A friend invited me to visit Twitter headquarters almost 11 years to the day before Elon Musk bought the place, and I gotta’ say, people were having a lot more fun back then:
It was Halloween, so people were dressed as lobsters and brought family and friends to the party dressed as Velma and a ballerina and Captain America. The shindig had a happy and loose vibe that is kinda rare at work functions. I have wondered about the lobster man this week. Hopefully, he got out years ago when his stock options came through like my friend did; if he’s still in the building, Elon Musk is bound to boil him alive and crack open his claws to suck the meat out, since that seems to be his style of management.
I was going to list everything that’s happened at Twitter since Musk took over at the end of October, but…it’s impossible. If you haven’t been following it, just wait for the mini-series in a few years. Basically, he bought a social network on a whim, paid more than twice what it was worth, tried to return it in Delaware, couldn’t, and is now forced to run it; it’s the premise of a bad sitcom, but there are no cameras, just tweets.
I didn’t have a high opinion of Musk before this, but, wow, I’m stunned, STUNNED, by how blazingly incompetent he’s been. It reminds me of when I’d play Sim City and unleash all the disasters at once for fun. Earthquake! Hurricane! Big lizard! Meteor shower! How long can the city survive? It’s been so bad that I suspect any previous success he’s experienced came only because he knows how to stand next to the people who do the actual work and then take all the credit. That, or he’s trying to bankrupt the service on purpose, which can’t be ruled out when you’re dealing with such a chaotic troll.
The worst part is how casually cruel he’s been to the employees. Again, I was going to list all the sociopathic things he’s done but…it’s just too much, y’all. (Selected highlight: Managers were trying to keep the pregnant people and the guy with cancer from being fired. It was such an awful task that someone literally vomited at the thought of carrying out the cuts.) It’s been painful for me to watch the damage he’s been wreaking in people’s lives, because as I said in my post 11 years ago:
Visiting Twitter reminded me that ultimately the world is just made up of people and places. Twitter has changed my life in many positive ways, so it was interesting to view it as an office with people instead of an abstract concept or a server farm.
A company is just people. And he’s treating the people like shit.
(And OMG, I used think Twitter was a “positive” force in the world?! What the actual fuck?)
None of these people deserved this! They have adorable children, and they actually spend time with them, unlike some people.
Elon Musk will not achieve any of the goals for Twitter that he’s said to have—be it free speech, making comedy “legal” again, forcing people to pay for a blue checkmark (or is it a gray one?), paying off the annual 1 billion dollars of interest on his loan, or making the internet like him. We only like laughing at him.
But he has achieved the impossible; he’s made me sorry that Twitter is burning to the ground.
Twitter was awful, but some of the people were nice
Twitter is a toxic cesspool that should be drained from this earth, but it deserves to die of natural causes like GeoCities or AOL Messenger, its usage dwindling until it becomes socially irrelevant and hardly anyone notices it’s gone. Instead, it’s been dragged into an alley, stabbed in the gut, and we don’t know if it will bleed out or go septic first. Some people still have hope, but at this point I don’t think medical intervention can save the poor beast. If it does survive, it will be forever changed into something else.
I haven’t used Twitter in a meaningful way for years. At the end of 2017, I removed the app from my phone because I’d noticed I usually felt worse after using it, though I still visited the site in Chrome. During Thanksgiving 2019, I didn’t read my feed all weekend and was like, “Wow, that was nice, let’s do that full-time!” I still checked in on the trending topics for a few months, but when the pandemic hit, I stopped visiting that screen all together because of all the misinformation. I sometimes check hashtags during live events like the Emmy’s, or to watch people literally dance in the streets when Trump was defeated, but that’s about it. I do see screenshots of tweets on Instagram a lot, which is also where I watch muted Tik Tok videos, as a middle-aged woman does. If I tweeted at all, it was to complain about things or post links to my blog entries. So, I feel no personal sadness that the site’s burning up in a flash like the Hindenburg.
However, there is a small subset of the Twitter community that are good people hanging out in a bad place, and I hate seeing them harmed by this. Twitter’s destruction is going to damage a lot of people’s lives. Here are some ways, in increasing levels of seriousness:
1) It can hurt your career if Twitter is the place you promote your work and make friends in your industry. Twitter is a text-first platform, so it’s particularly well suited for writers, unlike Instagram or Tik Tok which emphasize images and videos. People have made connections on Twitter that have launched their careers and some writers say it’s the place where they get the most traction on articles they’ve written.
2) It can hurt your mental health if you’re someone who does most of your socialization there and you’re scrambling to find a way to stay connected to your people. (Everyone, back to Usenet!) I’ve seen at least two users express genuine distress that they’re about to lose all their friends.
