Brain dump, December 2022

What’s happening with Twitter is rather transparent: a) Elon overpaid for Twitter, having had his bluff called to purchase it, and b) Having overpaid for Twitter, he now needs to inflate its value. And how do you inflate its value? By driving engagement. And how do you drive engagement? By performing a bunch of provocative stunts, including even more of the trolling, division, and outrage mongering that makes Twitter the cesspool that it already was.

Nothing about the “Twitter files” is interesting or noteworthy outside the context of creating a feedback loop of engagement on Twitter itself.

If there are indeed “files” that are as earth-shattering as was alleged, then why not publish the files? Why release them to just a few select journalists (Matt Taibbi, Bari Weiss, etc.), who just happen to be politically aligned with Elon? Why did these journalists publish their revelations by way of Twitter threads — possibly the clumsiest way of publishing long-form content?

The contents of the revelations themselves are amazingly banal: these are the inner workings of a social media company trying its best to do content moderation, imperfectly, as all social media companies are bound to do.

Elon is extremely good at generating hype around what he does, which is what has made him such a good businessman. With the release of the Twitter files, notice that he didn’t merely release the files; he built up to it over the course of many days, tweeting numerous times about how he’s going to release the files. He didn’t need to do that; he could have just released the files. But by building up to it, he drew more eyes to the platform, regardless of what the content of the “files” was going to be.

And what will happen with Twitter now? Aside from the easy argument that a privately-held company can literally, and by definition, never be a “public square,” what else could happen with it? Elon can twiddle whatever knobs he likes, such as imposing a pricing model for verified users, creating different levels of verification, making tweets editable, etc. But the fundamental engagement model of Twitter will remain the same: otherwise-serious people flinging verbal turds at each other, provoked and boosted by avalanches of bots and anonymous trolls.

I’ve never engaged that much on Twitter, and don’t plan to continue. I probably won’t delete my account outright, as Sam Harris was wise enough to do, since I’d like to log on occasionally and check the state of the platform, out of perverse curiosity, but I believe genuinely that Twitter continues to be a net negative for our society, our politics, and our mental health.