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As Twitter Turns: Six More Stories from Pixel Place

I don’t like or use Twitter, but it’s impossible not to gawk at Elon Musk’s slow-motion train wreck (see “Elon Musk Buys Twitter (Really) for $44 Billion,” 28 October 2022). Every story that comes out is such a master class in destroying a tech company that it makes me ever more grateful for the adults in charge of Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and the like. (Not Facebook.) We may not always agree with their decisions, and they may occasionally venture into rapacious or morally dubious territory, but they’re not loony. In contrast, here’s the frogtwaddle that Twitter has engaged in over the last month, pulled straight from the headlines:

  • Official: Twitter will now charge for SMS two-factor authentication: In November 2022, Twitter attempted to relaunch its account verification system under the paid Twitter Blue label—only to reverse course after a prank tweet announcing “insulin is free now” from someone purporting to be Eli Lilly and Company tanked Lilly’s stock price. A month later, Twitter Blue relaunched again, this time successfully, although few people have signed up for it. It costs individuals $8 per month ($11 per month if paid through an Apple in-app purchase). Twitter 2FA error screenIn a move ostensibly to give people an incentive to pay, Twitter said in March 2023 that it would limit the weak SMS-based two-factor authentication option to paid Twitter Blue users. All users would still be able to use more-secure authentication apps for free. If I were paying for Twitter Blue, I’d want the weakest method disabled to reduce the chance of account hijacking! As it stands, the blocking screen in the iOS Twitter app has helped me avoid Twitter even more.
  • Twitter is officially ending its old verification process on April 1. To get a blue check mark, you’ll have to pay. Twitter said it would sunset the “free” blue checkmarks offered previously to users it had verified—typically celebrities, athletes, reporters, and organizations—as of 1 April 2023 (not an April Fools stunt). That has gone as well as one would expect—erratically and with petulance. Organizations, in particular, have objected, as Twitter requires that they pony up $1000 per month plus $50 per account. Major newspapers like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times declared they would neither pay for Twitter Blue as organizations nor reimburse reporters for it. The White House also reportedly said it wouldn’t enroll in Twitter Blue.
  • Elon Musk painted over the W on Twitter’s sign at its San Francisco headquarters, changing it to “Titter”: Ah, to be in middle school again. Perhaps it’s an attempt to get Twitter out of the $3.4-million-per-month rent it failed to pay in December and January, eliciting a lawsuit from the landlord. Or maybe 12-year-olds are in charge, given that emails sent to Twitter’s press address now receive an auto-reply with a poop emoji.
  • Twitter Isn’t a Company Anymore: Court filings in a lawsuit show that Musk has merged Twitter with a newly formed shell company called X Corp. The goal of these corporate shenanigans is unclear but may relate to Musk’s desire to create an “everything app” that combines e-commerce, global and personal messaging, and payment. This parallels similar apps used widely in China, notably the Tencent Holdings app WeChat. Good luck on that in the current app, website, and payment landscape in the United States, Europe, and, well, really everywhere but China.
  • NPR quits Twitter after being falsely labeled as “state-affiliated media”: For some inexplicable reason, Twitter initially lumped National Public Radio in with state-affiliated propaganda outlets in places like Russia and China. When queried, Musk admitted that he might have gotten it wrong—he revealed he knew nothing about NPR’s funding model—and Twitter changed the tag to “government-funded media,” which is also inaccurate: NPR receives less than 1% of its funding from the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting. (Individual stations, which pay fees to NPR, and other public-radio networks and individual programs may receive more than 1% in funding from local, state, and federal sources.)
  • Elon Musk admits he only bought Twitter because he thought he’d be forced to: This TechCrunch article focuses on just one aspect of a rare interview that Musk gave to BBC reporter James Clayton. Initially, Musk had made an offer of $54.20 per share (it’s a weed joke) for Twitter, but after the stock price dropped, he attempted to weasel out of the purchase. Twitter was about to take him to court—and likely win—which forced him to live by his weed joke. Now he says—I’m not kidding, but perhaps he is—that his dog is running Twitter. That would explain a lot.

