How abuse and the election of Donald Trump is killing what was once the worlds most open social platform.
I first created a Twitter in 2007 after I learned about it in a college communications class. I don’t think I kept it for more than a few months. It quickly became dormant as I got bored following the same few big voices on the platform, and few of my own friends used the service. Flash forward to 2012. Twitter had grown enormously since its early days. It began to be taken more seriously by marketers and the general public. While I had a dormant account of my own for years, I decided to try something new: make a fan account for an upcoming film that deserves to be a MST3K subject.
I had no idea what I was doing. I had never tried to independently grow a base of followers for myself because I was not interesting. Instead I was this satirical character on a mission: get the attention of one of my favorite filmmakers. And I did. I began following fans of the film, those involved and any ancillary account even remotely attached to the production.
Within three months most of the filmmakers were following me. I used humor, satire and wit to create a small but dedicated following. Over that summer my creativity earned me the mentorship of the filmmaker I targeted. I even left a charcoal drawing for them with their assistant- a drawing he was glad to accept. He is the reason I am now writing. I never thought that I’d pursue this path but I live in LA, work in television and am pursuing a writers track because of his mentorship.
Yes through this once obscure platform I was able to explore my creativity in ways never imagined. Twitter became a creative outlet for me, allowing me to share everything from comics to writing samples. I was able to meet others in a similar position.
Eventually the film was released to poor reviews. As it quickly fell out of the public consciousness I needed to reinvent myself and so I did. As I began to consider that, a very popular account was born. It was not one created by me, but one who used a similar sense of humor. I got a message from that producer asking if I was behind the account. After all even the jokes were similar to ones I had posted on my own Twitter about the event which inspired this new viral account. “It could be great writing practice,” he said. I’m sure if I had created that account we’d have actually met for coffee. Yes if I had a blue check mark things would be different.
By 2014 that producer unfollowed me and locked his account, going inactive. He hasn’t tweeted since 2013. He had me listed at least through December 2017, but seems to be awol again.
In the interim I went from satire to more of myself as I slowly and eventually revealed myself through a series of account reforms. By 2014 I had found a new audience of filmmakers and activists. I challenged myself politically and evolved my opinion on many issues. My writing on this blog in those years grew to wide readership and folks wanted to read my creative writing as well. Again this place was an outlet and a way to showcase my voice and interact with other similar voices.
By 2016, that became less and less frequent. As the election dominated the headlines Twitter became what it is today: a never ending timeline of Trump v. Trumpism. Folks got check marks and therefore were able to better curate their timelines, including muting anyone they’ve never interacted with. Slowly the platform closed off those who disagreed, and the website began to take on the form of FaceBook’s newsfeed. It became increasingly difficult to grow new followers or to expand a platform without a verified account. Bots quickly turned the discourse poisonous and many wound up leaving the platform due to abuse.
Anonymous twitter also disappeared and those snarky accounts which spoke truth to power fell out of favor with the public. Twitter used to be filled with accounts that were not attached to a name but an idea or subject. Often these users would tweet stuff they might never have ordinarily said for fear of professional retaliation. Today it seems modern day twitter wouldn’t really get behind anonymity because it appears to lack authenticity. Sure some of these folks turned out not to be who they said they were (notably Mystery Exec – an account which took Hollywood’s philistinism to task). Ultimately today’s twitter is too cynical for these kinds of accounts and that’s largely because of abuse by bots and other bad actors.
Today we have a Tale of Two Twitters. Many who are verified have walled themselves off to non-verified Twitter. Due to the proliferation of abuse on the platform, most notably by Trump supporters and bots farmed in Russia, many have either left the service or selectively curated a timeline which limits interaction with those they do not follow back. While this is easier to do as a verified account, third party blocking apps and keyword mutes have aided in that effort for regular users as well. There is no question that this is due to abuse. In fact some of my favorite people left the platform due to said abuse.
Twitter lacks creativity today. Folks have walled themselves off into their ideological corners, curated lists and blocked outside engagement. No longer is it a place for intellect and rigorous debate. Gone are the days of satire accounts and mystery accounts which spoke truth to power. Absent are the folks who developed a voice on this platform. No more do we see people simply content to share content or artwork. Today it is an empty timeline of the same verified accounts retweeting generic hot takes from other verified accounts and slamming Trump or talking about what Trump said. It is a sewer for trolls and other bad actors who have dealt a death blow to the anonymity which once made Twitter such a fun and creative space.
The failure to police abuse on Twitter has been and will be its ultimate downfall. It’s not too late to save the platform. But it starts with accountability and currently no one in charge seems willing to take it upon themselves to address concerns or to return to what once made their platform great.