by Fionna Farrell
illustration by Maia Hadler, Art Director
It’s hard to underestimate the role that Twitter has played in the average Obie’s lifespan—that is, until now. Despite how revered we are for our social prowess, it's common fact that it’s very difficult to find real community within our mile-wide rural idyll. The tragedies of the socially maladapted stretch for less than five blocks, but destroy lives. Every day, a freshmen friend group excommunicates its least-talkative member to the Balkans. A brazen Azzies wave at crush #5/enemy #4/#3 heir to the Belizean throne goes unreciprocated. Eye contact with a situationship makes for a very uncomfortable Poetry 101 reading. But we are Obies. As Winston Churchill once declared from the Tappan bandstand, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Yeah, Twitter used to make the time spent within this hellscape just a bit easier on the soul. I should know, because I barely use Twitter, and my happiness has been plateauing for years. But going off general sentiment and what my friends have said, Twitter used to make freaks feel like they (we) might genuinely matter in this cruel world, that stretches far wider than our homely mile. I can’t help but agree—all the in-jokes and competitively-clever usernames aside, I do genuinely believe that Twitter might have been the objectively greatest social media platform PBR (Pre-BeReal).
It was a place where we could be desperately unwell together. Whereas Instagram feeds on jealousy and spite, Twitter feeds on collective misery. What a beautiful thing! It was a place where the unhinged, the micro-niche, the intrusive and the obtrusive could shape a utopian community together, open to all except trolls, normies, and haters. In this way, Twitter became a blooming agora of intellect and culture, a place where truth was not only found, but created. It’s a shame that anyone would ever take advantage of that by spreading disinformation and hate.
It’s an even greater shame—and much more—when disinformation and hate become (Obie word incoming) normalized. If you haven’t been living under a cyber-rock lately, you’ll know exactly what I’m not-so-subtly referring to; Grimes’s ex-boyfriend-turned-comedian took over Twitter a couple weeks ago, and with it has been vehemently waging war with all of us canceling woke moralists. Musk seems to have a vision for Twitter like the internet version of a Cormac McCarthy novel. For those of you who don’t read because you were too busy on Twitter: it’s become a lawless land, old pal. Be careful where you go riding your NFT horse.
Just days into his nightmarish reign, the owner of Monopoly Tesla stock tweeted “Comedy is now legal again.” Musk, who shares the honor with Rudy Giuliani as one of the worst SNL hosts ever, clearly has a very liberal interpretation of what counts as “comedy.” A self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist,” his ostensible defense of civil liberties is a pretty flimsy front for what the billionaire does best—-stroke his own ego with the tenacity of a thirteen-year-old who’s discovered their first chest hair. It comes as no surprise that Musk’s defense of free speech has spawned an upsurge in the noxious “isms” across Twitter; anonymous accounts have materialized from the ether armed with their slurs and fried Nazi memes. Within the first 24 hours of Musk’s takeover—between the 27th and 28th of October—usage of the n-word across the platform increased 500% from the previous average. Other slurs wielded against gay, transgender, and Jewish people also spiked astronomically across the platform, despite execs like head of trust and safety Yoel Roth claiming that there had been a reduction of hateful language across the platform. “We’re continuing our work to make Twitter safer every day,” Roth said at the time. He resigned from the company on November tenth.
Roth is just one within Twitter’s mass exodus of employees who previously oversaw departments like security and content moderation. Adding insult to injury is the fact that, financially speaking, Twitter is in the shitter, big time. They are currently running a negative cash flow of several billion dollars, bankruptcy appearing to be a not-unrealistic possibility. In response to these dire fiscal straits, Musk has really cracked down on employees; the half of them that weren’t laid off (including the entire communications department) are now being encouraged to focus on generating revenue as a top priority, as well as “finding and suspending any verified bots/trolls/spam.” Despite the wifi-password names he gives his children, the bots are definitely Musk’s kryptonite.
All of this is to say, Twitter has generally become something of a hellscape—and not the good, distracting kind. Us socially-conscious people are now hard-pressed to answer: what is the point of staying on Twitter, if it has become a vehicle for hate and the corporate interests of the 21st-century boogeyman? Why not transition to Mastodon, whose original source code is not only publicly available, but was also named after ancient elephants? It’s very tempting not to reclaim our last morsels of dignity and post “I’m leaving twitter forever.” I was never on Twitter, but I’d be damned if I ever went back.
Yes, you are very, very brave for leaving Twitter, and you definitely deserve a medal. Like the bird, are you also now free? Bad analogy—birds aren’t real.
Of course, the virtue signaling temptation is extremely powerful. It sometimes claims even our strongest of soldiers. But I find that, during times like these, you must ask yourself whether “leaving” Twitter is a form of rejection or complacency—in our limited attention span brains, it is very hard to tell the difference. Consider, though, the evil that exists within Twitter. It was always there, percolating beneath the surface, but Musk’s takeover has only allowed it to manifest free from the obstacles of an incel and bigotry-resistant society.
Anarchy unveils the darkest truths of our world. Under Musk’s new paid subscription laws, a fake Eli Lilly (one of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies) account posted that insulin is now free—as a result, the real Eli Lilly had to clarify that, no, insulin is not free, and their stock plummeted. Now, I’m not saying this is always the best way to get genuine conversations started. But it’s what we have with what we’ve got—and the effects, on some of the largest corporations around the globe—are real and tangible. Musk’s Twitter has rebranded what we consider to be discourse and brought it to a chaotic new ideal; the solution isn’t to turn away, but to fall in and listen. When the hellscape is open, the demons stand naked. Or something like that. So please, don’t just abandon Twitter like an old friend who’s turned to a lifetime of gambling, drugs, and Twitter. Maybe give her up for Lent. Delete the app for a week and trudge up to Vermont to find your headspace. But, for those of us who have Twitter as much as those who don’t, leaving forever definitely isn’t the way out. Turning Musk’s mercurial logic against itself is—and, to a certain extent, it’s already been working. On its current path, Twitter is out to destroy itself, leaving its nutrients and waste alike for the birds.