Well it’s official: I left Twitter. The process of getting here was harder than I imagined. I relied on Twitter mostly to follow real-time news and discussions within the tech industry. The modest following I had accumulated over the years was more a side effect of being promoted by my company’s marketing department than it was the result of my engaging posts. Trust me when I say: I never had engaging posts.
The break for me started not long after Elon took over. I wasn’t bothered by the dramatic layoffs or his advocacy of “free speech.” A business that had been unprofitable for 9 of its 10 years as a public company was almost certainly in need of some expense rightsizing. I also know that when people say they want unfettered “free speech”, they really don’t mean it. Anyone who saw 4chan in its day knows what true “free speech” looks like, and it is a dark place few of us would want to visit. So I went into the Twitter transition with a healthy respect for Elon and an assumption of positive intent. But then I watched his execution as CEO.
Elon’s first misstep with the failed rollout of the subscription service was surprising but forgivable. He was trying to get an organization that had become slow and lethargic to move faster, and maybe he just moved too fast. I even begrudgingly accepted his reactivation of alt-right accounts. While I would prefer to not hear their negativity, as long as we all adhered to the same rules around safety and hate speech, I could just choose to ignore them.
The first real warning sign for me came after the failed blue checkmark launch, when Elon publicly attacked some of his advertisers and employees. I had never before seen a CEO part ways with either customers or employees with anything but the utmost respect, and his behavior seemed profoundly wrong. This was followed by one bad business decision after another - e.g. the relaxing of hate speech moderation, the banning of journalists critical to him, the labeling of highly reputable news organizations as “state-affiliated media”, the pay to play blue check mark, changing the algorithms to bring non-followed content into followed feeds, the rate limiting of Tweets, the removal of public access to content, and so much more. And during all of these decisions, Elon seemed to go out of his way to publicly sow chaos and confusion around his intent, gradually eroding the trust of both customers and users.
Last fall I decided to quietly take a break from Twitter. At first I found myself struggling to fill the gap with services like Reddit and YouTube. But when there was a real-time event unfolding - e.g. news helicopters circling my neighborhood - I found myself returning to Twitter to find out what was going on. But over time I found the impulse to reinstall the app lessened, and after 15+ years of using the service, I started to break free.
When I joined Twitter in 2008, it truly felt like a town square. There was a vibrancy, an immediacy, and a positivity that was addictive. It was the place we all turned when a big news story was breaking - e.g. wildfires in California, Occupy Wall Street. It gave a voice to the voiceless, allowed us to have conversations with people we would otherwise never meet, and to challenge our strongly held views. What made it so unique was not its format of elevating replies to the same level as a post, but its users. The estimated 200M users of the platform included many of the most important people in journalism, government, and the tech industry. In many ways, it was the only place to engage with the elites in our industry.
But over time the conversations in Twitter became overrun with bots and polluted with hate speech, scams, bullying and negativity. While this was a problem before Elon took over, his leadership accelerated this decline. I left 4chan many years ago after realizing that uncensored “free speech” was highly disturbing and unsafe. I leave Twitter now because it is well on its way to becoming the next 4chan.
So if you want to engage with me on social media, you will find me trying out Threads. I may not be the biggest fan of Zuck, but maybe, just maybe, he will be able to bring back that town square I remember from years ago.