Overnight, not unlike an NFL owner silently absconding with a whole football team to move it to a new town, Elon Musk decided to change the name of Twitter to “X,” which, for those of you not in the know, is a long-dormant domain name Musk had in his early days when he was busy being fired from PayPal. It’s resurrected now because Musk has a grand idea of creating an “Everything App” under that title, of which the functionality of microblogging will be a part. Basically, he wants to create a Western version of the Chinese “WeChat” app, despite the fact that the Western regulatory environment is drastically different from what it is in China, and also, inasmuch as Musk was railroaded into purchasing Twitter by people smarter than him, and then proceeded to lose billions through his incompetence in managing the site, only a fool would trust him with either their money or their information. But, dream big, I guess.
We could go on about how Musk will be an immediate business school case study for taking the value of a unique, universally-known and globally-appreciated brand and absolutely trashing it in exchange for a symbol best known for porn and/or the button you press on your computer whenever you want to leave something, but… well, actually, I kind of want to talk about the latter! With the switchover in name, I think this is a fine time to start disentangling myself from Musk’s Folly, whatever it is called, and manage my presence there differently than I have over these last 15 years when it was known as Twitter.
To present what all this means in readable form, let me bring in my Fictional Interlocutor to ask some questions.
Hi there. Let’s get started.
So you’re leaving Twitter forever now?
Well, no. First off, Twitter no longer exists, it’s now that “X” thing.
Okay, but that’s kind of a “Toe-MAY-toe, toe-MAH-toe” distinction, isn’t it?
It’s not! Twitter was its own specific thing, whereas as “X” is meant to be a number of different things, of which microblogging will be only one part, and, one suspects, the part Musk will care the least about. He’s really about finding ways to have people give him their money, either through subscriptions or taking a cut of transactions. It’s a fundamentally different beast, or at least, plans to be.
So that’s why he changed the name, you think.
Also, I think Musk wants to get rid of the Twitter name because it reminds him he got suckered into paying a multiple of what the site was worth to acquire it because he ran off his damn fool mouth and waived doing any due diligence. Spending $44 billion on Twitter? An eternal mark of shame! Spending $44 billion to start-up a “universal app” that will take over banking and communication and life as we know it? Genius! And it’s important for Elon Musk to feel like a genius, the wee lad. Either way, Twitter is dead and X has shambled, lich-like, out of its hastily-dug grave.
And how does this relate to deciding to leave?
Because I had residual affection for Twitter, even after Musk took the wheel and then proceeded to scrape it across several miles of mountain guardrail. I was on the service for fifteen years, and I had a lot of fun chatting, made friends and business connections, and told lots of people about my work and adventures. I don’t have any affection for X. I’m not going to let Musk anywhere near my money, and the current microblogging service, removed from its history as Twitter, is very evidently a flawed entity that valorizes hateful speech and “pay-to-play” positioning in comments and in viewing algorithms, and will not be the main thrust of the X app in any event. I have no more affection for the X microblogging service than I do for Threads, the Meta microblogging service, except to say that Threads is a couple of weeks older and I don’t get nearly as many “verified” users trying to shill bitcoin or porn at me there.
So you’re going to delete your account.
But… look at everything you just said!
I’m aware of it.
I am confused.
Then allow me to explain. First, I’m not going to delete my account because I don’t want anyone else taking over my name. I’ve kept it standardized across several services for a reason. Second, right now, here in July 2023, The Service Formerly Known As Twitter still has some value in terms of visibility and reach — Musk, as incompetent as he is, still hasn’t managed to entirely destroy that. Third, not every person that follows me there can or will want to leave the site, for whatever reason. So I am keeping the account, and will even continue to post. But what and how I post is going to change.
When it was Twitter, I posted a lot, on all sorts of topics, ranging from pictures of my cats to culture to observations on politics. Now, as X, I’m mostly going to post career news and updates, and links to things I’ve posted on my own site.
And that’s it?
I may also occasionally retweet things other creators are doing to help promote them.
So you will never ever post about anything else, ever.
As long as I have the account, I will never say never. But at the moment, the intent is to use it a whole lot less; a couple of posts a day rather than dozens, which it was not unknown for me to do.
I mean, the fact that you posted dozens of times a day suggests you will have difficulty keeping this resolution.
Fair point! As a counterpoint I’ll note that Twitter is no longer the only microblogging game in town, so my urge to post lots of things can be spread out to Bluesky and Mastodon and Threads (as examples).
None of which, it should be said, offer you anywhere near the same number of followers.
