I’m not going to get into a discussion about whether what Musk is doing to Twitter is by accident or by design.
All I know is that Twitter is, at the time of writing, a network I no longer want to be a part of.
Since Musk’s takeover in October half the staff were summarily sacked, the former head of security has been smeared by Musk, Fauci has been lambasted, a bunch of journalists were banned from Twitter for reporting on the @ElonJet controversy (despite those journalists, as far as anyone can tell, not having broken any rules), while Trump was re-instated. Meanwhile Musk was happy to give helpful journalists access to confidential internal information – the “Twitter files”. Musk is happy to repeat Kremlin lines, and using alt-right dog whistles. Oh and Musk has messed up the verification system, and for a while banned links to other social network platforms. That’s probably not a complete list of all of Musk’s questionable behaviour.
So what then can anyone worried about this actually do about it?
The only option, I have concluded, is to exit Twitter – at least for the period while Musk remains in control.
My Twitter account has a big no entry sign on the profile picture, and other than tweeting a link to this post, will not tweet any more. I am not deleting my account for the moment – just in case someone more enlightened eventually takes over from Musk.
But why make this decision? Look at it this way. Musk’s erratic behaviour has led many big advertisers to leave the platform, massively damaging Twitter’s income. Did this have an effect? No, not as far as we can tell – it was just two days ago he was still tweeting “kek”. Musk banned journalists from Washington Post and CNN, organisations with massively bigger clout than you or I have – and Musk’s reaction was simply to double down.
Did any of this bad behaviour by Musk have a direct impact on my own use of Twitter? No, not really – because the Twitter CEO’s interest in European railway policy is minimal. But thinking about it that way completely and totally misses the point. It does not have to happen to me to push me to do something – to see this happen to others ought to be enough to prompt any ethical person to act.
It is not as if the choice to exit is without personal cost. I’ve assembled a good following on Twitter over the years, launched many work projects (such as #CrossBorderRail there), made contact with many journalists there who have reported on my work, and done plenty of consultancy and teaching about the impact of Twitter on EU politics. Twitter even landed me in 4th spot in ZN’s EU Influencer table. But by staying active I would implicitly still be supporting a network that is being run in a way that is directly opposed to my values. As I am self employed and set my own rules for my own online engagement I can easily choose to leave. Only I have to live with the professional consequences of my decision – for others that choice might be harder.
I’m sure there’ll be some snark in response to this post that I’m just some complaining social liberal. Sure, I am. I don’t want whatever disadvantaged group to feel unsafe or attacked on Twitter. Dorsey run Twitter was no panacea, but it was a lot less bad. But just as it’s within Musk’s power to turn Twitter into a hell hole, I am perfectly within my power to react in the only viable way I can – to exit. I owe Musk no loyalty, and if advertisers and journalists have no voice to change things while he is in control, then I am pretty damned sure I have no voice either.
At the moment I have some hope that Mastodon might be a viable alternative to Twitter (I explain why here), but there might be others that work better for you. Try them out. See what works. But, at the time of writing, anyone with decent ethics should not be using Twitter.