Twitter informs me that it’s 15 years today since I first posted on the service. I don’t post there at all now; I’ve unfollowed everybody and locked my account, and unless there’s a change of ownership and a huge change in culture I don’t anticipate returning.
It’s sad. For its first decade or so, Twitter was net positive: for all its flaws – and I’ve been reporting on and giving talks about the misinformation and disinformation on the service for many years now – it was an incredible communications platform for everything from breaking news to ridiculous flights of fancy. What Elon Musk has done to it in just one year is as tragic as it was predictable.
Over the last few days big brands such as Apple, IBM, Sony Pictures, NBC Universal and many more (but not, so far, the BBC) have pulled their advertising from the service in response to Musk endorsing a blatantly antisemitic tweet. It’s a welcome move, but it’s also an overdue one: Musk has been endorsing, amplifying and paying money to the worst bigots on Twitter for a long time now, and these brands were quite happy to have their advertising dollars used to finance that.
There are two things worth pointing out here. The first is that despite widespread publicity around Twitter’s lurch into bigotry the brands seemed perfectly happy with Twitter as recently as Friday, before a Media Matters investigation highlighted specific examples of the brands’ ads being positioned next to pro-Nazi content and even tweets praising Hitler. And secondly, the brands have not said they’re cancelling their advertising; they’re just pausing it. What we’re seeing here isn’t brands developing a backbone; it’s brands trying to ride out what they hope will be a short-lived PR storm.