When Jack Dorsey says that Twitter is the platform “the closest thing to a world consciousness”, it is safe to assume that he is a bit biased. After all, he founded the thing. Either way, millions of users wondered last week what would happen if Elon Musk brainwashed this awareness as a single potential owner.
A not-so-steep thesis is that after the initial excitement at least there will be no mass exodus of users. Many people will not stop for the simple reason that they are worried about who will listen to them without their Twitter account. Today, in a given environment, the sense of self-efficacy is largely determined by social metrics like likes and retweets. This hesitation when the mouse pointer hovers over the – in fact – red button that says “Disable” has less to do with the platform and more with the people who are there: how will I take care of the world outside my home, offices my, my family still matters?
To put it bluntly, anyone who has given a lot to create a follower on Twitter in recent years will not leave the platform, no matter how morally crazy the new owner may be. Instead, in most cases, the public announcement will remain. In a way, last week offered the kind of drama for which the average Twitter user comes to the platform in the first place.
Users can turn off or just live with the consequences
In economics, there is the hard-to-translate concept of the sunken cost error for this behavior, which says that, contrary to all reasons, nonprofit activities continue because so much has already been invested in them. Convenience, in most cases, outweighs concerns about free speech, hate speech, privacy, and other more sensitive values.
Another flat thesis: Mastodon, the decentralized network that has now been chosen as an alternative everywhere, will remain just as orphaned after a short period of attack as before. Since the story of Musk’s attempt became known, according to Mastodon inventor Eugen Rochko, almost 85,000 new users have been registered. While this is nice, such a number of people do not represent the network effects that would be needed to create a relevant audience. And even if it succeeded, the question would remain how to moderate a civil discourse here. Moreover, such migratory movements are not uncommon. Even the blogging network Tumblr, a true competitor to today’s major platforms while banning sexually explicit content, recorded a new record growth of nearly 20 percent last week.
To find an alternative, you must first determine what Twitter really is these days and what users themselves expect from it. Is it a global consciousness or just the so-called “de facto market” of the whole world, as Musk himself expressed it. And who really said that such an authority is quite desirable? The idea of a central supply that receives all status updates, messages and content. Who benefits from the monopoly of discourse? What would you say against re-diversifying your online presence, sharing it on private websites, blogs, forums and chat apps? Wasn’t this the main attraction of the internet?
Decentralized and locally maintained networking applications like Manyver.se or planetary.social offer some good solutions. Even a rollback of unjustly forgotten RSS technology is conceivable. Only someone should make sure that the content and relationships you build on a platform are not lost when you go to the competition. Opposing interoperability is the hard word that has been defended by network activists for years.
Until then, users will either have to turn off or live with the consequences of contracting public interactions to postmodern oligarchs and corporate executives: a billionaire internet in which the normal user is just a guest.