3) The disability community would lose an important tool to help them connect to other sick people for support or help with rare diagnoses. Twitter has decent accessibility compliance so vision-impaired people can use the site with screen readers, but the accessibility team got fired, so any new features probably won’t be.
4) If you’re a dissident or activist in a hostile nation, Twitter’s destruction might threaten your life because you’re losing access to such an important tool. Elon Musk doesn’t seem to care much about human rights activists (he certainly doesn’t treat his employees like they’re human), so it’s possible he might hand over data to hostile countries.
Still, I will not miss that demon hell site when it’s gone, be it next month or twenty years from now. The world would be better without it, as would people’s mental health. Twitter is like a cigarette company, peddling something that’s poisonous that its customers know is bad for them, but they can’t stop using it because they need another dopamine hit. But hey, you meet some really great people on your smoke breaks!
This week, I started reading my feed again for the first time in years. After two hours of watching the fires burn, unable to tear myself away, I felt empty afterwards, like I’d eaten an entire can of Pringles crisps in one sitting. It was delicious, but not healthy, and I always wanted just one more. I was like, “Oh, right, this is why I stopped smoking cyber crack.” If we could extract all the good parts of Twitter and move them to some other service that was managed responsibly, that would be fantastic, but that’s a fantasy.
Watching Twitter implode has been embarrassingly delightful
Despite the fact that thousands of people are being seriously harmed by this…it has been super fun to watch! I’m so sorry! (Maybe I’m part of the cesspool now?) As a web developer, I’m particularly excited to see which parts of Twitter break first and how badly. A social network is not a “set it and forget it” technology. It requires maintenance and moderation to run properly. Musk literally fired half the staff, and a bunch of people have resigned, so there’s no way this thing is going to run smoothly. It never really did in the first place! It’s going to be the computer science version of Life After People.
When I heard about the impending layoffs, I knew it was going to be bonkers, so I started deleting my data while I still could. I immediately requested a backup of my account and then deleted all my tweets and likes. I had to use a third-party service to do this, and for some reason my likes came back after I deleted them, then vanished again, came back again, and have now been gone for more than a week. Yet, when you visit my likes page, it says I have 3078 likes when I actually have 3. And this happened when people were still working there!
Soon, things are going to start breaking and people won’t know how to fix them or they’ll have to fix something more important first. Also, Musk is making them push out a bunch of new features without testing them properly, so that’s going to introduce more bugs and security vulnerabilities. I wouldn’t be surprised if a news story breaks in a few months about how China downloaded every Twitter user’s phone number and email address through a bug in the API.
Oh, and the World Cup starts next week.
Firing half the staff before the world’s biggest sporting event is like firing the road crew before a big ice storm. Who’s going to salt the roads? Who’s going to patch the potholes? Cars will slide into ditches! When the streets are full of craters, people can’t use them anymore.
I’m not certain if Twitter will crash completely or not. I suspect there will be lag time. Things will get buggy. Posts might disappear. Private posts could become public. Your mentions might stop showing up. Deleted tweets could get undeleted. That person you muted might show up in your timeline again. It’ll be a mess. I’m curious if the Fail Whale will reappear, though Musk’s probably already slaughtered it and sold off its blubber by now.
It’s sad that all this is happening for no good reason, and that no good reason is: money. Elon Musk made a terrible business deal, so now he’s trying to get rich quick, but all he’s done is ensured he’ll never get rich slowly. He’s like a character from an 80’s after-school special who wants to tear down the community center and build a mall, and all the neighborhood kids are making it miserable for him, so now he’s bulldozing the entire town.
I don’t know how this ends, either for Twitter the company or Twitter the web service. What I do know is this: Elon Musk will be fine, which is the absolute worst. Sure, it’ll be embarrassing, but he’ll blame it on the woke mob, and his own cultish mob will still adore him. He might lose billions of dollars, but he’ll still have plenty of money. He’ll have food, shelter, and clothing. He’ll be able to pay medical bills if he gets sick. If they try to lock him up, he’ll flee to another country first. He’s going to be totally fine! The people he’s squashed will not. He really is a big lizard sweeping through Sim City, smashing everything other people built, wiping out their work without any regret, and then slogging off into the distance to do it again.
It’s sad that we live in a world where this is allowed to happen. No one person should be allowed to own something as powerful as Twitter. Which is why no one person should be allowed to accumulate enough money that they can do it. I don’t know how to change that, but if anyone has any ideas that don’t involve bloody revolution, I’m listening. (Just don’t hit me up on Twitter about it.)
When I was at Twitter, I took a picture of a poster they had framed on the wall that said, “Let’s make better mistakes tomorrow.” It was hung upside down. I wish the new boss would take that advice, but I think from here on out it’s just one worse mistake after another.