Twitter’s demise might bring us a reimagined social media future. Here’s why that might be good and bad.
Social media’s metamorphosis from the juvenile musings of college students to global information force came without limits or expectations, which may cause its ultimate downfall.
Twitter, now the world’s 17th most popular social media platform, exemplifies the limits of power of a once-revered free speech platform, complete with narcissist main characters, corruption, hidden agendas, and the makings of a True Crime drama or spy novel.
What Twitter did should not be forgiven, but there are lessons to be learned from its demise.
The Twitter Whistleblower
Whistleblower Peiter Zatko, Twitter’s former security chief, detailed how foreign operatives infiltrated Twitter security, exploiting security and data structure flaws to gather intelligence on Americans, silence dissident voices, and promote propaganda earlier this year in both Congressional testimony and his whistleblower filing.
Zatko exposed that spies and foreign operatives worked as subcontractors to Twitter security, and in at least one instance became employed directly by Twitter. Experts agreed that the broad access given to both Twitter employees and their contractors posed a major security threat, opening the system up to “bribes and hacks.”
Zatko joined Twitter in 2020, hired directly by Jack Dorsey after a cyber attack hacked the accounts of Joe Biden, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and other high-profile users to promote fake bitcoin sales.
Hacks became commonplace, Twitter racked up hundreds of millions of dollars in fines for securities laws violations, and, most damning, the complaint noted Twitter’s “negligence and even complicity with respect to efforts by foreign governments to infiltrate, control, exploit, surveil and/or censor the company’s platform, staff and operations.”
(As an aside, Marco Rubio introduced legislation yesterday to give emergency powers to the President to ban any social media company who engages in the very activity described above - but he targeted TikTok and made no mention of Twitter.)
The story of spies at Twitter working on behalf of government officials (in and outside of the United States) to surveillance, censor and exploit accounts seemed hot for all of a week, then all but faded from public discourse with no serious repercussions to the company.
Twitter’s star died long before Zatko exposed espionage, censorship and corruption, or Elon Musk took a wrecking ball to free speech and content moderation at the same time.
Even after Twitter made the justifiable and delayed decision to ban Donald Trump, Twitter stock continued to soar.
If you measure the platform’s success on its stock value, Twitter began its rapid decline in summer 2021 - just weeks after I was permanently suspended for over-sharing a Miami Herald news article eviscerating Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for his COVID-19 crimes. The sudden suspension - the same weekend the article was released, the same weekend Jack Dorsey made a trip to Florida, and the same weekend the state ended its COVID-19 data reporting, caused national public outrage and confusion.
Concerns about the company began bubbling to the surface with new reports about contractors using their Twitter access as part of subversion and propaganda activities on behalf of political operatives, and internal fighting at the company resulted in CEO Jack Dorsey’s ousting not long after.
Who runs Twitter now?
Based on ownership shares, Elon Musk and Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed.
Security experts have been sounding the alarm about the Saudi’s gaining control and consequently access to Twitter, but that conversation has been silenced on the platform itself (no surprise there).
“Given the Saudi regime’s history of jailing critics, planting a spy at Twitter, and brutally murdering a Washington Post journalist, the Saudi regime must be blocked from accessing Twitter account information, direct messages and other data that could be used to identify political opponents or to suppress criticism of the royal family.
“I’ve long argued that the United States has a national security interest in protecting Americans’ data from murderous foreign governments, and this Saudi regime absolutely fits that description.”
In addition to a foreign nation having a controlling interest in Twitter, the new members of Twitter management reflect the growing and increasingly conspiratorial mindset taking over the white nationalist movement and the platform itself.
Musk installed two of his closest buddies, David Sacks and Jason Calacanis, to advisory roles upon buying the platform. Calacanis paid a journalist to plant false stories about a progressive San Francisco District Attorney, and Sacks has a long and well-documented history of supporting far-right and fringe political figures.
