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7 Thoughts on Elon Musk and Twitter
For what it's worth
Whatever else happens, the most consequential thing is that Twitter will now no longer be viewed by Western journalists as an organic hub of culture/industry discourse, but as a pay-to-play website for personal aggrandizement—which is what it always has been anyway.
This transformation will be bad for Twitter. But it will be very good for journalism.
Charging money to verify Twitter accounts is an epistemologically significant move. It will probably lead to more “disinformation,” but it will also be more transparently honest about what Twitter really is.
Nothing that Musk says or does can make Twitter a populist technology. It will always be a platform for a very specific kind of person. Up to now it has catered to a very specific kind of left-wing person, and it may very well begin to cater to a very specific kind of right-wing person. That’s just window dressing. If culture is an ocean, Twitter is not a satellite view. It is the view from the one of the smallest ports on one of the smallest shores.
It’s simply not clear whether the culture of broad freedom of speech that Musk desires is compatible with the kind of hospitable, civil spirit that Musk also says he desires. It’s very possible that Ari Schulman is correct when he says that you can have one or the other: few limits on speech and a warzone, or norms of kindness and censors. My suspicion is that Ari is right. But here’s the thing: making people pay money to participate in a website could be a very effective incentive for self-policing.
I think we are on the threshold of a major transformation of how people view and use the Internet. One factor is the sheer amount of psychological data we now have on the effects of heavy use. Highly online people are miserable and now they know why. But another factor is that Silicon Valley’s guardians of the algorithm appear to be out of money and out of ideas. All that to say, there may not be the same future in melting away people’s attention spans and chipping at their privacy as we thought.
Christians who think that faithfulness in their generation means a heavy presence on any new digital medium need to step back and consider whether the comings and goings of billionaires are having an outsized effect on their public witness. I would urge all of us to consider the possibility that Christian truth does not “fit” on these digital platforms. Teaching people what to think while allowing the algorithm to teach them how to think doesn’t work. It makes for computer-shaped churchgoers.