The first thing Melissa Mayer did after acquiring Tumblr was promise not to screw it up.
Then she screwed it up.
Mayer, then the CEO of Yahoo[!], didn’t just misjudge Tumblr’s culture—she misunderstood what a social network is: an intricate web of human beings who’d collectively found it useful to communicate on certain terms.
Change the terms, and the web unravels.
If you’re reading this, you know Elon Musk buying Twitter is bad news. Not because Elon Musk is capital-b Bad (though he is), or the people running Twitter are super great (they aren’t, or at least not at running Twitter). It’s that Musk wants to buy Twitter specifically to impose free speech, by which he means let let white people use the n-word.
Free speech was originally Tw[i]tt[e]r’s guiding principle. Their senior executives famously called themselves “the free speech wing of the free-speech party”! Despite being flooded with porn-spam bots (and constantly crashing), Twitter still fostered instant, real-time, brain-to-brain connections between people all over the world in a way that was addicting as it was exciting.
But for every Sharknado there was a Balloon Boy, and for every #WeNeedDiverseBooks there was a Gamergate. It turns out Twitter spread lies and hate as fast as truth and love, with terrible social costs. The company struggled mightily to clean up the trash without wiping out the benefits.
It wasn’t until they made their guiding principle new user growth that they realized Facebook Uncles and Instagram Moms don’t want to wade through stinky marshes of spam and abuse just to keep up with the news. So now, all 76-plus-million active American Twitter users have a large suite of tools to keep themselves safe from abuse, harassment, misinformation, negativity, and stuff they just don’t like.
Between user and investor demand, Twitter’s platform has consistently evolved away from unfettered free speech and toward a curated, high-quality experience timeline. The app we callled The Hell Site is far from perfect now, but most of the terrible stuff on there is simply a reflection of how terrible the rest of the word is and not a pox specifically on Twitter. Highly visible and/or vulnerable creators feel safe enough to keep Tweeting, and casual users get enough value every time they open the app to keep opening the app.
That’s what Elon Musk wants to undo.
Musk’s plans are fundamentally contradictory: Get rid of content moderation, yet remove spam from the service. Make more money while cutting ads. “Unlock” Twitter’s “potential” by driving away millions of casual users.
What he’s actually going to do, if allowed, is screw it up.
But Musk can’t unilaterally make content moderation work the way he wants it to, because he doesn’t know anything about content moderation. He’s going to be relying on his employees to do it for him—the ones who’ve been working so hard for so long solve all these same problems.
If he makes them remove the solutions they’ve developed, Twitter will become an unusable cesspool like Parler, Gab, or Truth with a quickness—and his acquisition will go exactly like Mayer’s acquisition of Tumblr did.
The good news in that disaster scenario? Today, what’s left of Tumblr is pretty much still recognizable as Tumblr, despite 99.97 percent of its value evaporating under four years of Yahoo mismanagement (plus two years of Verizon mismanagement, because Yahoo collapsed after the first four).
If Twitter employees can make Musk—who can’t possibly have the time to be as hands-on at Twitter as he is at SpaceX and Tesla—realize his proposed changes will be both extremely difficult and utterly destructive? Well, little about Twitter’s day-to-day experience will change. And if Musk does manage to change Twitter the way he wants? Well, sure, it might spell ruin for Twitter—but it will definitely spell ruin for Musk.
The whale did fly once more again
all tail and clear blue sky and grin.
“What is dead may never die!” cried
all the birds who hoist it high.
That whale had better not forget
its users haven’t failed it yet.
Last week, I told you guys I was working on some new workflows, formats, and subscription options. You all told me you’d be willing to pay for bonus essays and reviews…
So! I’ve partnered with Clubb, a brand-new creator platform that offers (or is about to offer) a lot of flexible support options. I was invited to be involved with the launch, and I thought the timing was perfect to give this a shot.
Go ahead and sign up, follow me at my profile there, and check out the welcome post. If you like, you can become a “Superfan” for five bucks. That unlocks access to a companion essay to the one above: I’m Not Leaving Twitter (yet), And I Bet You Won’t (for long).
Right now, as I write this, the plan is to do 1-3 bonus essays/reviews/interviews a month for all Superfans, plus a monthly live subscriber Q&As video chat (Maybe on Twitch? We’ll see).
If you have ANY kind of feedback on this, positive, negative or ambivalent, you know where to find me.
We just did a more-than-double Everything Awesome last Friday, and I wanted to get this issue out ASAP after the Musk thing. So, I don’t have a full slate of Everything Awesome for you right now.
But it’ll be back to usual order next week—so for now, please enjoy this delightful bit of sports:
Not much progress on the 1.5 draft of CODEX 17 over the weekend, as I had an “Old School”-style nice little Saturday. But this week is looking good for more.