My bird is sick


I have written this to work through something that has been troubling me.

I want to write a blog post about my quest for the perfect teapot. I think it’s a good story that will make people smile.

As part of the story, I was taking a position about social media. I was suggesting that it doesn’t matter if the platform you are on is a cesspool filled with actual Nazis, because you can cultivate your own sewage- and fascism-free network on the platform.

I can’t make this argument in good faith, specifically about Twitter. I feels like it would make me complicit in something deeply wrong — and a wrong that seems to be getting deeper as the weeks go by. I don’t see that it’s possible to ‘fix’ a platform that is commercially driven, and where controversy seemingly increases profits.

I can make an argument about networks in general. I think they are what you make of them, and as an individual you can have a bit influence on how they function. Go out there with a big, open heart and do some small good.

Still, I won’t be leaving Twitter.

To qualify, I mean I won’t be leaving Twitter with immediate effect¹. I do have to move away though, because Twitter is going to die at some point like other social networks before it. These are platforms, not infrastructure. I don’t think they can be permanent.

This is a tough prospect though. I’ve been through it before with MySpace, and I’ve pretty much stopped using Facebook too. I know that Rupert Murdoch bought MySpace and I don’t think much of him, and I know that Facebook has deep moral and ethical problems that almost certainly can’t be solved now. However, I didn’t stop using MySpace and Facebook for these reasons. I stopped using MySpace and Facebook because they were (are) functionally shit.

Twitter has had an effect on my life, particularly my working life. Overall it has been a positive effect. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be doing my current job² without Twitter, and my job is pretty good. It actually helps me to do my job, too. I have met lovely new people through Twitter. I never met anybody new through Facebook, and everybody I ever met but didn’t like seems to be on LinkedIn.

As Twitter inevitably dies, I need to replace it with another thing, or other things. Don’t read this as a defense of Twitter. Rather this is an expression of my general, selfish needs:

  • It has to be open. Networks that are designed to be closed do not suit my purposes. Twitter is a really helpful internet ‘glue’ for me. It’s relative openness sets it apart from most every other platform and tool available.
  • It should be free of charge. It is true that I am cheap, but this is also my preference on general point of principle. I guess money is the root of the whole problem and oh God I can feel the pros and cons spiralling off into infinity so I’ll stick with free of charge but can accept that I’m… wrong?
  • It needs to have a degree of permanence. It’s important to me to be able to refer back to what I (and others) have said. To avoid repeating myself; to hold myself and others to account; to see how I’ve changed; and to learn from others’ experience.
  • The technical barrier to entry needs to be low. I am not very good with computers³.
  • It needs to be constrained. 140 characters was a great constraint, with positive effects on expression and experience. Maybe it was all an accident who cares. I like to work within constraints, and I really like a limited feature set.
  • It needs to have a functional search, and to facilitate search. Twitter’s search is fine, as far as 21st century search functions go. It gives me answers when I want them (looking for things I’ve said); I can find people that I’ve met; I can search by emoji. Also I can find tweets outside of Twitter.
  • People need to be there. Not just my friends. And if it’s going to be a genuinely rich, diverse group of people then it really will need to deal with abuse and fundamental culture proactively.

I think the main thing that I need to do is not invest so much in another platform without thinking more about the fact that it will come to an end. I feel strangely unprepared. I need to remember that my relationship isn’t with the platform, it’s with the people.

¹ I feel some hypocrisy here. I don’t feel ‘foie gras for breakfast’ bad, but I could be a better person. I don’t use Uber, for balance

² I am the Head of Data and Search at the UK Parliament

³ Relative to many of my work peers, at least