Far-right Twitter influencers first on Elon Musk’s monetization scheme (The Washington Post via msn.com)
During my short stay in Colorado a few years ago, one of my most harrowing experiences came when Hedder was driving us home to Colorado Springs from some business we had in Aurora. Hedder was as obedient a driver as I was back then, but unlike me, she liked to antagonize drivers who were going too fast, or not using their turn signals, or things of that nature. As we were headed back to I-25, one driver that Hedder stopped from speeding past us got upset enough to start yelling at us, and then started trying to run us off the road. It felt like we were about to become the victims of a road rage incident in a part of suburban Denver that Hedder had never been to before, and I had to convince her to duck into a residential neighbourhood for a few minutes there, let the driver go do whatever he was going to do, and then start heading back home, just for our own safety.
Hedder often struggled with understanding the appropriate time and place to “do what was right” when confronted with bad stuff, a struggle that I’ve certainly dealt with plenty in my own lifetime. About a year before she passed away last September, Hedder had her Facebook account deleted for repeatedly harassing right-wingers on the service, posting incendiary comments on their posts (or replies to others’ posts). While I certainly understood where Hedder was coming from in her political views, I tried to warn her against her compulsion to respond to these people in the way she did, primarily because I was worried about Facebook going after her like they eventually did. Hedder created a new account a couple of months after she lost her original one, but she never had much of a chance to use it before her health deteriorated. As a result, instead of being able to go onto her old Facebook account after she passed away to look at pictures of her and her friends, I only have one photo of her to look at, the one I used when I put her phone number into my Google Contacts account back in the day. That’s been one of the most painful things of dealing with her passing nearly a year ago, not having all those photos and Facebook posts to look back on when I find myself missing her. (Even her comments on my Facebook posts disappeared when her original account was deleted.)
I first got on Twitter back in 2008, around the time my father died, not knowing how popular or enduring the service would be. After I got my first smartphone in 2010, it became clear just how useful it might end up if these new devices were going to transform so many parts of our day-to-day lives, and although I was never the biggest fan of the service, I appreciated its utility, especially after I left Toledo (and all my friends there) at the end of 2017. Those of you who have followed me for a while know that I began having serious problems with Twitter long before the current ownership took over, especially when I was banned from advertising on the service in 2018, seemingly because people there were insistent that my first novel was erotica and not literary fiction. Despite those problems, though, I continued to use Twitter, especially since it was the best way I had of keeping in touch with lots of people as we entered our second decade of using the service.
To say that I was concerned about what would happen when Twitter had its most recent change of ownership would be a massive understatement; some of the people I followed on there didn’t even wait for the change of ownership to delete their accounts, and I gave serious thought to joining them. With nearly fifteen years of stuff on there at that point, though, abandoning my account wasn’t the easiest thing to do, especially since pretty much every marketing email I’ve been getting for years has had one of those bird silhouettes at the bottom. I was glad when alternatives to Twitter came out, but the fact that the people I knew were all choosing different platforms to migrate to didn’t make it easy for me to settle on one, to say nothing of trying to get into one of the services with a huge waiting list.
As the past few months have gone by, though, Twitter has made the decision to leave their service easy for me. It all started last year, when people I had deliberately blocked from being able to see my account suddenly disappeared from my block list, and started to interact with me on there again. The fact that Twitter’s algorithms can look at fifteen years of my posts, and still send me “promoted” tweets that claim being transgender is a mental disorder, is all the proof I need of how the service is being manipulated by its new ownership. My own posts being inexplicably deleted (and without any explanations, or even notices that they’d been deleted) already had me looking to jump ship as soon as it was feasible for me to do so, and things like rate limiting and changing messaging preferences were more than a little aggravating, but the platform being monetized for hate speech has kind of forced my hand. I will keep my account up — this could end up being another Tumblr situation, where one owner destroys the service but a new owner makes it at least marginally tolerable again — but I will no longer be checking my feed with any kind of regularity, and I’ll be deleting the app on my phone, until such time as the service becomes reasonably safe and sane again.
I’d been hoping for a clear alternative to Twitter that I could switch to easily, but that hasn’t happened yet. Threads is out for me because its privacy issues mean that lots of my European friends can’t use it, I’m not confident in Mastodon yet, and at this point I’m figuring it might be years before I even get a chance to try BlueSky out. Although I have misgivings about Cohost, it’s where more people I follow have migrated to, and so I’m on there now at cohost.org/seanshannon for anyone who wants to follow me there. (My Facebook will continue to be mostly for people I know in the flesh, with a few public-facing posts.) I may yet switch over to some of these other platforms if I get the chance, or if they improve, but in the meantime, Cohost is where I’m going to be focusing my social media experience.
As the new ownership at Twitter has asserted itself in ways large and small over the past few months, it’s been looking more and more like a trainwreck. Just like that road rage incident Hedder and I had in Aurora back in 2018, I can see a disaster about to unfold, and it’s time to retreat to relative safety. Maybe there will come a time when I can start using Twitter again, but that time is not now. My old tweets may stay there for however long they might be up, but I’m staying the hell away from there for the foreseeable future, and I advise the rest of you to do the same as well.