To paraphrase the great Mark Twain, “Rumors of Twitter’s death have been greatly exaggerated.”
[Note: This post may be a bit inside-baseball if you don’t follow tech news or aren’t active on Twitter. But it’ll be fun nonetheless!]
If you have been on Twitter recently, especially Thursday night, you would be forgiven for thinking that the world was coming to a rapid and violent end. Bluecheck journalists and media figures have been gnashing their teeth and rending their garments at the purported demise of Twitter now that billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has taken over the site. The Washington Post is on “Twitter death watch,” while the New York Times claims that the microblogging site is “teetering on the edge.” The BBC asked if this really “is the end of Twitter,” and the American equivalent (in terms of public funding, not quality) NPR stated that a Twitter meltdown could be “likely.” Other news outlets have said that the site is in “chaos,” in the process of “imploding,” and “in tatters.” Journalists, pundits, and the so-called “Resistance” accounts who made a name for themselves on the back of their opposition to President Trump treated Thursday night on Twitter like it was the sinking of the Titanic, complete with the band playing on the way down while the lifeboats floated over to Mastodon, Instagram, or Post.News (whatever that is). #RIPTwitter was trending on the site, as users saw the writing on the wall and said their goodbyes to dear friends and random acquaintances.
Of course, all of those people are still on Twitter today, tweeting their daily activities and opinions as though nothing at all had happened. But why were they so terrified and certain that Twitter would completely collapse, and why are so many still saying the same thing?
Twitter is a haven for the media class, being an excellent resource for breaking news, information sharing, and broadening one’s reach. Given its importance in these areas, Twitter has been a tool for stifling information just as much as it has been for sharing it; look at the handling of the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story in 2020 or the banning of accounts for discussing the Covid-19 lab leak theory. Journalists, especially those on the “disinformation” (read: stuff I don’t like) beat, have had strong allies in the massive content moderation and social justice groups within Twitter. They work together in a “virtuous” cycle to identify and censor supposed misinformation; the press writes stories about misinformation on Twitter, which are then used by Twitter employees as evidence that such offending accounts or ideas need to be smothered.
The reason the media and journalists are so apocalyptic about Twitter under Elon Musk is that they will no longer be able to unduly influence and control their favorite social media platform, pure and simple.
Since taking over Twitter a few weeks ago, Musk has summarily fired nearly 80% of its staff – a seemingly staggering number of workers. Before the Musk buyout, Twitter had roughly 7,800 employees, many of whom were engaged entirely in content moderation, media communications, and various social justice efforts; these are the sectors where the majority of the culling took place. After firing these workers and offering others a generous severance package if they weren’t interested in the new, more hardcore ethos at Twitter, the management team reportedly closed the company offices through Monday (there have been conflicting reports on this since). These moves, along with the scorn with which the former employees referred to Musk’s changes, led to where we are now. Media, having such a close, incestuous relationship with pre-Musk Twitter, has taken everything said by these workers – their friends and accomplices in the information game – as the gospel truth. That has created the atmosphere of doomsaying that currently permeates all coverage of the site in the media, and the behavior of media folks on Twitter itself.
But does any of it mesh with reality? Nope!
Twitter is not going to collapse entirely because it vastly cut down its workforce to a more manageable size, focusing on key engineering and maintenance tasks. Most of the fired employees were, frankly, entirely unnecessary to the actual operation of the site. They did not run the backend, deal with server stability, or keep important features running; in fact, it seemed like many of them didn’t do anything at all. Tech companies which run apps like Twitter are not kept alive by some guy furiously turning a crank in a server farm, despite the fact that many journalists and former Twitter employees seem to think so. Many key features which keep Twitter running aren’t even done in-house; for instance, server maintenance and cloud computing is handled by Amazon Web Services, while DDoS attack protection is outsourced.
Many of the fired employees seem to have had massive overconfidence in their own importance and indispensability for Twitter’s continued operation, and their media friends ate this self-serving narrative up. Part of this was simply ignorance of the industry on behalf of the journalist class (read up on Gell-Mann Amnesia for more on this), part was sympathy for their newly-terminated pals, and part was hatred for Musk himself, an oddball who often disagrees with the prevailing narrative. All of these reasons came together to influence the coverage of Twitter from merely biased to actively wishing for the site’s death and Musk’s humiliation.
Another factor was Musk’s open letter to his workforce, where he laid out expectations for strong work ethics, longer hours, and a “hardcore” ethos, as well as cutting some of the ridiculous fringe benefits like free lunch and alcohol. These changes and the tone in which they were laid out, were treated as completely unprecedented and horrifying by some employees and their journalist compatriots. For anyone who has worked in the real world, however, the message was not at all surprising or out of line with how business operates. Long hours and hard work are common in the tech industry (and many others), and the response from these (now-former) coddled employees and journalists is an indictment of themselves. The disconnect between the elite media/tech class and the real world has once again been put on stark display.
The overreaction to the recent moves around Twitter – and the overcoverage of what is truly a niche issue – shows too-online journalists for what they are: a cosseted group of snobs who cannot stand to see their influence denuded. Their confident lack of basic knowledge has also been revealed like never before. Did they think that Twitter would just stop without their friends working there? Did they actually believe that an investment consortium which spent over $40 billion on Twitter would just shut it down and walk away because of some bad media coverage and disgruntled former employees? None of their assumptions even pass a rudimentary smell test.
If this is what Elon Musk’s Twitter will be like going forward – angering the most annoying journalists on the internet and showing them up as fools – sign me up. Twitter is dead; long live Twitter.