Today’s Must-Read on the “History of Twitter”

This is a very good piece on the beginnings of Twitter, and its demise. not its demise as a platform, but its demise as having any resemblance to the promise and maybe intent from when it was created. And the piece nails two big, ugly, foundational WHYs?

  1. The homogeneity, and therefore the lack of perspective, of its founders.
  2. The business imperatives behind being a “unicorn” without a real business model attached to its strongest value.

I, myself, have said two things pretty consistently for years now:

  1. Twitter didn’t know what it wanted to be when it grew up, and that identity crisis was behind its lack of grwoth as a platform despite arguably more free marketing and influencer adoption than any other platform had, including Facebook. That lack of growth is behind the desperation to keep even the most horrifying content, and the effort to re-cast controversial hate speech as “newsworthy.”
  2. It’s a total lie to believe that platforms like Twitter (or Facebook or Reddit or countless mainstream media outlet websites) want to solve the troll problem. Trolls and bots create a lot of ad impressions. Ad impressions are the only consistent way these platforms make money. They are monetizing the hate every day. A couple of years ago I spoke at the poorly-supported SXSW Online Harassment Summit. Our panel was about making money, and the description assumed there was a monetary incentive to push harassment off one’s web site. I asked the organizers to chage this assumption into the topic we would debate, because I steadfastly take the other side. Caring about a well-moderated, civil, online community…which is absolutely achievable…means selling your investors on the HIT that will take on your bottom line. The increased expense. The reduced impressions.

I haven’t changed my mind on either of these things.

So here are some excerpts from Mike’s piece that resonated with me, but I urge you to read the whole thing. He was there.

Twitter, which was conceived and built by a room of privileged white boys (some of them my friends!), never considered the possibility that they were building a bomb. To this day, Jack Dorsey doesn’t realize the size of the bomb he’s sitting on. Or if he does, he believes it’s metaphorical. It’s not. He is utterly unprepared for the burden he’s found himself responsible for.
Twitter made the decision to ride the hate wave. With their investors demanding growth, and their leadership blind to the bomb they were sitting on, Twitter decided that the audience Trump was bringing them was more important than upholding their core principles, their ethics, and their own terms of service.
But when leadership doesn’t want something fixed it’s close to impossible to fix it. And when leadership doesn’t see something as a problem, it’s not getting fixed at all.

Mike’s use of an Emily Dickinson poem to close his piece adds a poignancy that reflects how I really do feel about the perversion of the social media platforms I have loved into, as he calls Twitter, evoking another poet, Trent Reznor, a “pretty hate machine.”

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