Twitter: are we witnessing the brain death of the social network?

Contrary to popular belief, people do not die in a second. Death is, on the contrary, a process: your heart stops beating, you stop breathing, your organs gradually stop working. Your brain stops working. Brain death is permanent, but your heart may continue to beat on its own for a moment. Since Elon Musk took it over, Twitter has been in a state of brain death: the processes that keep the social network online are still ongoing, but Twitter will never return to what it was before Elon Musk’s takeover . .


With Elon Musk taking over Twitter, employees and experts are worried about the future of the platform

This Monday, December 12, 2022, Twitter dissolved its Trust and Security Council. It is a broad group of civil rights advocates, academics and experts who have been advising the company since 2016. Elon Musk has also brought back high profile extremists previously banned by the blue bird, such as white supremacist Patrick Casey. According to data compiled by researcher Travis Brown, others that have been reinstated include Meninist, an account advocating for “men’s rights” with more than a million subscribers; Peter McCullough, a cardiologist who gained a large number of subscribers after promoting unapproved treatments for Covid-19 and posting his views against vaccines; and Tim Gionet, a far-right media personality who live-streamed his participation in the attack on the Capitol on January 6.

Advertising: Twitter has lost half of its major advertisers

Elon Musk’s drive to cut jobs, cut costs and dismantle Twitter’s security infrastructure has caused many advertisers to leave. At one point, the company reportedly lost half of its top 100 ad customers and posted results 80% below budget for weekly ad revenue in the United States. Elon Musk’s attitude forces brands that remain to ask themselves tough questions. The company has, for example, stopped applying it covid-19 misinformation policy.


Since Elon Musk took it over, Twitter has lost nearly a million users

The tweets, too, are divided. While some people appreciate the vision that Elon Musk has for Twitter, others find it difficult to justify their presence on the social network. They have paused or moved to other platforms. According to one estimate, Twitter may have lost a million users just days after the bluebird was taken over by the man who is also the chief executive of the car company Tesla. Some Internet users give up tweeting even if they haven’t deleted their account. Among them, there are well-known personalities: Elton John left Twitter on December 9th. To justify his decision, he cited changes in the platform’s policy on disinformation.

MIT Technology Review conducted an analysis using Hoaxy, a tool created by Indiana University to show how information spreads on Twitter by looking at keyword frequency and interactions between individual accounts. The results suggest the new role that Elon Musk has assumed in this social network: the support for the far right.

The tool visually represents interactions, showing connections between individual Twitter accounts on a particular keyword or hashtag and indicating whether that account is amplifying the search term among others or being mentioned of accounts that do. Accounts that most actively participate in conversations appear as nodes.

Thus, Elon Musk was a major “node” of activity around the use of the homophobic slur “groomer” between Friday December 9 and Sunday December 11, the period in which we conducted our analysis. (We also ran a second query on Wednesday, December 14, and got similar results.) Although Elon Musk didn’t tweet the word directly, a report from GLAAD and Media Matters shows that it has increased significantly its use in frequency. and in scope. since the billionaire took over Twitter. Elon Musk was tagged in conversations where tweets used this slur.

Elon Musk regularly interacts with far-right figures

In some cases, Internet users are seen seeking to attract the attention of Twitter’s new boss. They sought to gain visibility and explicitly identified recipients of insults as potential targets of harassment. In other cases, Elon Musk is tagged in conversations where internet users use this insult to attack those who do not directly agree with him, such as Jack Dorsey, co-founder and former CEO of the company, who called out Elon Musk on Twitter last week to challenge his claims that society “has refused to act against child exploitation for years!” Elon Musk regularly interacts with a very active group of users and fans, including conservative meme accounts and far-right figures like Ian Miles Cheong and Andy Ngo.

Elon Musk is not content to allow these conversations but he is participating in them, more and more. “My pronouns are Prosecutor/Fauci,” he tweeted last weekend. A response to astronaut Scott Kelly who publicly pleaded with him not to “mock and promote hatred towards members of the #LGBTQ+ community who are already marginalized and exposed to violence”. Elon Musk added: “Forcing your pronouns on others when they don’t ask for it and betraying those who don’t is not good or good for anyone.”


Since being taken over by Elon Musk, Twitter has become a toxic platform for the LGBTQ+ community

Last weekend, Elon Musk also participated in a smear campaign targeting Yoel Roth, the former head of trust and safety at Twitter, who was targeted by unfounded child molestation charges. Elon Musk has escaped a libel charge for calling a British speleologist involved in a rescue operation for a Thai youth football team a “pedophile”. This time he didn’t go so far as to accuse Yoel Roth of being a pedophile. Instead he reacted after being tagged by a podcast host in a conversation with one of Yoel Roth’s old tweets. According to CNN, Yoel Roth was forced to leave his home and go into hiding after receiving numerous death threats. Contacted by MIT Technology Review, Yoel Roth did not respond to our requests.

Twitter is operating in a ‘genocidal marketplace’

Elon Musk makes decisions on the fly, sometimes through Twitter polls that are not based on any scientific studies and are easily manipulated.

Twitter’s new CEO is focused on promoting the far-right discourse of American free speech and completely ignores Twitter’s role on the planet. His takeover of Twitter was “apocalyptic”, said Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director of Equality Labs, a Dalit civil rights organization. Thenmozhi Soundararajan is part of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council and has worked with the platform to find solutions to people using the social network as a tool to incite violence against minority groups in India.

“We have an American company operating in a genocidal market,” Thenmozhi Soundararajan said, adding that all Twitter staff members with whom his organization had worked have been fired.


With the collapse of Twitter, traces of our history may disappear

This version of Twitter, bearing the imprint of Elon Musk, is both important and broken. Today, there is no reliable alternative for people who have been using the social network for a long time to ask for help, gain visibility and create communities. However, Elon Musk has positioned himself as an antagonist for some of these same groups.

Many tweeters – those not like Elon Musk – have seen their vital Twitter organs slowly shut down and are wondering how to respond. Should we stay and fight for our survival, hoping that the people who were there before Elon Musk’s takeover will just survive him? Or is it time to go?

Katherine Cross, a PhD student at the University of Washington who studies mass bullying online, says Twitter will likely never be healthy again and it’s time to think of the platform as a social network for a “small community” of people who think like Elon Musk .

“We can’t force Twitter to do anything,” he said. “We must examine its place in the Internet ecosystem”.

Article by Abby Ohleiser, translated from English by Kozi Pastakia.


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