The end of Twitter

Our online public squares are sunsetting. What’s next?

Ben Werdmuller

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Photo by Daddy Mohlala on Unsplash

Elon Musk needs to complete his acquisition of Twitter by October 28 if he wants to avoid the company’s lawsuit against him. That’s really soon — a week from today as I write this post.

The network has been a part of my life more or less since it launched. I’ve been hopelessly addicted since my Elgg days, back when you could post via SMS and hashtags were but an IRC-style gleam in Chris Messina’s eye. Unlike blogging, I don’t know if it’s done anything positive for my career, but it’s certainly informed my view of the world, both for better and worse.

For a few years, it was tradition that I’d go offline for the year at around Thanksgiving, to give myself some time to recover from the cognitive load of all those notifications. I don’t think the constant dopamine rush is in any way good for you, but the site’s function as a de facto town square has also helped me learn and grow. It’s a health hazard and an information firehose; a community and an attack vector for democracy. More than even Facebook, I think it’s defined the internet’s role in democratic society during the 21st century.

But all things must come to an end. Musk has suggested that he’ll reinstate Donald Trump’s account in time for the 2024 election and gut 75% of Twitter’s workforce, impacting user security and content moderation. It turns out, though, that even without Musk’s involvement, at least a quarter of the workforce would still face layoffs that the Washington Post reported would have “possibly crippled the service’s ability to combat misinformation, hate speech and spam”. There was no good way out. Twitter as we know it is sunsetting.

So where do we go next?

The answer is almost certainly not one single place. There’s certainly the indieweb and the fediverse, as well as newcomers like DeSo and the work Bluesky is doing. But those are all technical solutions to the problem of a missing platform; focusing there misses the point that what will really be missing is a community space. The answer to that is more community spaces, each with their own governance and interaction models. The solution will be an ecosystem of loosely-joined communities, not a single software platform or website — and certainly not…

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Ben Werdmuller

Writer: of code, fiction, and strategy. Trying to work for social good.