Is Twitter Circling the Drain?

plugholeIs Twitter circling the drain? The omens do not look good; a user base that’s actually shrunk for the first time, a plummeting share price, and a management that has lost the trust of the user base to such an extent that every announcement about new features leads to everyone fearing the very worst.

Twitter the product has a big enough user base that it’s going to be around for a while, even if Twitter the company does not survive. But current trends suggest a long-term decline unless something drastic changes.

Perhaps the only way Twitter can be saved from its own clueless management with their destructive Facebook status envy would be for Twitter to be bought out by Facebook itself. Because it would be against Zuckerberg & co’s interests to turn Twitter into a low-budget imitation of their own core product rather than focus on the things that make it distinctively different.

Twitter’s latest move is the establishment of a “Trust and Safety Council” comprising forty outside organisations, prompting free-speech advocates to raise concerns over the pro-censorship agenda of at least some of those organisations. Hopefully Twitter will focus on developing better block and mute tools rather than go down the road of agenda-driven centralised moderation, but yet again the lack of trust is telling. You don’t need to be a free-speech absolutist to be concerned about some of those names.

Whatever their agenda is, I hope the Trust and Safety Council is paying attention to the ongoing car-crash around NYMag writer Jesse Singal, which displays many of Twitter’s problems including hate-retweeting and misuse of “.@” to pour petrol on flames. Here is someone who willingly participated in Twitter witch-hunts until one day he crossed the wrong line and part of Twitter decided he was the witch. Perhaps the lesson ought to be that if you run with the outrage drama warriors it’s only a matter of time before they will turn on you, because it’s the nature of that sort of subculture to eat their own. Twitter’s problem is it enables and amplifies this sort of thing.

Perhaps one aspect of Twitter’s harassment problem is way the nature of the network tries and fails to make different groups who won’t play nice with each other share the same playground. And when they fight, innocents always get caught in the crossfire. It goes beyond Twitter itself; a lot of the worst things on Twitter are flame wars that spill over from toxic and abusive communities on Tumblr or 4chan. Perhaps what Twitter should attempt is to keep those groups in their own corners of the playground rather than trying to force the least popular group out of the playground altogether?

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