410 Gone

“Embracing HTTP error code 410 means embracing the impermanence of all things.” - Mark Pilgrim, March 27, 2003 (diveintomark.com)

I was on Twitter for 11 of the 12 years of its existence. I had a five-figure Twitter account, making me one of the first 99,999 users on the service (in fact, although I can’t remember the exact number, I think I was one of the first 50,000 users). I have no idea how much time and attention and imagination I invested into it.

On 17 August 2018, I “deactivated” my account. Twitter doesn’t give you the option to delete your account. Instead, you deactivate it, which is Twitter’s way of saying it really really really hopes that you’ll be back, because that monthly active user number really won’t keep going up without you.

I won’t.

Twitter was one of the original “microblogging” services, designed to allow you to post a status update on what you were doing to your friends, sometimes (often) via SMS. SMS birthed Twitter, and gave it its 140 character limit. Twitter’s competition wasn’t Facebook, or Instagram, or “social networks” but the status updates you created on services like AIM.

There were a bunch of these kinds of services around, and Twitter wasn’t even the best of them. Jaiku, Pownce, Plurk, Identi.ca — all offered some kind of variant on the short message meant to update your friends on what you were up to.

None of these services were designed to be communities, and there was little in the way of thought about community management. Twitter’s executives described themselves as “the free speech wing of the free speech party”, an indication that no way on the planet were they going to be arbiters of what people said on their platform.

Twitter has come a long way since then, and — particularly for the media — has become central to a lot of lives. It’s also become something that reeks of toxic waste, waste of time and effort and energy throwing words built on emotion into a stew of viciousness.

Why should I make an investment both in time and emotion in a service that actually cares so little about its users — and, in fact, about the health of the society it now influences? The excuse that Twitter holds up a mirror to wider society is hogwash: it has consistently and with an outstanding level of ill-judgement given a platform to and cultivated people with utterly reprehensible views.

If you’re an out and out vile individual, like Alex Jones, Twitter gives you a free pass. If you’re a conspiracy theorist who wants to get traction for your lies, Twitter is your friend. If you’re a racist, Twitter will defend your “free speech rights”.

But if you’re a woman getting vile, violent and consistent abuse, Twitter will do precisely nothing to stop it.

Without Twitter, the insanity that is QAnon couldn’t have gained the traction it has. Confined to 4chan, it would have been yet another crackpot piece of tomfoolery. Amplified unchallenged by Twitter, it becomes a series of signs held up at Trump’s rallies, and a truck parked across a highway. It won’t be too long before it becomes a death.

In the end, I decided that Twitter doesn’t deserve my attention. I couldn’t, in good faith, support a service which cares so little about the culture around it, that does nothing to be a positive influence on society, which which sees the rights of little lost boys to abuse women as more important than the rights of women not to be abused.

There are, to borrow a Trumpism, many good people on Twitter. But Twitter doesn’t deserve them. And no matter how good the people, I can no longer be part of a service which just doesn’t give a shit about how much of a negative influence it has on the world.