This blog will appear in my last tweet. Ever. I mean it this time. I’m not particularly fond of baseball metaphors, but for me, Twitter has committed its third strike and is now out and should be sitting on the bench humiliated.
The first strike occurred during the Tr*mp presidency. If the orange one’s affectation for the social media platform weren’t enough to make someone want to quit, the twitterer-in-chief was making false claims about Covid. It took Twitter a dangerous while to start posting warnings that the tweets were medically untrue. The delay had to do with ‘freedom of speech,’ allowing anyone to say anything regardless of their position to influence. In the interest of public safety, Twitter finally gave in.
Strike two was made this summer, when Salma al-Shehab, a Saudi PhD student at the University of Leeds, was jailed by a Saudi terrorism court for 34 years for the ‘crime’ of following and retweeting a couple of Saudi social and feminist activists on Twitter. It was obvious that this dental hygienist was not a terrorist. In fact, it would be a stretch to even call her an activist. Not taking on any duty of care for its users, Twitter made no public statement on this. Many have speculated that this has to do with Mohammed Bin Salman’s sovereign wealth fund having an indirect stake in Twitter.
I really wanted to leave Twitter then and make a stand against the Saudi regime’s human rights abuses and the way they are buying democracies throughout the world to ignore their actions. I was in a right huff over it. But then, I selfishly thought about my writing being promoted on Twitter, along with my academic life and socio-political interests being shared on the site. To my shame, I chickened out. I remained on Twitter and spoke up for Salma al-Shehab by tweeting articles about her case and signing yet another Amnesty International petition and posting that on Twitter.
Strike three came about over these last few weeks. This is where the baseball metaphor falls apart as a strike of a bat is quick – perhaps it’s strike three in slow motion. Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has seen three weeks of crashing chaos with the firing of staff, charging users for a special ‘blue’ status only to reverse it days later, and then reinstating Tr*mp to the platform. This last act in this vanity project was made worse by the way this was conducted. Musk held an online election, using Twitter, of course. The Twitter-using public supposedly voted to let Tr*mp with all his vulgarity, racism, misogyny, infantile vindictiveness and misspellings back on to the social media platform. After the vote came out in Tr*mp’s favour, Musk, with his warped sense of democracy, tweeted about the voice of the people being victorious. Firstly, I’m not so sure about the people really being heard. As I placed my vote, I imagined bots and users with multiple accounts voting en masse. Secondly, Musk is again conflating public debate on social media with a form of truth. John Naughton beat me to the punch on this point in his brilliant commentary on Musk’s flailing with his new ‘plaything.’
I joined Twitter in 2011 at a time when the site had just morphed from a place where people recorded the banalities of their lives in 140 characters (‘I’m now mowing the lawn’) to a forum for academics to share their research. Or so I thought. Reluctant to share work-in-progress, academics and their publishers use Twitter as a stream of billboards advertising published work. Despite that and those three strikes, I’m going to miss Twitter. It does remind my followers that I’m a blogger and draws people into conversation with me. I’m also going to miss Led by Donkeys, J.K. Rowling, a few academic journals, some linguists and yes, Joyce Carol Oates (cats and all). That is, I’ll miss them until they join the mass migration over to Mastodon. You’ll find me there: @firstname.lastname@example.org