is convenient and free to do so, but then how free is it really, by which I mean, liberty pursuant? Not very.
Musk is one bad day away from becoming a boss-level Bond villain bent on destroying half of the planet, and people are out here on Prince Rogers Nelson’s internet worried about what’s going to happen to Twitter. Or worse, what’s going to happen to them as they use Twitter. Folks are out here worried about how the shift in Twitter’s ownership is going to affect their lives. This is the same life in which they use a tracking device for directions to the store; the same life in which all music is free one decade after digital piracy was touted as the biggest crime in the world; the same life in which one can speak loudly in a room and a listening device will dim their lights, lock their doors, order a pizza and surreptitiously record their conversations.
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There are people who do care about who owns their insidious Bad Feelings Machine. They are leaving Twitter in droves, as I understand it. Or else they’re bots. And if they are bots, how come Twitter didn’t weed them in one fell swoop a long time ago? Answer: Because Twitter isn’t an enterprise concerned with morality or care.
If you abhor Musk and anything he stands for, then sure, leave Twitter. That’s a principled stand you probably should have taken a long time ago, such as anytime during the four years Trump was president and a non-Musk owned Twitter let him rage from atop a mountain of nuclear weapons on a daily basis. The psychic damage that social polyp caused every American probably won’t fully reveal itself for another generation.
If that sounds like a case for caring about all of this, I promise you it isn’t. If Trump didn’t make you delete your Twitter account, what are we debating? I’m struggling to understand what Musk brings to the table that a largely indifferent Twitter already didn’t. Censorship? You should already be censoring Twitter, probably into oblivion. Misinformation? If you’re reading this, you have thus far survived a pandemic under the umbrella of a passive Twitter misinformation campaign. A lean to the right in your Twitter feed? As if all of the real-world legislation that affects people’s real-world lives isn’t enough to make you spend less time on Twitter?
If you didn't have a problem with Twitter before now, you're probably part of the problem with Twitter. Or its perfect customer. Both answers are terrifying.
I wish I had enough money to buy out the things that make me feel bad. I can think of several past and current gigs I’d like to see a broker about. If I could raise $44 billion, I certainly wouldn’t spend it acquiring Twitter. I can stop Twitter from making me feel bad for free by logging off.
Admittedly, I don’t have the hate-base that Elon Musk does, and maybe the vibe feels different when it’s thousands of blue checkmarks and their followers coming for your neck every day. Which is not to say anyone should sympathize with Musk; he’s earned every criticism he’s ever received, and not even close to his fair share. But it’s not empathy to recognize the devastating power of a hashtag aimed at your head, or the ferocity with which Black Twitter can ruin your day. That’s just math. And Twitter can be unrelenting once it smells blood.
If we’re being honest, there isn’t much on Twitter that you won’t find on every other platform. You can get the same misinformation and bile pretty much anywhere. Facebook gives it to you in mini-essays. Instagram gives it to you in pictures. Tik Tok gives it to you in soundbites. Someone out here is still hitting “reply all” to their detriment. We aren’t more informed because of social media; we are more indoctrinated. We aren’t more free because of social media; we’re more traceable. Choose your poison, because who owns it doesn’t change much about how sick you’re getting.
Go on, tell me about the ways in which Twitter has been used for good, how it increased the discussion on an important issue or bent a bad political actor to something resembling the will of the people. Tell me how someone in a war-torn land is finding a way to beam truth into the world. I can admit that those things happen. But they are moments so statistically rare that I don’t know why anyone should suggest that this is: a) a defense of the platform; or b) in any way related to who owns it. The impact of those good things so rarely transcends the ether of the public square into an actual, concrete change that I find the argument specious.
The way people ask the question, “What will Elon Musk do to Twitter?” comes off like the least subtle personalization of all time. It sounds like, “What will Elon Musk do to me?” which is both self-righteous and terrifying. If all of my social media platforms shut down tomorrow, I’d be out a lot of words and pictures, and that would suck. But it would also reveal my unhealthy relationship with an outlet of which I don’t actually have any ownership.
What does it say about my life if the only place that pictures of my dogs live is on Mark Zuckerberg’s hard drive? If Twitter under Musk somehow managed to hasten the platform’s descent into an even more toxic, canceling and abhorrently anti-intellectual exercise than it already is, what does it say about me that I have invested even an ounce of self-worth in it to the point of worry? All social media has made our lives into video games. Some of those games seem less harmful than others, but none of them are healthy. Social media is alcohol, meat, smoking. It is another in a long list of things we say we simply enjoy now and again to mask our addiction and emptiness. I say again: We live in “Tron” and most of us aren’t the blue good guys.
Like most social media platforms, you largely get out of Twitter what you put in, with a sprinkle of algorithm pimping in the background to sell you things/mine your personal data for dark capitalism. Oh, and it is an open range of rampant misogyny and racism, which Twitter says has been addressed to some extent with changes on their end that in reality haven’t put a dent in making the space any safer for women or people of color. So, thanks?
I admit my feelings on the ownership of Twitter are reductive. I am sure there is a real and strong case to be made for why everyone should care about who owns a Death Star. But if I’m honest, worrying about who owns Twitter would be like believing the police in my town will start treating my Black body differently because the police chief is Black. I got enough problems without putting my very real life in a very statistically unsound line of fire.