You’ve no doubt heard about the train wreck that is Twitter’s current state under Elon Musk. Even if you would prefer a Twitter with less content moderation, as Musk had said he wished to create, it’s hard to be optimistic about Twitter’s future amid Musk’s wave of haphazard sackings. So many of us are now starting to ask: what does the world after Twitter look like?
And, well, do you remember the world before Twitter? It was full of blogs! A Substack post from Brad DeLong today linked to John Scalzi, who I remember best sixteen years ago for taping bacon to the cat. (I miss the ’00s in a number of ways. Something I never expected I’d say.) Scalzi, like me, did not stop blogging even when it stopped being cool, and he suggests that in the post-Twitter world “everyone should start blogging again.”
Will the post-Twitter world be a blogosphere again? Perhaps that’s just the wishful thinking of us bloggers. But we can at least take some steps to make it happen. And one of the things Scalzi reminds us – something I admit being delinquent about in the past few years – is to visit other bloggers’ sites. Now, as was already the case in blogs’ heyday fifteen years ago, few of us have the mental space to remember to regularly visit multiple weekly or biweekly updated sites. But there are ways to make the task easier. With some blogs, like this one, you can subscribe by email. For others: blogs suffered a major blow when Google killed Google Reader, but its functions are still available through Feedly and The Old Reader: tools that will deliver new content from multiple blogs to you.
The most important thing I can do in this post is to name other philosophy blogs that, like mine, have continued chugging along during the Twitter era. Because Scalzi and I are not the only ones who’ve kept it up. Most obviously there’s the Indian Philosophy Blog, which I co-run with Elisa Freschi – and she has kept up her own blog all this time as well. The IPB’s sister blog in Chinese Philosophy, Warp Weft and Way, remains lively. My exchange with Justin Whitaker earlier this year was notable in that his half of it took place on his own blog at Buddhistdoor.
And some of the older blogs in Western philosophy remain too. The Speculative Realist movement, in many ways born of blogs, keeps on going at Larval Subjects and Ecology Without Nature. Front Porch Republic carries on the same brand of intellectual conservatism that intrigued me a decade ago, through a very different political era. And the larger-scale blogs at Daily Nous and New APPS continue as well. Blogs were a great place for stimulating philosophical ideas before there was Twitter – and they look well poised to remain so after Twitter.
Cross-posted with minor modifications at the Indian Philosophy Blog.
Seth Zuihō Segall said:
Sorry, Amod. We Twitter exiles have already moved on. There are better Twitter alternatives out there such as Mastodon and Post (Post looks the most promising) and they are the immediate future–not a return to the blogosphere. But we bloggers will stay here and continue to do our dinosaur thing, and inform the world about our blogs on the successor social media meccas.
Amod Lele said:
I have a lot of doubts about this view. I find myself still going to Twitter fairly often even now because, in reading article about current events, I continue to find links to tweets that others have made. I still haven’t seen a single one to Mastodon: so far it seems to be something that people are trying to make happen in theory, but hasn’t happened yet in practice, and in that respect it is in the same category as a return to blogging.
I do, however, offer you my humblest apologies for neglecting to mention your excellent blog The Existential Buddhist in my list of continuing blogs above!
Doug Bates said:
Good and bad. Who gets to say?
My observation is Twitter is now much better, both as a user experience and as a business.
As a user experience, there’s the data showing usage is up. There’s also my opinion of my experience there.
As a business, it appears (and I would argue it is true) that Twitter was severely overstaffed. We have decades of experience with companies being bought out and being downsized to achieve profitability. It’s an ugly process, and sometimes erroneous, but Twitter seems to be a case where this was the right thing to do.
Yes, a lot of advertisers have fled Twitter. But if Twitter advertising works, they will be replaced in short order by profit-seeking companies. This revenue loss is likely short-lived.
I’m optimistic about Twitter. If it were a public company valued at as little as you value it at, I’d invest.
I do not in the near term expect that there will be a world “after Twitter.” I expect Twitter to continue to be relevant. It’s the only place where there’s real conflict. All alternatives have been echo chambers. Conflict is more interesting.
