Twitter in the Transitional Age

"we are the transitional ones and so we must not evade the transition, but must endure it and for our part bear it" 1

Hot on the heels of the Brazilian election resulting in a far right president, Twitter has garnered significant attention in recent years due to "fake news", "radicalization", and a complete failure to moderate its platform against alt-right people. Central pipelines of short burst information has made us worse people, we claim, leading to the rise of alternate platforms like Mastodon. Mastodon's goals are commendable, yet I believe we tech people have failed to learn the lessons of GNU Social, Diaspora, and (more recently) Google plus. Tech-centric platforms draws only other tech people, creating a thin veneer of an unbiased platform, but in fact tech-centric platforms end up creating echo chambers for tech people. These echo chambers then magnify the authoritarian2 tendencies of engineers, which leads to more disastrous results.

The greatest fault in our platforms is that they have outgrown us. Facebook has enabled ethnic cleansing in Burma, YouTube might very be responsible for radicalizing an entire generation of extremists, and Twitter sheds the notion of stratified experts by reducing everyone to 280 characters. Tech people's circles have expanded to the general public, gross misbehavior that was previously encouraged are now out of bounds (and rightfully so). Linus stepping down (albeit leaving the Linux project in the hands of people who have enabled his behavior in the last two decades) is the tip of the iceberg on this. It is a transition for our platforms, and how we handle the transition will define programmer influence for the next generation3.

Notably, this transition has come in two forms. We have blurred the differences between social platforms (4chan has gradually melded with Reddit, Reddit has invaded Twitter, Whatsapp and Telegram have emerged as real social platforms), which has lead to this bizarre culture wars melding with real life people4. People aren't confined to a single social network, the fear of "social walled gardens" circa 2013 has completely fallen apart. What we failed to imagine in 2013 was not the dystopia of people segregating themselves into a single social platform, but rather the far worse future of bad actors spreading across multiple platforms and leveraging different audiences.

There's another point to be made about social media transforming real conflict, but I'll save that for another post.

Posted: 2018-10-28
Filed Under: tech