Can I recommend Mastodon? See “Mastodon: A New Hope for Social Networking” (27 January 2023), and feel free to follow me at @[email protected], not that I’m a prolific poster.

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Comments About As Twitter Turns: Six More Stories from Pixel Place

Notable Replies

  1. Thing is, despite the literally daily flow of Twitter disaster stories I encounter, I find that Twitter remains essentially as popular as ever, while Mastodon remains nearly deserted.

    Several weeks ago I spent a few hours joining Mastodon and going through all my Twitter contacts to find their new Mastodon accounts. I found four: all techies or tech journalists. None of the mainstream journalists, musicians, or general friends whose posts have given me the sole justification for entering the mucky morass that is Twitter. They’re still all tweeting away, apparently contentedly.

    I visit both about three times a week and the situation hasn’t changed since I joined. And regardless of what’s going on behind the online scenes, my Twitter user experience is largely unchanged since before the Musk takeover – while my Mastodon user experience, while more limited because I’ve found so few people to follow, is essentially the same as my Twitter user experience. Roughly the same number of out-of-context quips, off-topic retweets/boosts, and self-satisfied political jabs. (Sure, because I follow selectively, I usually agree with the politics expressed. I still find the memes and sarcasm exhausting and would rather not hear it.)

    So as I see it, I use two social networks. One is run by an evil and childish plutocrat, and includes multitudes. One is run on admirable decentralized principles, and includes few. Other than their reach, they’re essentially the same experience.

    We can continue to urge all right-thinking people to leave Twitter and join Mastodon, but realistically, that’s not going to happen unless Musk makes his own goatse meme and tweets it to every user. Which could happen, given his actions so far. Meanwhile, Mastodon is used by so few that only those whose social network happens to include a great number of those predisposed to use something like Mastodon are likely to continue using it. I suspect this includes you, Adam, and a great deal of your colleagues and friends.

  2. I haven’t found a similar experience on Mastodon; most od my communities (writers, Medievalists, Apple technologists) are well represented.

    Some tips:

    Fill out your Mastodon profile. Use hashtags for your interests.
    Write an intro post with a short bio and summary of your interests. Pin that post in your profile.
    Verify your identity (@ace needs to do this) by adding the Mastodon provided link to your Website (top page or as Head metadata) from your Mastodon Profile.

  3. Twitter is most definitely NOT NEARLY as popular as it once was. Twitter has been loosing a significant % of its members and advertisers on a regular basis:

  4. I guess I just don’t get it, but I’ve never been on Twitter, and have never felt a need to go there. I’m sure there are good reasons to do so (or go to any other such platform), I’m just not sure what they are. If I want Apple info I come here. If I need national news I go to NPR or AP or BBC America. If I want to talk with friends and family I text or talk to them. What I am missing?

  5. Basically, direct involvement in what has become a major societal cancer.

  6. Ray

    Though I agree that Twitter can be consuming for some people, it has been a way for me to connect with people in various communities. I have contact with writers, manga authors, and a variety of regular people. I don’t know what EM will do to it, but I will stay on and watch. I miss TweetBot’s clean interface though.

  7. I have been on Twitter for about two years so I was a late joiner. I have carefully curated who I follow and who follows me. I am interested in the Venn Diagram intersection of photographers, weather discussions, and storm chasers.

    I find that I can get very useful information as well as new research and results by following these folks on Twitter. Many of these people left Twitter for Mastodon – and are back at Twitter because of the critical mass that exists.

    I also use Twitter to follow my local emergency managers, local news, NWS alerts, and wildfire alerts.

    It’s not that difficult to avoid the garbage. I use TweetDeck and only allow people I follow to show up in my timeline. I never, NEVER, see promoted Tweets or ads in Tweetdeck.

  8. I can’t speak to Twitter, as I pop in just to check occasionally that no one is trying to reach me, but I have nearly 12,000 followers on Mastodon and have 10x the level of replies to things there I did on Twitter back in November. Great conversations, thoughtful people. I think Mastodon even more than Twitter can feel dramatically different because you have to work to follow enough people to get a timeline going. I’m following a few thousand. Still, I don’t read it, so it doesn’t feel overwhelming. It’s my favorite social network since early Twitter.