Blogging is niche. Few people have the attention spans or the requisite backgrounds and interests to read most blogs. Most people are just interested in circus. Twitter is the best circus around at the moment.
Have to say I find the whole meltdown over Musk rather bizarre: as far as I can tell, basically nothing has happened. I’m aware of no Twitter technical breakdown. The only change is that some feminists (e.g., Megan Murphy) and some other accounts that were banned for wildly illiberal reasons (e.g., The Babylon Bee) are back. It may well be that many of those fired employees were not doing necessary work. Those that were will no doubt be replaced / rehired in time. Musk’s record as a businessman suggests to me that it would be rash to write this whole thing off.
The move to Mastodon will fail, as have other attempts to create a second Twitter (usually out of a particular constituency – Parler, Gab, Minds, etc.).
Seth Zuihō Segall said:
Doug and Polemarchus,
Only time will tell which of us is right in our judgement about the future of Twitter. My own take is that as Twitter continues to be flooded by ethnonationalist, racist, antisemetic, transphobic, conspiracy theory, QAnon, and similar material and as new options such as Post and BlueSky admit larger numbers of subscribers, that the communities on Twitter than I most value—the Buddhist, the philosophy, and the cognitive neuroscience communities—will exit Twitter and find better homes elsewhere–homes where they do not have to support the financial coffers of an “own-the-libs” infantile narcissist. Twitter will continue–as 4chan, 8chan, and Truth Social continue–but it will cease being the influential part of meritocractic, journalistic, and intellectual culture it has hithertofore been. My experience so far on Post is that even in beta it offers a superior social media experience. I am already finding many public intellectual figures on it whose opinions I value, and it will get better as it grows from just tens of thousands to millions of subscribers. But, of course, I could be wrong–I have never been a good prophet. Maybe Twitter will survive Musk. I just don’t plan to stick around to find out.
As far as I can tell, everything you say about what Twitter might become is speculative. Personally I have seen almost no content at all of the sort you suggest above. I can certainly understand how people would leave if the site became a cesspool of that sort of thing, though my own experience has been that blocking and unfollowing can accomplish a great deal.
The current attempt to move away from Twitter has greatly disturbed me, however, as it suggests a profoundly illiberal instinct on the elite left. In the past there was talk, and half-hearted moves, on the center-right to get away from Twitter because there were opinions that could not be expressed on the platform (e.g., gender critical beliefs), opinions that are extremely widely held, are certainly not bigoted, and must be part of the public conversation, but whose expression regularly resulted in accounts being shut down for good. Twitter was thus a sort of public square by default, but also subject to a regime of illiberal censorship. (My hope is that under Musk it will become something similar, but without the censorship.) Right now there is a move on the left to leave Twitter not because it has actually become a cesspool of unavoidable far-right hate, but because of some entirely speculative account of what it might become. The inference I make is that many actually want the censorship of decent opinions with which they disagree: that is the only thing that has actually been lost so far. Even if this is false, the effect of the move to other platforms, if successful, will be to deepen the ideological bubbles that most people now seem to occupy. So I very much hope it fails, and I think it deserves to.
Two things about Musk. First of all, it should be clear I think it’s clear his basic instinct here is fundamentally in keeping with the best liberal traditions: he really does want to bring greater freedom of speech to the platform, which is laudable and was clearly necessary. This is not to deny that his personal posting can be of the ‘own-the-libs’ variety, which will be off-putting to many. Second, his record as a manager of businesses is, um, not that bad. After having co-founded Paypal, he brought us the electric car, and also has his own space program. So on that basis, I think there’s a good chance that the firings and management thus far have not been quite so casual and haphazard as some might think, and that the chances of him keeping the bird app alive and well ahead of any competition are pretty good (especially given that he has network effects going for him in this case). Maybe this will be his Waterloo, but I see no sign of that yet.
