Has Twitter reached a turning point now that Elon has banned several journalists?

I haven’t written much about Twitter here, because it’s exhausting even trying to keep up with what’s happening, to be quite honest. I suspected that Elon’s ownership might be a train wreck, but I didn’t expect what happened — a train wreck in which each car of the train is a dumpster, and they are all on fire. And Elon is standing on top of the train, laughing maniacally and pouring gasoline everywhere. Is he a chaos agent, like Donald Trump, where he just enjoys watching things burn? Perhaps. Or it’s possible that he — like a number of tech bros, including Marc Andreessen — believes that everything, including journalism and morality, needs to be torn down and rebuilt by technology.

An Elon fanboy scoffed at criticism of his handling of Twitter recently, and said it would be easy as pie for a guy who puts rockets into space, etc. But the reality is that putting rockets into space or building an electric car is light-years easier than running a social network like Twitter, especially if you choose to rewrite the rules of public behavior and reinvent moderation at the same time as you are trying to convert the platform from advertising to subscription revenue. It’s not that it’s hard technically, but it involves all kinds of tradeoffs, and all of these have to do with human beings, the most complex mechanisms ever.

After saying he wanted to protect free speech and that Twitter was a public square that was so important it had to be protected, and after saying he would create a content moderation council before making any moderation decisions, Elon quickly restored accounts like Trump’s based on a Twitter poll (how many bots voted in that one?) and then brought back some of the worst right-wing accounts, tweeted that Fauci should be prosecuted, and then banned several journalists for reporting on an account that tracked his private jet — an account that he bragged about leaving up in the interests of free speech.

Here’s something Reed Albergotti wrote in his Semafor newsletter that I thought was perceptive:

“I sympathize with Musk’s frustration at people posting the location of his private jet in real time. Private jet data should be public and it’s a legitimate source of information for reporting. But there’s no reason to post it in real time, other than to mess with Musk. If somebody in a mask followed the car my son was in and tried to intimidate the driver, I’d be angry. If I saw journalists continuing to draw attention to the real-time private jet account the day after my son was threatened, I’d be pissed off.

I think it’s hypocritical to voice concern for victims of online harassment but to think it’s fine when it happens to Musk, even if he is one of the world’s richest men. But Musk’s decision to disable those accounts is a huge turning point, regardless of whether it was justified under his newly-implemented “anti-doxxing” policy. It’s now clear that Twitter is not an open forum for ideas. It’s a site that Musk controls according to his whims and emotions. Free speech can’t exist if users know, in the back of their mind, that they could be silenced nonchalantly by the emperor.”

For now, I remain on Twitter, but I have reduced my use of it significantly, and am trying out alternative such as Mastodon, where you can find me as mathewi@journa.host. I’m also on Post.news. I’m also on various Discords, and on Reddit, and Tumblr, and pretty much every other social platform. But you can always find me here. Wouldn’t it be great if Twitter’s decline somehow got everyone to go back to good old blogging? 🙂

211 Replies to “Has Twitter reached a turning point now that Elon has banned several journalists?”

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