what do you want from the internet?
welcome to your first Internet Death
Maybe Twitter is dying. The guy who owns it repelled everyone who knew how to run it and that’s never a good sign. I have not been a software engineer for very long but I’ve generally found that reading someone else’s code is not easy to do. Especially if it’s code for a large platform with hundreds of millions of users, encompassing thousands of product features and failsafes.
So: maybe it’s kaput. Oh well! Who cares! I don’t think anybody could have foreseen this specific circumstance, but a lot of people have been saying for as long as large platforms have existed that you cannot trust them — third parties — to serve you forever.
I guess you might be bummed. That’s fair! But what are you really bummed about? I suspect that you’re really just annoyed that now you have to do some of the work yourself.
(When I say “you,” I am speaking to the concerns of readers of BNet in particular, a reader base that I largely assume is made up of Western information workers and creatives. Please understand this context before you say, “well, what about so-and-so?”)
Maybe you’re a news dork. Instead of having a big trending sidebar of articles to react to, or following @PopCrave, or having some other algorithmically ranked feed of news posts, you might have to actually seek out news sources yourself. You might even have to pay for them. Yikes!
Maybe you are part of a community, however you want to define that. Now you’re going to have to figure out where to gather instead. Discord, Mastodon, listserv, a message board? Plus, you have to figure out who’s going to own it. With Twitter, you could complain that unaccountable, unknown administrators and moderators were the problem. Now you’ll have to actually set and enforce your own rules. The horror!
Maybe you are a content creator. Look, here’s the thing: being a content creator for most people is about as lucrative as participating in an open mic night. You’re a performer in the world’s largest perpetual open mic night. These platforms don’t owe you anything and they never have, and deep down, you know this and you did it anyway. You did it because it is easier to set up shop in a turnkey place for free than it is to build that place yourself. Who can blame you?
Maybe you need Twitter for your “personal brand.” This is code for “I’m going to tweet my way into a job at an employer.” It sucks shit that being “good” at social media is an implicit job requirement for hiring managers who don’t actually understand how it works. The personal brand thing could also mean “I need to keep tweeting to sustain the revenue of my self-run business,” which is a much more lethal treadmill to be on. I don’t blame you for being annoyed. You don’t even have @TheBlorpTimes (245k followers) to post your links for you.
(As an aside, when I did use Twitter “for my job” it was a very loose connection. Twitter was where I put things that didn’t need to be blog posts. Sometimes, editors would reach out about a tweet and be like, “Will you write this up for us?” No, that’s why it was a tweet. RIP to the editors who now have to use their atrophied brains to think of ideas themselves.)
Maybe all your friends are on Twitter. The only way for you to talk with your “friends” was on Twitter? You didn’t exchange any other handles? Unpack that.
Maybe you write about “internet culture.” I’m sorry that the only public, well-indexed large online platform is defunct. Now you’ll actually have to, like, seek out interesting things elsewhere on the internet instead of having them delivered to your feed or easily aggregated under hashtags. (Let’s be real, you’re just gonna source more posts from TikTok.)
Maybe you’re a reporter who needs sources for a story and you’d usually find them via a #journorequest. That’s lazy reporting. You’re just mad that you actually have to write emails and DMs to specific people now.
Maybe you run a “meme account” on Instagram that’s mostly just screenshots of tweets. I don’t feel bad for you at all. Have fun dredging the front page of Reddit likes it’s 2010, ya leech.
Maybe you’re a piece of crap who used Twitter to seek out and harass other people. I obviously don’t feel bad for you.
I am being purposefully blunt here to make a point. The point is: all of these things — perils of relying on a single place on the internet that has no personal interest in your success — have been obvious for quite some time. You’re allowed to be mad at having to face these issues now, but I also think it’s worth asking the question:
Why didn’t you prepare for this? Why is the supposed end of Twitter, regardless of the reason, such a crisis?
You are mad about friction. The broad answer is that it was easy to stay put and the costs of preparing for the worst is high. Kinda like climate change, I guess? But I also think modern internet users are generally complacent. I love pulling at weird threads on the internet and seeing where they lead — stepping outside, so to speak. I think many others are more interested in training a personalized algorithm to bring the silly JPEGs to them — ordering Seamless, if you will. For a lot of users, Twitter was 9GAG.
It’s been weird to watch people who have never had to leave an internet haunt before be confronted with an eviction. It’s been weird to watch people flee to other platforms with many of the same hazards. It stinks, and it’s also not the end of the world. I’ve seen sites die because of sudden shutdowns, I’ve seen them die because nobody goes there anymore. I’m reminded of the end of Vine, a smaller place that was also unique and highly influential, and important to a lot of communities. It sucks that it died, but also, a few years out from that, it seems like TikTok has sorta(?) filled the void.
Internet culture is a process that is constantly in motion. It is not one funny JPEG; it is one funny JPEG becoming a meme, getting remixed, someone says something stupid about the funny JPEG, and then that becomes a funny JPEG of its own and the process repeats. I am an optimist, in the sense that the base-level technology powering the internet is so robust and versatile that for every shutdown, I have to believe something cool and funnier and better will eventually come along.
It’s a good time to ask yourself: What do you really want from the internet? Do you want thousands of followers or a few dozen pals to chat with? Both? Why? What tangible steps are you taking to actually make that happen? How can you realign yourself mentally, to accept the uncertainty of things you can’t control and build stability and sustainability where you can?
At the end of the day, the core of Twitter was a box you could drop stuff into and then the stuff would get flung out to a bunch of other people. Countless boxes similar to this exist elsewhere on the internet. You can even build the box yourself. I’m using one of those boxes right now. If you’re sad about the end of Twitter, I have good news: there’s a bunch of other cool stuff on the internet, and people — perhaps even you — are going to keep making more.