And if the erratic behavior of a billionaire allowed us to realize that Twitter has become, in a few years, a tomb where the worst faults of the web rub shoulders? By breaking his toy, Elon Musk could paradoxically save us.
Twitter is broken. Log on to the social network for a few minutes and you will see many messages of this ilk swarming on the platform, since its takeover by its erratic new boss at the end of October.
Internet users are wrong, however: Elon did not break Twitter, the platform has been obsolete for years. And Musk could paradoxically allow us to finally get our heads above water.
Not a day goes by without the billionaire proving what some have been reporting for a long time: in addition to being a compulsive liar, Elon Musk behaves like a mini-dictator in a kingdom he has decimated. Twitter is holding on to just a few employees who are forced to change the terms of service as soon as a breeze turns the weather vane one way or the other.
The blue certification badge disappears, reappears, turns gold, the links to Mastodon are censored, then no, then it’s the turn of Instagram and Facebook to be excluded, journalists are ordered to clear, then can come back, but others stay suspended, profile pictures become square, some companies may have a double thumbnail, the right to vote becomes payable and suddenly, we take this realization, like a slap in the middle of the Oscars: all this is not what a vast farce.
Web 2.0 as it exists has taken away our right to indifference
For years now, the political and media world has been running in a vacuum under the big top of the same circus where the users are both the spectators and the show. For years the same Twittos tweet and the same followers retweet, pseudo-conscious victims of algorithms that reward the most negative emotions with ephemeral virality. Notification-hungry zombies that behave online like they never would face-to-face.
” People don’t react like that to things in real life “, recently asserted Rebecca Jennings, journalist and columnist, in an excellent article of Vox which dissects the grotesque mechanisms of runaway on Twitter. ” It’s only on platforms that controversies and drama are prioritized because they drive engagement, where we’re rewarded for hating each other. “Where we come to hate a woman who tweets that she loves drinking coffee with her husband on his terrace while talking for hours.
The web wasn’t supposed to work like that.
Humans aren’t supposed to work like that.
No one should have an opinion on everything all the time. Twitter gave the illusion that every word was valid, that everyone had an interest in reacting to the slightest tweet. Where the polemicists argue and share them rain, and suddenly the reaction of an anonymous person is highlighted by a certified account, as if it were his greatest enemy, and the machine starts again.
Web 2.0 as it exists has taken away our right to indifference.
Where to say “I don’t know” online will not bring any likes, no retweets, no gratification of its virtual entourage.
Where we end up speaking only in turnkey expression, with a bonus for whoever declaims the most grandiloquent and empty sentence (and it doesn’t matter if they contradict each other).
where it belongs to be for absolute freedom of expression (for who could oppose freedom?) and against censorship (even when harboring divides, hate, or sharing transphobic messages), supposedly dying so people can verbalize their racism, homophobia, or sexism, and if you’re not okay with that, you’re at best closed-minded, at worst a danger to democracy.
The web was not supposed to work like that, because no platform should bring together 200 million people every day and allow them to swoop down on the slightest individual who lets an arm protrude.
The bottle doesn’t matter, as long as we have the indignation
For years, it was thought that Internet users would live in bubbles because of the web and would cut themselves off from others, while people have never been so exposed to contradictory opinions. Even Elon Musk, however drowned under the praises of his dithyrambic relatives, cannot ignore an entire crowd who boos him when he goes on stage alongside Dave Chappelle. Or 10 million people who vote for his resignation as head of Twitter.
With their centralized operation, platforms like Twitter have provided an answer to a need they created: to fight FOMO (fear of missing out), the fear of missing out, of not being up to date, of missing the scandal everyone is talking about. If tomorrow, all this little world were to split into multiple Mastodon instances, how could I let everyone know that I oppose the woman at the cafe on her terrace, and get as many retweets as possible?
Studies show that it’s not just filter bubbles that can radicalize people: the more people are exposed to opposing ideas online, the more they become radicalized as well. No algorithm is neutral, moreover, the right is greatly amplified by Twitter, even if it shouts the opposite all day long. But what does the bottle matter, as long as there is indignation: the form of the speeches has largely exceeded any rationality on the substance. In any event, the facts do not make us change our minds. The important thing is commitment. And users are far from being the main culprits of these shortcomings, victims of dark patterns and pernicious algorithms that maximize attention restraint.
On Twitter, there has never been a silence bonus.
By embodying the worst of our world, Elon Musk can save us from its excesses
The ridiculousness of the situation now appears like the nose in the middle of the face, now that we realize that this parallel virtual universe can collapse like a house of cards, at the whim of a single man.
Twitter is a private company that has done what it wants with us from the start, but that’s also a turnkey opinion that lacks nuance. There are normally safeguards, both legislative and moral, in place for years that Musk is tearing down like there’s no tomorrow. Showing that the rules only bind those who respect them.
In this, Elon Musk may be our saviour.
He is the incarnation of a neoliberalism pushed to its climax, of a world which tolerates, even which encourages, that a handful of men can weigh more than 100 billion dollars each. Who has created an environment in which a single man can have enough means to acquire the communication platform most used by world leaders, journalists, elites, without any checks and balances.
Musk’s growing power as his brilliance wanes (causing the loss of Tesla, one of the most interesting companies of the 21st century), is a strong warning signal: beware, we have collectively entered the red zone. Shut off the engine and wait for it to cool.
By going so far, so fast, the billionaire will have helped Internet users to understand that nothing belongs to them online: we are only tourists, who consume and feed the system.
Twitter has encouraged wonderful things. Social movements, meetings, debates, hilarious blunders, sharing of memorable memes. But is the gain still worth what we lose on a daily basis, in time and mental health? The web was not supposed to work with such a concentration of tools, an addiction to dopamine shots with each retweet and growing virtual animosity. The web is not supposed to push us to comment on all the photos of Emmanuel Macron at the World Cup, just as it is not there to welcome our public rants about people who comment on the photos of Emmanuel Macron at the World Cup. World Cup.
There is only one thing left to hope for: that Elon Musk finishes breaking Twitter.
May the fallen Internet users take their raft and leave to be stranded on a multitude of small islands, whether they are called Discord, Mastodon, Reddit or even the smallest thematic forums. Quieter, softer places. Even if the great exodus is not for now, it is the first time since the beginnings of web 2.0 that users are taking seriously the possibility of an alternative digital world.
Molly White, researcher and engineer behind the 3 Is Going Just Great website, keeps saying: Despite the urban legend that people are chained to web giants, it’s never been easier and cheaper to create and deploy your own site or blog than it is today, and it’s heartbreakinge. So let’s take flight.