Turn out the lights. Twitter is over. It's been over for a while but it seems we're nearing a tipping point. The company is hemorrhaging money and the "Free Speech Absolutist" owner has a nazism problem. Even if he didn't, he still doesn't have a clue how to run a social media site.
Many bits and bytes have been written exploring Twitter's woes. My favorite story involves Elon personally ripping servers out of a Sacramento data center on Christmas Eve. I won't rehash all the issues, there are better voices for that, but I will talk about innovation, billionaires, and what we should demand from our social media tools.
I will state for the record that I was an Elon Musk fan before his insanity went public and changed my mind. I think SpaceX is cool. I've owned a Tesla for the last seven years and I still love the car. Though, I'm unlikely to purchase another one as long as Musk owns the company. It became clear with the "Thai cave rescuer" incident that something was very wrong.
I've never been under the illusion that Musk designs anything personally. He's not an engineer and from the looks of Twitter, he's long forgotten any software development skills he might have possessed. I do find it rather silly to say that his companies would exist without him. Large companies require gargantuan amounts of capital. Yes, he bought Tesla and he's had very little to do with SpaceX's engineering but neither would be what they are without a money person. The point is that there are plenty of things to drag Elon Musk for without resorting to making stuff up.
I suspect that other billionaires secretly love people like Trump and Musk because they serve as a distraction. Zuckerberg is still vile, but he's smart enough to pay publicists and keep his mouth shut most of the time. Musk, on the other hand, has a serious case of Billionaire Derangement Syndrome where he thinks he's an expert on everything because he has money. He surrounds himself with pissant yes-men who think he's a genius.
The more the general public is distracted by bombastic people, the more the worst of this breed of ultra-wealthy people can fly under the radar and do all sorts of terrible things. Look no further than Harlan Crow or Charles Koch who have no qualms about buying politicians and Supreme Court justices outright and most people have never heard of. And make no mistake, the billionaires that are often seen as the "good" ones, such as Warren Buffett, or Bill Gates, didn't get where they are by being nice people either.
There are those who want to "ban billionaires" and while I understand the sentiment, it's easier said than done. In our quest for income equality, we have to strike a balance between allowing for individual innovation and ensuring that society gets its due. Pure Communism doesn't work, not because it ensures everyone is taken care of, but because it artificially caps the rewards for innovation.
Before the "taxes are theft" crowd gets too excited though, Libertarianism doesn't work either. No one is an island. The business owner uses society's roads to move their goods, they use society's Internet to communicate, and they use society's laws to protect their physical and intellectual property. The richer the business owner, the more they rely on the public goods. We can't be held hostage by people who argue they can't innovate if they have to pay back society. Libertarianism fails because it rots the very foundations that society needs to prosper and for the Libertarians themselves to do business. A business can't innovate and grow if its customers are too poor to afford anything beyond basic survival.
The solution of course is to tax the bejesus out of high-income individuals. Not a 100% tax but probably around 90% on the top brackets. With that money, provide a basic income to everyone. We don't limit how much someone can innovate, but we ensure there's a large pool of people to innovate. Imagine how many more entrepreneurs we would gain if there were people who could innovate without the fear of not being able to eat.
The problem of course is the very billionaires we want to reign in have purchased the system making it very difficult to democratize. That brings it back to social media. People like Musk are well within their rights (in the U.S. anyway) to allow Nazis on their platform. It's terrible, and everyone should vote with their feet on that one, but it's hard to democratize social media as well. It works better when there's one platform that everyone is on.
I'm currently on Bluesky (I'm @cfreak.dev if you want to find me), somewhat still on Facebook, and I've considered Mastodon. I limit my Facebook activity and I have no plans to use Threads because I don't think Zuckerberg is any better at this. That said I'm not sure that federated systems are the answer either. I'm hoping Mastodon will coalesce around a centralized instance, or that Bluesky will adopt a more open foundation or other method of public funding that's not VC capital. I really like Bluesky but I'm concerned it will get sold to yet another billionaire.
There's a giant, ubiquitous federated social system that's been around for more than 50 years. It's called "e-mail" and it sucks. It sucks because every individual server can make its own rules. Now there are certainly things that be made better about a federated social system from the ground up but the fact remains that the lack of uniform rules is a giant problem.
Imagine a scenario that happens with email today. I want to make a shiny new account. I have many servers from which to pick from. Maybe a friend told me about a particular one or I choose something at random. I have my account and I build up a following. People know how to reach me. Now imagine someone using that same service for sending spam, hate speech, or whatever. They're sending unwanted messages. I'm not affiliated with them in any way, but they happened to pick the same server, and if the server's rules are lax ("free speech!"), I may find that I'm blocked and I can no longer communicate effectively.
Trust and safety aren't enforced across the network. You end up with fiefdoms rather than kingdoms and in some ways, I think that's worse.
My ideal system would be run by a foundation or board with experts to oversee community safety standards. The community itself should get a say but there has to be some veto power to prevent shit-heads and trolls from overrunning a system. The difficulty is paying for it, and not giving in to the temptation to sell it to another billionaire.
As always, thanks for reading my rant. Consider subscribing. It's free! Subscribers can comment to tell me in what ways I'm wrong.