All content on this blog from Tim McGhee has moved to the Tim McGhee Substack, and soon, Lord willing, will be found only on that Substack.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Permanent suspension of an audience

Dismissing the President of the United States from Twitter was not just about the man. Twitter didn't just care about Donald Trump or what he posted. Twitter specifically wanted to sever the connection he had with his followers that it provided.

This is evident in its explanation of how Twitter gave “close review” to his Tweets and “the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter.” The President could have written almost anything and be found in violation of that standard.

Twitter has a history of extending their reach of influence beyond their own platform.

LiveAction has faced Twitter scrutiny.

Yesterday marks a new era. This is true for the President, Twitter, the country, Big Tech, and how we communicate.

During the Cold War, the sides were clear as was the line between them, and there was an element of symmetry to the conflict. After it ended, there was a decade of quiet while asymmetric conflict took shape.

After its initial innovation honeymoon, social media became the battle zone because that's what man with his desires does. Even though their employees and algorithms have been both arbiters and participants in this conflict, the conflict has been largely symmetric. Everyone knows where everyone is and can relatively easily be identified. It's not unlike an army wearing bright red coats in the forest as they line up to take aim and fire.

Severing the most prominent user of social media from the front and from his followers is not just a matter of them finding somewhere else to go. No one has yet bothered to imitate Twitter's unique set of advantages (public, short, embeddable, API, etc.). Unintended and unforeseen consequences to our communication of this removal are inevitable.

Some technologists may anticipate a decentralization of social media. That would be to forget what has made it valuable. Technology tends toward centralization. Napster and file sharing (decentralized) led to the iTunes store (centralized). Jabber and open source instant messaging (decentralized) led to social media (centralized).

Some of those changes were also driven by policy changes. The music industry pushed for the DMCA. How lawmakers in this case will react to the changed environment will further shape how companies and people interact with each other. Both sides currently have a lot to say about Section 230. One side seems unaware of its benefits; the other seems to ignore some of its unintended consequences.

Man will continue to wrestle with man over these things throughout each successive change because that's what we do.

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