  9. Unable to avert my gaze from TidBITS articles, I read this one. Boy, am I glad I’m not on Twitter! (And I’m glad I’m on TidBITS!)

  10. Twitter has always pretty much been a cesspool…just like every other social media site out there. Yes…it has its share of idiotic moronic right wingers…but then it’s got its share of idiotic moronic left wingers as well and also its share of idiotic moronic centrist people. That’s why I follow certain people and have blocked certain other people and ignore the rest of them…and anything in the new “promoted” or “recommended to follow” list gets just skipped right over.

    It’s Musk’s company now…and while I have no real understanding of why he bought it or what he intends to do with it or anything else…it’s still his baby and none of my business.

    As a mostly in the one center politically person…I do find it a bit strange that most of the people talking about it being a train wreck or cesspool or whatever are pretty left politically, at least that’s my view of them based on other things they’ve said in it or other forums and/or their bluntly stated political opinions…and while I agree with them that…as noted above…there are lots of idiot far right people there (and on social media in general) but extremists on both sides seem to ignore their own extremism and pillory the other side’s…but then in today’s increasingly bi-polar political world I suppose that’s to be expected.

    There are valid arguments to be made on both sides about every political issue we have today…but unfortunately the conversation is dominated by the fringe viewpoints mostly and the number of our political leaders in various governments seem to be much interested in attempting to reach a compromise that neither side will completely like or agree with but that both sides can live with…because politicians on both sides are more interested IMO in getting reelected and not getting primary-ed by the radicals in their party. Too bad…I’ve lamented many times with my spouse that there’s not really a political party any more for those of us mostly in the center. We’ve also lamented…many times…that in every election “None of the above” should be on the ballot and if None wins there has to be a new election and none of the candidates in the original election can run in the new one…seems we would get a lot better political leadership that way…but like firearms, voting, and every other really contentious issue it would require a constitutional amendment to fix and the amendment process was deliberately designed to be hard so that only a significant majority of the population could get one enacted and we live in pretty much a 50/50 split these days.

  11. It’s the network that reminds me most of early Twitter. Mostly fellow geeks of various forms. Not that interactive, but kind and not cynical.

    Twitter is for the civilians, and it reflects current civilian discourse. Which is why I don’t go there.

    Substack has an interesting new ‘Notes’ feature where users and stackers can interact, that has the promise of something substantial and significant. An interesting development I think.

  12. I agree with you. So what about my comment did you find so inappropriate that it deserved a downvote?

  13. I thought I made it very clear not only about Twitter continuing to hemorrhage a very significant number of members, but a big % of members that remain are not posting as frequently. The respected sources I quoted back these issues up, and it is not getting anything resembling better for Twitter. And because it doesn’t look like Twitter will be gaining significant numbers of members and posts for the time being, advertisers, their only source of revenue, are continuing to head for the cyber hills. Twitter ain’t even worth anything near what Musk paid for it.

  14. I didn’t indicate anything was “inappropriate”–that would have generated a private mail to Adam. I indicated that I disagreed with your post, per the definition of the available emoji. Specifically, I disagree with paragraph 1 and the last paragraph. Obviously, YMMV.

  15. This is what’s mostly missing on Mastodon so far. Otherwise I find it well-populated with people I followed on Twitter. But with Twitter finally ending the support for API automated posting, even emergency management posts on Twitter may be a thing of the past very soon.

    https://wapo.st/3o9rB6x

    For those sorts of accounts, I used to use Twitter lists to segregate those sorts of posts outside my timeline. Two things: Mastodon doesn’t have the concept of adding an account to a list without following them, though thankfully there are clients that can hide posts on your timeline if people are in lists. Second, having lost twitteriffic and Tweetbot as clients, I’ve found the official client practically unusable. I stay away from “for you”, but the client had this nasty habit of not downloading tweets and showing a control that says “show more”; tap it and it brings you to the top of what just downloaded anyway. Secondly, the list support is terrible compared with the old third-party clients. Your position isn’t remembered, etc.

