Overview:

Elon Musk's capricious decision-making has ruined whatever potential Twitter had. There are other social media sites that aren't hostage to his whims.

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It’s a disaster!

How were we to know that an erratic, egotistical billionaire taking over a powerful platform and making it his personal fiefdom would go badly?! Nothing in recent experience prepared us for this!

Since Elon Musk bought Twitter, he’s been treating it like a chew toy. He unceremoniously fired thousands of employees. He instituted, and then hastily rolled back, a pay-for-verification policy that produced an avalanche of malicious trolls. He’s used his personal account to spread anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. He’s incited harassment against his own trust and safety council.

But even from that abysmal starting point, he’s accelerating downhill fast.

The latest furor is over @ElonJet, a Twitter account which pulls public ADS-B data to post real-time updates on the location of Elon Musk’s private plane.

Musk, a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist“, promised just a few weeks ago to allow this account to continue. But he went back on his word and banned it, along with all the other accounts belonging to its creator, Jack Sweeney.

Musk’s rationale for breaking his promise is that @ElonJet is to blame for a stalking incident that happened a full day after it last tweeted his location. However, there’s no chain of logic connecting the two.

Knowing where a jet is doesn’t tell you who’s on it or where it might be going. Even when it lands, it’s at, you know, an airport—typically a high-security place where not just anyone can wander in. There was no coherent principle behind Musk’s decision. It was a tantrum, nothing more.

All this was bad enough, but it quickly got worse. In a Friday night massacre, Musk banned numerous journalists from national outlets. It’s impossible to know the exact reason, since none of them got an explanation. Some speculated that they were banned for linking to @ElonJet, or merely for writing about the story, or just for a history of covering Musk and his companies less favorably than he likes. The Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz was banned when she simply asked Musk to comment on the decision.

To top it off, Twitter is now blocking links to Mastodon, its decentralized open-source competitor. Anyone trying to put a Mastodon link in a tweet or in their profile gets an error dialog saying that the link is “potentially harmful”. The promotional @JoinMastodon account was also banned.

None of this violates anyone’s rights. Twitter is a private company, not a public space. Under American law, it’s not illegal to kick journalists out of your social-media playground because their reporting hurts your feelings. Musk can ban whoever he wants from Twitter—there’s no doubt about that, he paid $44 billion to be able to do it.

(That said, there’s one potential exception: the blanket block of Mastodon links. That’s a clear attempt to suppress a competitor. If anything cries out for an antitrust lawsuit, it’s this.)

Antitrust law aside, the problem is the capricious nature of Musk’s decisions. A social network with rules and policies is one thing. Musk has shown that he has no principles, only his own chaotic moods, whims and grudges. Whenever someone displeases him, his M.O. is to ban them first, then make up a new rule they supposedly violated. His supposed commitment to free speech proved as lasting as smoke on the breeze.

Twitter was never a perfect place. It had longstanding issues with abuse and harassment, among other problems. However, with Musk at the helm, even its minimal guardrails have been removed. Journalists are banned for doing journalism, while fascists, white nationalists, conspiracy theorists and January 6 insurrectionists come flooding back. It’s only a matter of time before it degenerates into a worthless cesspool of hate, threats and misinformation.

I say this with no joy. Twitter does, or at least did, have potential for good. It was a vital avenue for marginalized people to communicate and organize. It empowered citizen journalists all over the world, shining a light of attention on stories ignored by mainstream media. But its day is coming to an end.

Just as Elon Musk has the right to ban people from Twitter for any reason or no reason at all, we have the right to take our business elsewhere. There are other social media platforms that aren’t hostage to the whims of a tyrannical child-king.

Twitter needs us to survive. It needs our eyeballs, our attention, our ad clicks. Without users, it will sink into irrelevance. We can and should make our disapproval known by quitting the site. It sends a message that we want no part of what Musk is turning it into.

I’m not planning to delete my Twitter account. Who knows, maybe Musk will get bored and sell Twitter to responsible people again. But as it stands, I don’t intend to use it anymore. I recommend everyone do likewise.

Postscript: I’m going to be on Mastodon from now on! You can follow me there, at @daylightatheism@democracy.town. You can also find me on TikTok.

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DAYLIGHT ATHEISM Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...