Tower of Bab-Elon
Will the new owner destroy Twitter from within? Is this the end of the bird app? Why can't we have nice things?
And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth.
There is a three-panel Garfield comic that ran on New Year’s Day of what would be the last full year of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. In the first panel, the googly-eyed feline is tucked in his litter-box-like bed. “So this is 1980,” he thinks. In the second panel, he extends his paw. And then the punchline, such as it is, in panel #3: “Feels about the same.”
This is my Garfieldian hope, now that Elon Musk, the world’s second-richest troll,1 has closed the deal for Twitter: that nothing really changes. But just as 1980 brought the election of Ronald Reagan, yanking the political pendulum to the right and setting the United States on its current collision course with fascist self-destruction, so Musk’s purchase seems like a blinking-red warning sign. Nothing good can come of this.
Twitter is the most important of the social media platforms because it is the best and fastest source of targeted news—in the U.S. and in those countries whose despotic regimes do not have it blocked. No matter your area of interest—Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Trump’s legal shenanigans, Welsh rugby, Dancing With the Stars—you can curate your feed to bring you information about that subject like nothing else can. If, for example, you want to hear about the New York Knicks, you can follow the team, the individual players, players on rival teams, the broadcasters, and all of the journalists who cover the sport, as well as the best basketball accounts. You’ll have every base covered (to mix sports metaphors). There is both immediacy and intimacy. Twitter is like the military’s scouts, while the newspapers are the actual army; it’s way ahead of everything. That’s what makes it valuable. And it achieves this by letting us all communicate in a collective, cooperative way: the modern-day equivalent of the Tower of Babel.
A few years back, I was following the Michael Cohen trial. A courtroom reporter was live-tweeting the proceedings. I knew, within the first verse-chorus of a pop song, that Sean Hannity was Client #3. Not long ago, you’d have to wait for the nightly news to hear about that, or else wait for the newspaper the next day. I got the news almost instantaneously.
It seems insane that Musk would blow $44 billion just to burn something down. On the other hand, we just watched him tank Tesla, mostly by raving like a nerd fratboy on ketamine. Plus, it ain’t his money. His is just the pasty, punchable face of the fascist insurgency. As the closing date approached, remember, he was fluffing both Putin and Xi, to the degree that serious people have wondered whether he needed to register as a foreign agent under FARA—just as he cozied up to hateful dipshits Donald Trump and Kanye West. He may as well have USEFUL IDIOT branded on his forehead in Afrikaans.
The question isn’t will he sabotage Twitter, but how? Laying off three-quarters of the workforce, as he’s said he’d do, would be a fine way to start the destruction (he began last night by pink-slipping the legal staff, including the executive primarily responsible for eighty-sixing Trump). Charging for the service would drive away many users and blow up engagement like an exploding Tesla. Re-platforming the likes of Trump, Mike Flynn, and other noxious disinformation peddlers, trolls, and chaos agents would gin up the rage—and scare off more normies. So would amplifying fascist accounts (or, to be more accurate, amplifying them more). He could verify bad actors—as the old administration used to do—and take away blue checks from those who don’t toe the Muskovite party line. He could tweak the algorithm so that we don’t see the accounts we want to, and are force-fed others. He could sell our data and our DMs on the dark web. Or he could simply sack the entire support staff and play his virtual-reality fiddle while Twitter burns.
Eleven days before what may be the last fair election in this country, the federal government should not have allowed such a vital social media company to be scooped up by a shady character with the maturity level of a second grader—a South African whose scumbag old man owned an emerald mine—using investment capital that appears to be partially from Saudi Arabia. It’s a national security issue, ffs. Alas, there’s lots of things the federal government should not allow but seems neither willing nor capable of putting a stop to.
I have Twitter to thank for most of my success in this endeavor. Through the network, I’ve learned so much about so many things. Twitter helped me locate my readers, my sources, my friends. It’s depressing, that a loathsome, artless clown is buying it. It’s like watching a beloved restaurant closing its doors, or your childhood home being bulldozed, or the Tower of Babel imploding. It’s like Noah Cross winding up with Catherine at the end of Chinatown. It sucks, and there’s not a damned thing we can do about it. (Let it go, Jake.)
There are no other social media platforms that will replace Twitter, not right away. I’m told that Tribel is not trustworthy, and who has the energy to build new networks? My plan is to remain on the bird app. But if something wonky happens, you can always find me here, Dear Reader, generating these columns, and on my PREVAIL podcast, and on The Five 8. Meantime, I will be like Garfield, safe in my cozy little box, hoping against hope that as far as Twitter is concerned, the new boss is the same as the old boss.
Today’s podcast has a new introduction, but is otherwise a replay of an interview I did in the spring with Aja Raden.
I’ll be back with all-new content next week.
Tonight’s episode of The Five 8 is our Halloween special! Usually we have one guest, sometimes two. Tonight we will have almost a dozen, including some surprises! Don’t miss it!
To help get us in a festive mood, Jamie Schler (@lifesafeast) has brewed a special cocktail just for us. Here is the recipe, should you care to imbibe with us:
Photo credit: The great CHUNK.
As LB has said many times, Putin is above all else a troll, and he is the richest man on earth.