    I don’t check Twitter all that often anymore, I never post anything, I never like anything, and it’s clear that I am seeing less useful info than I did until the third party clients were booted. Meanwhile more and more accounts are moving to Mastodon; I’m guessing that NPR will be coming soon.

  16. The UI for Tapbot’s Ivory is somewhat similar to their dead Twitter client Tweetbot, Mammoth is another Mastodon client for iOS, Ice cubes is a third.

  17. Looks like that has already happened. Several NWS offices have posted the following message:

  18. My experience has been much like John Cooper’s – despite all the sturm & drang, my use of twitter has remained largely unaffected. I haven’t seen a great drop in the people I follow posting, the conversations have been good, and the value I find in it as has been about the same. Like Facebook, I use it to keep up with certain communities and that’s been fine.

    I think Musk’s a jerk, but I don’t see any personal reason to leave Twitter. If I stopped using every product that was run by/associated with jerks, I’d have nothing left at all (including Apple, given SJ’s legendary jerkiness).

  19. Twitter is dead. Long live XCorp:

    “Twitter Inc. has been merged into X Corp. and no longer exists. X Corp. is a privately held corporation, incorporated in Nevada, and with its principal place of business in San Francisco, California.”

  20. I have a twitter account I never use - got it only for a foolish chance to win a prize. But - Adam’s last sentence in his article about Musk’s dog makes sense to me. Musk is alluding to Scott Adams’ cartoon dog, Dogbert. When Adams appeared on a Sci-fi show, he insisted that his dog was trying to take over the world, as needed is the ultimate aim of Dogbert.

  21. I guess I’m not very compatible with social media. I joined Twitter around 15 years ago because it seemed less confusing and mixed up to me than FaceBook, and I’ve managed to avoid FaceBook since. But I tried Mastodon, and I found that confusing as well.

  22. I left last week, losing some respected followers in my field, after Musk labeled NPR “state-sponsored media” and removed info showing who had retweeted something. I’d only used Lists for a long time anyway, to keep out ads and other promoted garbage, knowing it was too good to be true and that they would eventually destroy Lists too. I admire some things Musk has done, but his handling of Twitter has been nothing short of a disaster.

    Now I have one follower on Mastodon. Am a bit sad about the followers I lost, but I never tweeted that much anyway, and I didn’t really like who I was when I did. Maybe Mastodon will become fun for a while, until someone decides it needs to make money and all the normies join, and then it will turn into a cesspool just like every other successful social network has.

  23. Ken

    The popularity of Twitter while important is not the most important thing. For Musk it is cash flow, he needs every week to receive a certain amount of money from advertisers and users to pay the interest and other costs. One of the problems is that advertisers are less likely to hand over money and the revenue stream from high profile users isn’t sufficient. It is basically a Business 101 fail, forgetting that the most important people for your business are the ones that give you money. What he should have done is to keep the restrictions on content and users and build the number of paying users. That may be difficult. Most social media is free, and it is free for a reason and that is that people can’t see it as worthwhile to pay the money. YouTube has a couple of paid options, one allows content providers to provide ad free content, the other allows consumers to access content without ads. I expect that neither of them provide Google with a lot of money.

  24. Of this entire article, the thing that I mostly walked away with is FROGTWADDLE. I’ve never heard this word before. I like it. Going forward, I plan to use it as much as possible. Thanks, Adam.

  25. I’m deleting the back-and-forth on the Twitter label status of NPR. The point of mentioning it in the article was to show how arbitrary and uninformed Musk’s decisions are being, not to encourage wrangling over hyperbolic language or the nuance of single-digit funding sources. How precisely NPR is funded and how that funding flows through the network of independent stations is a topic for another forum.

  26. I wasn’t aware that anyone else had ever used it and thought I had coined the word, but a Google search shows at least one precise usage, and another few with a space between frog and twaddle. The Internet is a big place. :slight_smile:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=frogtwaddle

    On the topic of extremely rare words, be sure to read this 2007 article.

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