More musings on Twitter’s apparent self-destruction and the future of social media.
I don’t want to bang on about this incessantly, because it’s a story that could – and probably will – run and run. This will be my final word on the topic – at least on The Reprobate or at least until something new and impossible to ignore happens.
Since our last piece on this thorny subject, stories of Twitter’s imminent demise have wildly increased with all the ill-informed hysteria and hyperbole that has been a hallmark of the site for years. People have taken to Twitter to predict that it won’t be around in a few hours… or maybe a day… or definitely over the weekend. Its days are numbered according to the sort of people who like to see themselves as in the know even though they base all their posts on rumours and things that they have made up in order to feel important. Twitter – more than any other social media site – has a long history of making people feel a lot more important and influential than they really are and if that is taken away, it’ll be quite a blow for many.
In the grand scheme of things, Twitter isn’t even that important. Despite what its more determined political users think, it doesn’t dictate elections or shift public opinion – the fact that elections continually confound the opinions of Twitter’s majority show that. Twitter blowhards like to think that they brought down Boris Johnson but never quite explain how he won an election in the first place. Politicians, news media and big business have tended to treat Twitter and trending topics as much more important than they are – perhaps one positive of Elon Musk’s reign of terror will be a shift away from that and a realisation that it doesn’t really reflect wider public opinion at all.
But as the Twitterpocalypse continues with mass firings and resignations that seem certain to lead to some sort of chaos – not overnight as the sort of tweeters prone to doom-laden end-of-the-world panic at the drop of a hat like to think, but still – we once again wonder just what will be the replacement. Because we need a replacement. Social media has made us very, very complacent and dependent. It has surpassed all other forms of communication for a lot of people – how many times have you read sneering dismissals of email as though it is some sort of inefficient communication device akin to smoke signals or carrier pigeons? For many, social media is now their only means of communication. Take their platform of choice away and things become… difficult.
When MySpace fizzled out, things were very different. For a start, there wasn’t much competition and what competition there was had brought about the demise of that site to begin with. MySpace didn’t collapse overnight – it just slowly died off as everyone realised that Facebook was a more effective platform, one that didn’t involve negotiating through sparkly, loudly designed pages that looked like a teenager’s bedroom. MySpace felt like a stop-gap solution until something better came along and everyone seemed happy to leave it behind. It was a slow exodus and most people went to the same place. Things are rather different now. If Twitter collapses – even if it takes weeks or months rather than hours as some doom-mongers have implied – then its users will be scattered to the four winds.
Some will head to shamelessly partisan sites of the left and right where they will never hear anyone disagreeing with their personal take on the world. “Imagine a social media site with no hate” is something I’ve seen as a positive to these sites, though of course, the truth is that they are awash with hate – it’s just all hate for the same thing. And then, as they grow, they’ll be full of hate for different versions of the same tribes with slight variations of opinion blown out of all proportion. As we all know, the only people that the People’s Front of Judea hates more than the Romans are the Judean People’s Front.
Others will head towards sites that focus on the visual because they were only on Twitter for the memes and the cat pictures anyway. Instagram, Tik Tok, Tumblr and the like will offer new homes for many. Lots of people have gone to Mastodon – and we’ve rebooted our account there so feel free to sign up – but not everyone is going to enjoy that experience, especially as the sudden influx has made it more lumbering and slow-moving than ever – it’s a site well-named in that respect. Mastodon too, because of its decentralised multitude of networks, seems slanted towards the niche and the echo chamber, with no guarantee that the people behind whatever network you end up signed to won’t act like dictators and boot you off if you say anything that they disapprove of.
It seems unlikely that anyone outside of a social media professional (and probably not even them) will sign up to sites across the board because even if you simply cut and paste posts, the varying word counts, content restrictions and link posting rules will mean that each post will have to be tweaked – and who has time to do that for several sites, maybe several times a day? What we probably need is an app that will do that for us, but that might be an impossible dream, given how widely removed these sites are from each other in style. Instead, we’ll simply see a scattering of people and – for those of us who are dependent on social media to promote our work – a decrease in engagement.
Earlier today, we were bemoaning the fact that the web in general and social media in particular has made people lazy and entitled. I’m not discounting myself from this. We now expect everything for nothing and delivered to us on a plate. I come from a print culture, where we collated interesting stuff – and as time goes on, I’ll be damned if I can remember just how we found it all – and then sold it as magazines and books, through a variety of outlets – comic shops, specialist magazine shops, record stores, indie and mainstream bookshops where you could just walk in with your publication – even your very edgy and transgressive publication – and talk to a manager about selling it. Those days are over, as we found with The Reprobate’s publications. Similarly, most people are unwilling to pay anything for online content because there are enough people giving similar content away. They won’t even seek it out – I’m aware that we have to post our new content in front of people for it to be seen because few of them actively look at the site on a daily basis to see what’s new. I’m not complaining or criticising – that’s just the way things are now and I’m as guilty as anyone for doing it.
So let’s have a bit of a Hot Take about the possible – though not probable – death of Twitter. Maybe it’d be a good thing. Maybe the social media age is coming to an end as an unsustainable experiment. Perhaps we all need to get re-used to the idea that we might have to pay for some content – or at least have to find it for ourselves. I’m not sure that social media is entirely healthy with its trending topics that are based on fear and anger, entitlement and ego, amplifying the most hysterical and relentless voices above more reasoned ones. Clickbaity, emotive headlines are not a healthy way for people to receive their news. Internet firebrands and gobshitey celebrities with a hunger for attention are not the people who we should be listening to about anything and nothing would be better than to see these self-important morons having their egos dented by the removal of the platform that allows them to preach to slavish fans. Maybe there is a new way forward. We all managed in the days before social media and I suspect that we’ll all cope if it goes. We just need to plan ahead and build something better.
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