Twitter’s cesspool within the cesspool
The platform’s qualitative collapse is total, and there are no survivors.
Twitter is not normally something I’m keen on talking about much, whether in real life or via more substantive mediums such as this weblog. It is, however, one of my largest timesinks within the set of websites I visit online. Considering my thinking about it has undergone some pretty drastic changes recently, I’d like to explore what (and who) contributed to that change.
I have been on Twitter, nominally, since 2011 or so, although I actually went active some time in 2018. Now, in 2022, I have sat through a lot of changes on the platform itself and I have also grown a lot as a person – I am 24, not 20. And much as I may have changed, I think many others have somewhat as well, although I think the biggest change has been in the site itself, and for the worse. Let me explain.
It has always been understood by the thinking masses that Twitter is, qualitatively, a cesspool. Since its inception, however, the counterweight to that has been its tolerance for disagreement and heat. Further, many clever people have endeavoured to promulgate highly nuanced discussion by way of shibboleths and other classic social devices, despite continued advancements in censorship. I’m here to tell you now that none of that matters anymore. The gross completely dominates the scales now.
My perspective about this is accented by the types of people and groups that I hung around for all my time since 2018, and for the most part, it has been various nerds who earnestly discuss philosophy, altruism and other topics of interest in a rationalist context. These discussions have been mostly fine, for whatever they’re worth, but I think the time has come to admit that social networks have turned inward. Somebody shit in the stew.
As far as I can tell there are nothing but gradual, natural trend lines predicating this decline. Nonetheless, all of the classic markers of social decay are present. People openly discuss community moderation, others balk that such policing spells the end of communities period, and various groups turn cult-like in their vapid, shallow and algorithmically-driven postings – like Eigenrobot, for example, continuing to post nonsense “game theoretics” and “predictions” about the Ukraine. The Twitter algorithm rewards him handsomely for this, despite it being a textbook example of clickbait content farming, and also applicable under more recent (and Orwellian) definitions of misinformation.
There are other cesspools, like the cult surrounding the 20-something ML researcher Roon, handle tszzl, which are even more starkly masturbatory and content-free in nature. A third, contrasting example is Visakan Veerasamy, who is much more earnest and genuine than either of these two people, but nonetheless seems to fall victim to the same social woes that they do.
What do all of these people have in common, besides huge followings and proclivities for the bespoke? It’s simple: their reply guys are overwhelmingly stupid. I wish I was kidding.
There are a lot of accounts that just swarm around and orbit them, posting the most clueless, harebrained garbage that seems relevant, and for some reason they are continually rewarded for this SPAM. Visa is probably a well-meaning enabler of this, but I can assure you for the others the motivation is much more zero-sum. Remember how the algorithm dominates every corner of Tweets? Yeah, that’s exploitable. You can piece together the rest.
I believe there was a time when all of these people were less insane, less up their own asses, or whathaveyou, probably years ago by this point when they genuinely cared about something vaguely related to whatever they post about now.
But they have fallen victim to a phenomenon that seems to come for every podcaster, vlogger and online media personality who has a “bento box brand” like Rationalist, Conservative, Libertarian, Leftist, Progressive, whathaveyou.
I remember watching videos from people like Stefan Molyneux and Sargon of Akkad back in 2015 when they were still trying. Their departure from sanity after 2016 was as abrupt as it was total. Molyneux made claims that I still cite to this very day—like his bet that university will be a net negative on your resume—but that didn’t stop him from jumping headlong into a pointless partisan fear-mongering campaign, or his cult-like proclivities with what he calls “de-fooing”. (Highly recommend doing a deep dive about that if you haven’t. It’s uniquely disturbing.) Meanwhile Sargon made one of the most thorough and respectable video analyses of the Mandalay Bay Massacre, which YouTube has completely shitcanned algorithmically in their crusade against wrongthink. It didn’t stop him from joining UKIP and thoroughly debasing his name for life, becoming popularly known to any UK voter with moderate sensibilities who heard of him as the “rape man”. Ditto anyone with a career of the written word.
People are not plastic models. They cannot truthfully stand in some constructed hyperreality where they are always on point just because they are genuinely trying to be. Visa, Eigen and all the rest are no exception to this. If you are any person whose career is fundamentally based off of writing or the working of words, you are vulnerable to this phenomenon of having “expired”, and if you wish to save yourself the inevitable pain, you need to muster enough self-awareness and courage to recognise when you need to shut the fuck up and quit, moving on to something else that no one needs to have blasted into their retinas via your Twitter page.
Given that some of these people are exhibiting key traits of cult formation, one giveaway should you bother to look out for this is the total silence of dissent and haters. If you embrace headlong the philosophy that haters are worthless, that they have no value and nothing to say simply because they are of no use to you, you are done for. You’re toast. If anyone who could call you out on you bullshit is best muted or blocked because you have it so good, you’re doing so well, maybe you’ve reached your expiration date and they’re completely right to criticise you, because you’ve lost. And like with any loser, the game only goes on because the loser has yet to realise and accept that they have lost.
There are a few one-off times & spaces where I bother to unload the scathing criticisms I have for these people, and this is one of them. They aren’t the main reason I decided to write this post, although they were a big one, because dragging them with two-bit quote tweets telling them to eat sand is pretty stupid. I had to be more cogent about this.
The biggest reason I needed to write this is because it is the background for my new understanding of Twitter, and social media. People say it’s a cesspool, and while they’re nominally correct, I’m here to say it’s worse than that. The algorithm has completely ruined Twitter by pervading all replies, quote tweets, profile pages and more. What I noticed then is that this little corner of people who initially decided to stand athwart and make meaning nonetheless are now Suffering From Success™ and have been feeding the beast with increasing vigour. The algorithm makes it irresistible to accounts like theirs who are already basketed as “big fish” in the eyes of the system. (Twitter has documented this, they literally make up constructed social groups for accounts and box everyone in. It’s as hellish as it is dumb.)
I think my first big “walking out of the asylum” moment came when I was reading Brendan Eich’s Twitter feed. I’ve always followed him, but after muting hundreds of accounts on my newest profile and clicking over to his page, I was amazed at how he seemed able to consistently post about whatever he’s interested in. Somehow, he was immune to the coercive push of the algorithm that continually subjects people like my husband to Eigenrobot’s insane threads about Ukraine, simply because he happens to follow him and Twitter likes promoting Tweets about Ukraine. It’s a qualitative disaster.
But when I browsed Brendan’s profile, I found him retweeting an engineer who was live recording the interactions of literal botnets of Twitter accounts, farming innocuous engagement before they may be deployed somewhere else. We’re living in this shit every day on this site and it’s disgusting. It makes me want to conduct comprehensive opposition research on this stuff and build out a NewPipe for Twitter, because I’m so done with it.
I’ve stated countless times that scraper-based solutions are the future, because APIs are political cudgels. There is a reason why there are no third-party Twitter clients, and the reason is because all of them were dumb enough to trust Twitter with giving them API keys. When revoked, the codebase was instantly turned into useless garbage, demotivating the developers and killing the projects as intended.
Until such things come along, the only halfway-workable solution seems to be Tweak New Twitter on Brave Browser for desktops. There is no way to sanely use Twitter on mobile devices for now, since this add-on is as necessary as uBlock is for YouTube. Much to think about just how patently awful the mainstream Web has become that it’s unusable to anyone with a functioning life without a ton of add-ons that un-fuck the websites. But that’s how it is, and that’s what I needed to say here. I hope it makes sense why.
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