True enough! I have 26k followers on Mastodon, 10k on Bluesky and 6k on Threads. In terms of sheer numbers of followers, they are… less. I will note, however, that I didn’t get to 200k followers on Twitter in a day; it took 15 years. Whether I can do that again is an open question. It’s entirely possible I’ll never have that many followers in a single place ever again.
Which kind of sucks.
It kind of does. But, one, having your career predicated on how many followers you have on a single site is fraught anyway, and two, this is the nature of social media, isn’t it? Think of all those bands who had hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers on MySpace and then that imploded. And then, three, not everything is about the sheer number of followers. I loved being on Twitter not because I had tens of thousands of people to market to, but because I was having fun. And today, I’m having fun in other places; at the moment I’m especially having fun on Bluesky. Bluesky is tiny and invite-only and at the moment absolutely fucking useless to market one’s self on, and I kinda love it and the conversations I’m having on it. So there’s that.
You’ve said before that one of the reasons you’d stay on Twitter is that you thought you could outlast Musk’s ownership. What about now? Do you think you’ll still outlast him?
Well, it’s different now, isn’t it? Twitter isn’t Twitter anymore. He’s destroying the value of the brand name. Even if at some point X fails (and it probably will), and Musk sells off the microblogging part for pennies on the dollar, even if the new owner calls it “Twitter” again, too much damage will have been done to the brand identity, and most of the power users (who aren’t incel bigots either by inclination or for pay) will either have moved on or will have done what I’m planning to do, ie., reduce their reliance on the service. Historically, social media sites get sold twice, first for a whole lot of money, and then for very little. When they’re sold for very little, it’s understood they’re damaged goods, unlikely to rise again to the prominence they had before. And in this case, the new buyer wouldn’t even get the value of the name.
You seem to be taking all of this well, at least.
Thanks, it’s a façade. I’m actually really sad about the Twitter name and identity being tossed. The site has never been what you would call perfect, but there was a good run there when it mattered, and mattered to me. I mourn the thing that mattered. As I mentioned elsewhere, it seems sort of silly to grieve a brand identity, but it’s not about the bird, it’s about the fact that Twitter was a place, with people, and now that place is gone. Musk took a city with thriving neighborhoods and decided to run a fucking interstate through the most interesting parts of it, and the interstate doesn’t actually go anywhere good; it just runs from Bitcoin Town to Fascistburg.
You think he should have just left the place alone.
I think once he made farty tweets about buying the place it was over. He offered too much for the then-current board to ignore — they knew the site’s business model was break-even at best, and it was so rarely at its best — and once they forced his hand and made him pay full price for the place, Musk had to find a way to make money off it to service his debt. Sadly, he’s a shit businessperson when he doesn’t have real executives to hide behind, and he’s dreamed of owning all the money in the world through an app since his PayPal days, so here we are.
And all the conspiracy theories that this is a master plan to destroy the one social media site liberal people organized on?
It’s a really dimwitted conspiracy theory, as most of them are. One, he had to be forced to buy the place, never forget that, and two, everything he’s done since has been a flailingly desperate ploy to build revenue, confounded by the fact he doesn’t understand, and never has understood, the social media business model. To be clear, Elon Musk is absolutely rooting for a fascist overtake of the US political system, because that’s the only way X gets to be the Western WeChat. He needs a corrupt and lax regulatory environment for it to be even remotely possible. But this doesn’t mean we should credit him with any intelligence in going about it. Destroying Twitter’s utility directly in front of an election year is not the mark of a genius. And anyway people organized — quite effectively! — before Twitter. They will do it without the service, just watch.
Where else can people find you, if not on what used to be Twitter?
Why, here, of course (and this is where I remind creative people and anyone else with a desire for what passes for permanence online to get their own domain and create their own site, so others will always be able to find you) and also on the sites listed in this linked post. I’ll note that at the moment I’m most active on Bluesky, Mastodon and Facebook, in about that order, but that this may change over time. Regardless, Scalzi.com and Whatever will always be places you can find me.
Will you miss Twitter?
I will, like I miss college, or living in Northern Virginia when I worked at AOL in the mid-90s, or any other time or place in my life that no longer exists in its previous form, except for in memory. To be clear, Musk’s microblogging service will persist, until it doesn’t, and people will use it, until they don’t. But whatever it is now, it’s not Twitter, and there’s no percentage in pretending it is. It was nice to have Twitter when we had it. But it’s gone. Now we get to find out what’s next.