There is something really cool about Twitter, but it's not what you probably think. Elon Musk wants to buy it to promote free speech, but also criticizes the way it started at the same time as Facebook yet it made no money. That's what's cool about Twitter: it made no money!
Having the freedom to express oneself with the only limitation of constraining length to 140 or 280 characters per message is the core of Twitter. I agree with Musk that political censorship of content is evil and that it is slowly strangling what Twitter was supposed to be, but I disagree with the idea that it should be monetized more. That's what Facebook does and for better or worse, it covers that niche. I have to say that if there is someone who can make Twitter both make money and keep its core values intact, that's probably Elon Musk, but I dread the possibility of failure in the attempt.
Now, don't get me wrong: I almost never tweet. I have an automated system to announce new blog posts on Twitter and lately I've started writing short (Twitter core!!) reviews on the TV series I've watched. In my mind, TV series - should I still call them TV? - don't deserve the attention that I give movies in my IMDb reviews or separate blog posts like books and that is why I write there. Nor do I regularly read Twitter posts. I have a system that translates Twitter accounts into RSS feeds and I sometimes read the content on my feed reader - thank you, Nitter!
The reason why I am writing this post is ideological, not technical or self interested. If Twitter disappeared tomorrow, I wouldn't really feel the loss. But I do believe its values are important for humanity as a whole. In fact, I don't fully agree with Musk that bots are a problem, because Twitter was designed with automation in mind. A public square, he calls it. I don't like public squares, or anything public, to be honest. What I value is personal and my belief is that this is what we should try to preserve.
Strangely enough, the trigger for this post was a Netflix documentary about Richard Burton. Now, there is a man! He came from a poor, hard mining town from Wales. He started with a strong regional accent and trained every day to have an English one. From a family of 13 (or 11, if you discount infant mortality, as he did) he choose a drama teacher as a parent - and took his last name, with his family's blessing. Can you imagine being part of a family that is glad to give you for adoption, because that's what's best for you? He was beautiful, hard, passionate and articulate, charming, violent, ruthless, living life to the fullest and hating himself for it. He became a Hollywood icon, yet admitted he had no idea why. That's what men were like half a century ago. I am old enough to have seen some of his movies and to appreciate him as an actor. And while I was watching the documentary, I imagined what Twitter would say about Burton now and what the people behind those tweets would be. The petty, ugly, pathetic crowd that can't stand someone so vastly different, so as not to say superior.
But it's not Twitter that would be at fault. In fact, when Richard Burton chose to leave his faithful wife for many years for Elizabeth Taylor he was sued by a "subcommittee" for indecent behavior. They didn't have Twitter, but they reveled in outrage just as well. And it's not like he was any kind of saint. He was rigid and cruel and judgmental and lacking any shyness at saying what he though or felt was wrong with you. The issue is not what you do, but why you do it for.
That's what I believe is where the line should be drawn. It's not about the words you use, but why you said them in the first place. It's not about preserving some social contract that everybody should be forced to obey, but about one's position about particular events. It's not even about "do no harm", because one's harm is another's pleasure. It is about intention.
Coming back to Twitter and its most famous side effect, cancel culture: I think cancel culture is despicable, but I also partially agree with its defenders or the people who deny its existence. Because the reason why cancelling someone is toxic is not because of people disagreeing, but because people fear being on the wrong side. Once there is enough momentum and energy poured into destroying the life of one person, it becomes a snowball of fear, with people refusing to be "associated" with cancelled people. It's that fear that is the problem, the weak cowardly fear that prevents one from staying the course or ignoring the drama or even supporting someone for mostly economic reasons. Yes, that's what cancel culture is: people afraid to lose their money or some other currency because of other people hating each other. Cancel culture is not new, it just become globalized. If people in Richard Burton's time disliked a person so much they couldn't stand their existence, all that person had to do is leave and start living in some other place. Nowadays, it's all public (heh!) and global. You can't escape being hated.
Yet the problem is not globalization, is people who somehow care what people they don't care about care about. Yes, you got a bad rep somewhere in the world, from people I don't know. I will be circumspect, but I will use my own judgement about you. Not doing that is lazy and stupid and, again, petty. As George Carlin once said "I never fucked a ten! But I once fucked five twos!". A crowd of stupid, petty, lazy people does not a great person make.
Bottom line: congrats for making it this far into my rant. People are bound to be different and disagree with each other. Fearing to associate with someone because they are shunned by another group of people is just a feeling. Your choice is what matters. Twitter is a platform, a tool, and what matters is the ability to express oneself and to filter out people you don't want to hear from. That's what a person does and that's what the Internet should preserve. Not the mobs, not the fake outrage to get social points, but the personal: freedom of expression and freedom to ignore whatever you want.
If Elon Musk would ask my opinion (why would he?!) I would tell him that people need more filters. Enable people to ignore what they choose to ignore and they will be less hateful. That also applies to ads, by the way. Every time I see an angry person obliquely or directly attacking a group that I am even remotely part of I feel attacked and I get angry, too. I didn't want to read that person's opinion and I don't care for it, but it got shoved in my face. If I could just ignore them, I would be less angry and more positive, as would my tweets. And believe me, I used Twitter's word filtering already. It filters out stuff like -isms, politics, U.S. presidents and so on. You see? That's a personal choice, to move away from hatred and judgement. Do it, too, and life will feel so much better. Becoming an outraged activist for something is not an inevitability, it's a choice.