Journalist | Attorney | Author
Today’s Announcement of a New Twitter Policy May Be Even More Terrifying Than This Week’s Mass Suspension of Journalists Was—Yes, Really
If you are still on Twitter, you need to get off it immediately. Read this brief essay to understand why the new Twitter policy Elon Musk just announced today needs to be the last straw for everyone left on the platform who is not a far-right troll or neo-Nazi.
It’s hard to believe what I just read on the Twitter feed of Elon Musk.
On Twitter, a new algorithm will allow far-right trolls to band together en masse—something they have already been shown to have done repeatedly and systematically over the last 24 months—to make the tweets of Twitter Blue–verified left-leaning accounts disappear from public visibility permanently simply by muting or blocking them.
Folks who have not spent a lot of time researching how algorithms work, or the history of digital subcommunity formation at Twitter, or the evolution of “block lists” on the so-called “bird site,” might not immediately understand why this is a platform-breaking moment for Twitter.
You can be certain that Elon Musk is well aware that the far-right subculture that has developed at Twitter is very much focused on coordinating behind-the-scenes massive attacks on disfavored left-leaning accounts, to include waves of false reports of misconduct to Twitter and sprawling block-lists.
The current largest such campaign unfolding on Twitter is run by a group of neo-Nazis who are trying to erase the voices of 5,000 Black and Jewish Americans on Twitter, and—to a lesser degree—feminists. The pretext behind this list is that all those on it are somehow associated with “antifa” or communism, when of course virtually none of them are.
We know that Musk is well aware of this effort because he is regularly corresponding with far-right troll and fake journalist Andy Ngo, who has made it his personal goal to lobby Musk to remove all antifa supporters from Twitter. (Do not try to wrap your head around how this comports with far-right trolls’ claims that they only want people who commit crimes via their tweets to be removed from Twitter, or how it aligns with their supposed “free speech” agenda, as that was only ever rhetoric intended to distract from their authoritarian—and indeed borderline fascist—goals; while they were parading around high-minded principles they do not actually believe in, they were putting innocents like author Roxane Gay and organizations like the ADL on lists of those they want off Twitter forever, as I wrote about extensively at PROOF—even to the point of providing the entirety of the list that the neo-Nazis are working from in their current mass false-reporting campaign).
What Musk has just publicly announced is that far-right campaigns of this sort can now become co-conspirators with a new, sinister Twitter algorithm by systematically muting and blocking Twitter Blue–verified accounts that they want disappeared. Just a few hours on a neo-Nazi block list or a mass false-reporting list can lead to a targeted account essentially disappearing from visibility on Twitter forever. Nor can those on the left respond by engaging positively with the under-attack account—which is not to say that anyone would even know which account(s) are currently under attack in the first instance—resolve the problem, as every mute and block is now treated, per Musk, as a “downvote” of that account, and there is virtually no degree of positive engagement that can counterbalance a mass muting or blocking or false-reporting campaign.
But the worst part is this: the “disappeared” account-holder may take months to realize that they have been made virtually invisible on Twitter, or may never even find out at all. They will simply watch their per-tweet engagement on Twitter drop slowly over weeks and months and years, the whole time believing that it is likely they who are the problem—perhaps (they may think) they are simply not working hard enough to find an audience, or tweeting interesting enough material, or engaging enough with others.
Essentially, Elon Musk has just built abuse and gaslighting into an algorithm that will now determine what people see on Twitter. And the algorithm will resolutely favor the subcommunity formation techniques the far right—particularly neo-Nazis and other white supremacists—have developed on Twitter, and that we know Musk is aware they have developed because they have been lobbying him on the subject daily and he has been openly responsive to that lobbying. Indeed, it is telling that this policy is being announced only after Musk has spent almost two months carefully bringing far-right accounts—the very sort of accounts known to orchestrate false muting and blocking and reporting campaigns against left-leaning fellow Twitter users—back to Twitter en masse, ensuring that Twitter becomes a haven for such users at the very moment he gives them the greatest algorithmic weapon the far right has ever had on any social media platform in the United States.
So even as Americans have watched with horror as the far right openly lobbies musk to change the culture at Twitter into something akin to an authoritarian state—and I at once refer here to the internal culture at Twitter HQ (where Musk is increasingly treating his employees as disposable slaves), the culture of content moderation behind the scenes of the platform (where the far right has supported the increasingly authoritarian Musk capriciously creating new banning policies on the fly), and the culture on the platform itself, with the far right now dominating discourse there in a way that wasn’t possible until Musk eliminated meaningful content moderation and brought back thousands of previously suspended accounts—we are now seeing, too, that this weeks-long lobbying campaign has been successful and has now borne rotten fruit.
And lest anyone think that you can avoid this new algorithm simply by not having a Twitter Blue account, realize that beginning in January (when the obsolete version of Twitter Blue will be finally sunsetted), all tweets not signed up to the new Twitter Blue will be essentially hidden under the new algorithm—not to mention the fact that the new Twitter Blue will be required to access basic features of the platform that Musk could easily have given to everyone but is now withholding so he can make money off them.
Up until this moment, many journalists believed that they could stay on Twitter perpetually. They thought it was simply a matter of riding out the current high level of engagement with (and encouragement of) far-right trolls that we are seeing from Elon Musk; they thought that Twitter culture would return to normal at some point in the near future, if only because Musk needs advertisers to return to the platform.
Now we know the truth.
There is no reason for the advertisers to ever come back, and no reason for any journalist to stay.
New algorithms are being employed to ensure that Twitter culture changes forever, and that that culture change is a wild lurch to the far right. And those who are gravely disadvantaged by this culture change will never be informed that the social media platform called home for years now treats them as an enemy.
Everyone needs to get off Twitter right now. The time for excuses and self-righteous declarations about “staying to fight fascism where it lives” is over.
Elon Musk owns Twitter; it is not a public company anymore; he is a dangerous mega-rich would-be authoritarian just like Donald Trump; he can run Twitter however he likes; he is running it like a fascist state; and he is—moreover—running it into the ground at top speed.
Staying aboard this fascist Hindenburg as it self-immolates is simply a form of self-destruction. And at this time of rising domestic terrorism and neofascism in the United States, we cannot afford to have our leading journalists—or really any Americans who love democracy and truth and (actual) freedom—to go down with this particular zeppelin.
Wherever Twitter refugees go to now—whether it is Post or Mastodon or somewhere else—the simple fact is that they must, indeed, go. And quickly.<!/e0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-8-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-2-0-0-5-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-3-3-0-1-2-0-0-0-0-0-1-3-0-0-0-4-0-0>