Nothing to lose but our Musk
To be clear: It is definitely bad that Elon Musk owns Twitter now. The reasons for this are numerous and exist on a wide gradient of urgency. It's always foreboding to watch the richest man in the world rattle his saber with 4chan-baiting Tim Pool memes, as it indicates that Musk will pilot Twitter with the same wildcard cruelty that slowly dismantled his aureate reputation during the Trump years. (They wanted this guy to be president!) On a much more banal level, it's a bummer to know that the least funny celebrity of all time is now calling the shots on what is — intentionally and unintentionally — the funniest website we have. Some various left-leaning Thought Leaders have made the point that Twitter was previously controlled by a cabal of criminal venture capital firms and that ideologically speaking, Jack Dorsey is an uncanny reflection of Elon Musk. But they're missing the point, because Dorsey barely used his website and seemed to be actively disillusioned with the utopian prospects of the internet by the time he hit the eject button. Musk, on the other hand, genuinely aspires to be an extremely famous poster, and has (correctly) determined that the easiest way to obtain that goal is to champion, and eventually earn residuals on, the sort of belligerent MAGA rancor most frequently deployed by Ted Cruz and Stefan Molyneaux.
You don't want someone like that sitting in the chair, so I wasn't shocked to see so many people treat the last few days like a psychic foreclosure on the ever-distressed platform — spinning off watery montages of Bean Dad and Pizza Rat like the closing overtures of Furious 7. I doubt there will be a galactic repolarization in Twitter's engagement; I mean, you didn't move to Canada in 2016, right? But there is some evidence that Musk's exasperating qualities have caused a tectonic disturbance in the bones of the internet. Ryan Broderick noted that since the purchase, Tumblr has enjoyed a steady increase of new membership while conservative agitators on Twitter are earning an outsized drip of new followers. That trend will likely continue for as long as Elon Musk is annoying and malicious, which is to say it will continue for the remainder of his cybernetically-enhanced lifespan. We're in the endgame now, baby. Is Twitter about to resemble something like Parler? Will all the keening, exiled podcasters come home to roost and instantly condemn the site to a mind-melting déjà vu speedrun of the last half-decade of discourse? Is the app going to be exclusive to Tesla owners traveling in the fabricated tubes beneath the ruins of Los Angeles? Right now, you can't rule it out.
I expected that dawning uncertainty to evince a sense of grief or loss among the regulars in my timeline. We've spent a lot of time hanging out here, and it's usually hard to say goodbye. But surprisingly, the overall temperament seemed to be one of merciful relief — as if people are hoping against hope that finally, with Musk's harebrained business philosophy at the helm, participation on Twitter will become a little less compulsory. Elon might be a public nuisance, but his repellent presence in the boardroom has provided a shred of cover for those who've fantasized about removing themselves from the attention economy for ages. It's a desire that applies to everyone, regardless of regimented clout tiers. Becca possesses the sort of follower-count where one of her stray thoughts can be stripped of its context by the coiled, pulsing algorithm, summoning a chorus of smug, outrageously teenaged replies to her doorstep. I have the sort of follower-count that makes me spend a lot of my time thinking about what I need to do to achieve a higher follower-count, so I can experience firsthand the lofty levels of unhappiness reserved for the more elite members of the site. We can each be free from our prisons, so long as Musk follows through with his scheduled annihilation.
There are too many takes calling Twitter a platform that is poisonous for your health and destructive for society. Yes, some of those assertions are true, but we've all had plenty of fun staring at our phones over the years and nobody should deprecate that fundamental truth. I have a healthy distaste for people who've logged over 200,000 tweets and constantly complain about the HELL SITE, same with those who venerate posting as a Christlike act of ascetic sacrifice. (I promise I'm not going for that here.) But what I will say is that I spent my entire youth orbiting between internet forums that were either blooming, dying, or caught somewhere in between, which always seemed to be the natural way of things. Nobody was supposed to be on Myspace forever, just like nobody was supposed to be on Twitter forever. In fact, I believe that one of the driving factors of the ongoing social media cultural implosion is that we've simply been rattling around the same place for too long. It is completely deranged that a huge portion of my professional portfolio is tied to an account I made on a high-school computer so I could follow Conan O'Brien and Homestar Runner, but nobody could've predicted that a wash of Silicon Valley finance would soon purge all of the ephemeral and transient qualities of the internet. We were apparently here for life, which wasn't a contract we ever signed ourselves.
All of this is made funnier by the fact that Twitter, for most of its existence, has almost exclusively posted operating losses. An overwhelming offer from some fabulously wealthy Reddit-brained gargoyle is honestly one of the few off-ramps left available for anyone heavily invested in the death throes of the circa-2010 VC-backed digital media feeding frenzy — so much so that I wouldn't be surprised if Elon offers to buy BuzzFeed next. Musk might destroy the company, but at least it won't be the board's problem to solve anymore. That, to me, is the most fitting end to the experiment. They argued for years that Twitter is a crucial appendage of the public square, they rolled out a bevy of safety features to stem the tide of psychos below the surface, and then they turned themselves over to the one user who embodies all of the platform's worst attributes. It was always a huge joke! I can't believe I took it so seriously.
There are already stray reports that Musk might back off on his Twitter purchase, mostly due to the fact that the man is easily distracted and seldom puts his money where his mouth is. So perhaps this story will disippitate, cooler heads will prevail, and the company will continue to lose money in relative silence without a celebrity CEO. The death of Twitter shall be scheduled for the far-off future date, probably when another aggrieved, uber-rich poster decides to take matters into their own hands. But please do savor the glimpse into a post-Twitter internet. At last, Elon Musk finally has his chance to save the world.