Since the Musk takeover, most of the content moderation staff and those employed in Twitter Safety have quit or been laid off, leaving the platform open to dramatic increases in hate speech, bullyside and abuse.
Investigators like Jim Stewartson connected QAnon to most of the serial harassment and single-purpose hate accounts still in operation on the site today. Stewartson was permanently suspended after his documentary on QAnon laid the blame for the organization on the feet of users still on the platform - Fred Brennan, Joseph Flynn and Jim Watkins.
Stewartson, Bot Sentinel, and other investigators successfully booted legions of single-purpose hate accounts in the past, but most of those appear to have been reinstated now.
(Side note: Though I was censored on Twitter for political speech in 2021, my account with its nearly 500k followers has not been restored).
Now the QAnon movement and its fake progressive wing, meant to sow division within the democratic party by posing as progressives and conducting character assassination upon progressive leaders, have the reigns.
With the lack of organization, proliferation of propaganda, and fatal structure flaws to Twitter’s design, QAnon might be the only group of people actually in control of Twitter at the moment.
What does this mean for the future
Thus far, the platform most resembling Twitter as a one-stop-shop for news, sharing and conversation is Post.News. Posts’ more-centralized system resembles and functions as an aggregate of its entire usership, much like Twitter, but with enhanced security and moderation.
But while even I participated in the initial waging of bets as to who would become Twitter’s ultimate successor, the picture coming into focus now shows a much more decentralized outlook for social media going forward.
That’s good and bad.
A decentralized system allows people to move freely across platforms and find somewhere they’re comfortable. Most people who use social media today have accounts on more than one platform, and may use their account differently depending on where they’re posting.
A decentralized system also protects against the creation of “information monopolies,” and keeps incidents like what happened with Twitter - foreign espionage, censorship and hacking - from having the type of global influence on public opinion that Twitter allowed to occur.
However, the siloing of social media could exacerbate one of the major concerns about how social media algorithms work - creating super-echo chambers where diversity of opinion, experience and viewpoints become virtually non-existent.
Fracturing of social media into subgroups based on political ideologies happens naturally to an extent, but it became part of the “plan” with the failed Parlor app, and later with GETTR and to a lesser extent Truth Social.
If the goal were to stoke divisiveness, fragment information based on targets vulnerable to disinformation, and destroy the “digital town square,” a siloed social media landscape would effectively accomplish that.
Journalists and media types appear to be migrating to Tribel, the most user-friendly of the competing platforms. Given the dependence journalists have on social media as of late to gauge public opinion (a terrible and misguided practice that needs to stop), that could push Tribel to the front of the pack.
But the most followed accounts on Twitter - with the exception of President Barack Obama and a handful of other politicians - all come from the cultural, music, sports and entertainment sector, so they may have the final say in what, if anything, fills the Twitter hole.
Celebrities and cultural figures have largely moved to Mastadon.
Conservatives are remaining on Twitter for now and the multitude of other sites engineered and designed for them, including the less savory ones like 4chan and 8chan.
Then again, the arguments of what might replace Twitter could become entirely moot in the coming months if its current trajectory continues and the board of either Tesla or Twitter decides they’ve had enough.
The company could be sold again and more reasonable, intelligent and intellectual minds take over, restore its damaged reputation, end the foreign surveillance, censorship and access pervasive across the platform, and develop fair and equally enforced content moderation policies.
Or, Twitter could just go away.
Despite Twitter’s dominance of the news cycle lately, the company doesn’t even break into the Top 10 globally for the number of actual people who use it on a regular basis.
As such, it could disappear and most people will move on, much like the exodus from MySpace to Facebook more than a decade ago. Of note, Facebook remains the largest social media network in the world by total users to this day and no other platform even comes close to its numbers.
Either way, with all the fuss over Twitter’s future, one has to wonder how much value Twitter has contributed to the world when its most reshared English tweet is “HELP ME PLEASE. A MAN NEEDS HIS NUGGS.”