Doug Bates said:
I have two Twitter accounts, for different purposes. Twitter gives great power to users to curate their experiences. What I experience in the two accounts is dramatically different, but in neither of them do I see a Twitter that, as you put it, is “flooded by ethnonationalist, racist, antisemetic, transphobic, conspiracy theory, QAnon, and similar material.” Perhaps what it is that you see is because it is what you’re looking for.
As for lining the coffers of, as you put it, an “infantile narcissist” I personally try to avoid harsh speech, particularly when it comes to name-calling. I think Musk is the greatest business genius we’ve had since Steve Jobs. He deserves to have his coffers lined.
As for the terms “meritocratic” and “journalistic,” it hardly seems that the two these days can be used to describe the same thing. My stepfather was an award-winning investigative journalist. He’d be appalled at the trash that passes for journalism now. He did, however, live long enough to see it coming, because he was around for the beginning of the destruction of the 20th-century journalism business model.
I very much feel as Polemarchus does. I also see profoundly illiberal behaviors and beliefs coming from the elite left. I see seething hatred and intolerance.
Lloyd Byler said:
and your point is? So if it or any other printed literature is filled with what you describe, you can choose to just leave that space.. and as you mention that you did leave, which is probably good, because to combat toxic content with toxic content is not constructive and to accuse is to inflame; not to mention that pesky little thing called ‘free speech’.
I think the answer overall to the free flying virtual comment space is to inject a huge dose of accountability.
Ultimate freedom requires ultimate accountability.
All experience is biased. What is acceptable is therefore based on the community standards therein, and, in a global community there is bound to be some serious clashes of opinions which are based on experiencial bias.
Therefore, the solution that injects community engaged enforcement based on ultimate accountability, that does not also restrict ultimate freedom will be the only truly winning model going forward.
Beyond such an accountability structure regulated by the majority in the particular community therein, their needs to be neutrality.
Like most adults in the U.S. (77% of us, according to Pew Research in May) I don’t use Twitter and never have. (Pew also reported, in contrast, that 81% of U.S. adults use YouTube.) If, in the course of my research, I come across a tweet/thread that seems important to read, I will look at it on the Web via a Nitter instance, but this is rare. Although I’ve always been a Twitter outsider, I think it is important that Twitter is at least accessible on the open Web, which is what gives it the quality of being a public forum, insofar as it is.
For me, the Web (anything accessible via a URL in a browser, including blogs) is where the action is, as I said in a comment on Amod’s earlier post where I pointed to Tim Berners-Lee’s 2010 Scientific American article “Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality”. As I noted in that earlier comment, another important aspect of the Web is that it is easily archived for posterity by the Internet Archive, which is always top of mind for those of us who consider libraries and archives to be important.
I would advise that anyone, like Seth, who is considering using a social media app, like Post, that is not accessible on the open Web should seriously reconsider that decision, given the importance of the Web to public discourse that can be easily archived for posterity. Make sure your social media platform is interoperable with standard Web technology. A recent blog post about this advice is: “PSA: Do Not Use Services That Hate The Internet” (and by “Internet” the author means the Web).
Long live the Web!
Seth Zuihō Segall said:
Nathan, I may have misunderstand your point–correct me if I do–but Post is not an app–it is http://www.post.news.
Seth, when I go to that URL all I see is a sign-up page; there is no publicly accessible content there as far as I can see, and even when I search Google for site:post.news all the the user profiles in the results list point to the same sign-up page, so it’s a locked-in walled garden as described in “PSA: Do Not Use Services That Hate The Internet”. You may see content there because you are authenticated; anyone who is not authenticated sees nothing.
I tried accessing Post again in my browser this evening, and now I can see all the Post pages that I click on in a Google search result for site:post.news. The site must have changed global visibility of pages since I last checked it this morning, when every URL only showed me the Post sign-up page. This change invalidates my previous advice about Post; my advice seemed to be valid before but no longer is—for the moment, at least. So, carry on with Post if it suits you.
Meanwhile, today the Center for Countering Digital Hate and the Anti-Defamation League released reports about the rise of hate speech and other problematic content on Twitter that confirm Seth’s fears.
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