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Twitter Refugees: What Do You Want?

Seriously: what did you expect? What did you want to happen? What outcome were you looking for?

One of the things that always amused me about peoples’ reactions to Donald Trump were that they were so… catastrophic in nature. (My brother used a word the other day, “catastrophated,” and while that’s not a word, I like it. But I can’t write it without snickering to myself about it.)

The thing about Trump is that he is a narcissistic simpleton. If you wanted him to do something, he has very simple levers, because… again, simpleton. Want him to raise taxes? Well, compliment him in the process of suggesting that smart people raise taxes because… and use big words for “why,” because all he’ll hear is the implicit compliment that he’d have earned once he raised taxes.

Of course, you’d have to have countered the people who also knew how to pull his levers in the other direction, because they’re saying “smart people lower taxes because [big words that he doesn’t understand and won’t think about go here],” because just like you are not an idiot, they are not idiots either, even if Donald Trump himself is an idiot despite being such a stable genius.

But instead of thinking “how do we use this situation our media has gotten us into,” people preferred to scream and shout their frustration, chose to tweet #RESIST instead of, you know, thinking about why and how Trump got elected, chose to weaken their opponents so other populists like Trump could get elected. (And then, when Biden replaced Trump, chose to screech that resistance to the government was ethically wrong, conveniently forgetting that they were themselves “resisting” when Trump was in power.)

But… #twexit has the same problem. People are fleeing Twitter, while wishing they had what Twitter had given them in terms of audience and appeal, all because Musk took over and is doing things.

Okay, fine. What is it you actually wanted? Consider that Twitter was losing money hand over fist; consider that Twitter’s usefulness was scoped to a limited base (because it was the shill of a given political base, echoing and emphasizing things acceptable to a limited audience); it was losing trust because the people who use it most wanted it to lie to them, creating an echo chamber, and even though it sold its soul to those people it was losing money.

So change had to come. There was no alternative, if Twitter was going to survive, and given the grief people are experiencing, it’s clear that they wanted Twitter to survive.

So: let’s go back to Trump for a second. (I know, I bounce around. I see things in terms of patterns and parallels, and Trump’s a good one for Twitter, as he is for a lot of things.)

When I was watching close friends undergo Trump Derangement Syndrome, I asked some of them what Honest Donal- – ha, no, I can’t write that without laughing.

I asked what Trump could do such that he wouldn’t receive the vitriol they were hurling at him. I said to go blue sky, people! There’s no limit! Tell me what Trump could do to earn their at least silent approval, with rationality no barrier.

I got solidarity in response: “There is literally nothing he could do to earn our approval in any way.” He couldn’t dance naked in the streets, shouting that Hitler was the devil; he couldn’t raise taxes on the rich; he couldn’t release his own taxes; he couldn’t enforce the progressive agenda. If he’d have done everything on their list of what they wanted government to do – and I asked about this, specifically – he’d still have earned their hatred and resentment.

Okay, then. That’s true Trump Derangement. I get it, but it’s stupid and irrational.

Now let’s flip back to Twitter. Play the same game: what could Musk do to earn the Twitter exiteers’ approval? Anything?

The way I see it, Musk has two overriding mandates: one is to make Twitter profitable (and thus ensure its survival) and the other is to make it what it should have been all along: a melting pot of discussion.

The latter point – the melting pot – is easier, because you can get there by simply letting people discuss, instead of filtering based on bias and whether stuff is “acceptable” to the FBI or whoever is pulling strings. That’s not an easy thing to do, because when you first remove the yoke, people are going to careen past polite discussion – they’ll post actively hateful things to try to see where the lines are, you know, or they’ll do so because they’re simply hateful people – and you’ll also have people doing actively dangerous things.

Figuring out those limits isn’t easy, and Twitter’s struggling with it. But it’s doable, I think, given patience and time, as long as people recognize that it takes patience and time and tuning.

Profitability is a lot harder, especially when people have learned to expect that social media is free, free, free. It’s doable, but not painless.

But when people decide that the alternative is to flee to other social networks en masse… what do they want?

Those other social networks cannot be Twitter-ish without gaining the same negative aspects of Twitter. They’re going from the frying pan (Twitter) to … another frying pan. That’s it. The brand of the frying pan is different. And the new frying pan is going to be less experienced at being Twitter-ish than Twitter is.

Want examples? Parler is one, and if Parler’s not dead already, I’d be surprised. The Fediverse is a lot stronger than Parler, but the Fediverse is also not the same as Twitter… and it’s already showing evidence of commercial centralization, and where individual instances aren’t being commercialized, well, you’re relying on the largesse of individuals who’re hosting instances, just like you used to rely on the largesse of Twitter.

So, I ask again: consider that Twitter has no choice but to change, and tell me where the lines are that you’d find Twitter acceptable. I’m vastly interested, not because I have Twitter stock or anything (I don’t) and not because I love Twitter (I don’t care about Twitter, barely using it outside of posting links to my blog content for the most part, or trying to support some friends on the site).

I’m interested because I like understanding psychology, and the derangement syndrome that we saw with Trump and we’re seeing again with Twitter is beyond my ability to process. People aren’t as stupid as they seem, right? There has to be reason somewhere.

I want to understand, and I don’t.

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