Elon's Twitter and My Black Twitter Will Likely Not Co-Exist Peacefully for Various Reasons.
I've been contemplating leaving Twitter well before Elon Musk acquired it. The possibility of me deactivating my account is looking real strong.
I joined Twitter in 2009 and of all the social media platforms I have a profile on, it is the one I engage with the least. For years I have contemplated deactivating my Twitter page or at the very least removing it from my phone. With the exception of TikTok, I have the lowest follower count on Twitter across all other platforms, and that is mainly because I just opened a TikTok account a little over a year ago.
Initially, I believed that Twitter didn’t work well for me because I tend to be long-winded in my writings on social media. When they doubled their character count from 140 to 280, it gave me a little more room to articulate specific ideas, but there was still something unsettling about being on there more so than on Facebook and Instagram for me. The undercurrent of toxicity just felt more pronounced…or possibly more celebrated and encouraged.
To be clear, I have seen and experienced toxicity on every social media platform I have an account on (hell, even the “professional” LinkedIn) but Twitter always felt like a space where folks went to be as disrespectful, crass, snide, cheeky and hateful as they could possibly be. Maybe it was the limitations on the character count and the rapid-fire frequency with which tweets populate the Twitterverse that prompts users to be the biggest assholes they can be. Maybe it was different because, for all the debates and arguments I’ve had on Facebook, it is still a space I connect with family members. For all of the contentious moments I’ve found myself in on Instagram, it still is a platform where images take precedence over text and banter.
It is possible that in the 13 years I’ve been on Twitter I’ve just never been able to find my algorithmic groove but there has always been something about it that felt unaligned with how I chose to show up in the digital world.
Don’t get me wrong, I love it as a platform that allows easy access to cultural discourse around trending topics and it has, in many instances, been a resourceful tool for research. But as universally popular as it is, it has always felt like the underbelly of social media where folks go to be their worst selves, and with it now being officially under the private ownership of Elon Musk, I suspect it to not only grow into a larger cesspool but perhaps become an even bigger megaphone weaponized to harm marginalized people in ways we haven’t quite seen.
Musk’s recent $44 billion acquisition of Twitter, after initially expressing interest, changing his mind about it, then eventually completing the purchase of it, is alarming for various reasons. For one, his converting Twitter into a privately-owned company makes him unaccountable to public shareholders, allowing him to fashion the policies of the site however he sees fit, specifically as it pertains to content moderation. Twitter had previously taken a much more protected stance against content they deemed as hate speech, and Musk’s campaign to make it more of an “open space” is a dog whistle to several hatemongers that had been expelled from the platform.
Two, and in speaking of previously expelled hatemongers, is Musk’s offer to invite Donald Trump back to Twitter after his account was indefinitely suspended in the aftermath of January 6. Trump previously expressed that he had no interest in returning to Twitter as he had been in the process of building his failing social platform, Truth Social, but Trump is a power-hungry narcissist who lies and waffles on his decisions and is very likely to take Musk up on his offer to return to the very platform that gave him the reach necessary to coalesce a legion of white supremacists. Ahead of the 2024 presidential election cycle, and in conjunction with the rising number of MAGA-aligned politicians being voted into office across the country, Trump would be a fool not to take up Musk up on the offer to come back to Twitter — and as foolish as he is, he is far more enticed by the prospect of having his message being spread to the tens of millions, unfiltered.
But Musk’s purchase of Twitter is not just a matter of providing cover for/rolling out the [white] carpet for supremacists, it is also a matter of the richest person in the world who himself has been frequently accused of racist business practices now having private ownership of one of the largest platforms on the planet. When he says his Twitter will be a “digital town square” and not a “free for all,” it is within reason to question to what extent will he allow virtual lynchings to be facilitated in his “town square” and what users’ content will be restricted, given his own history.
Musk was well aware of which identity extremists were primarily being kicked off Twitter, and has been chomping at the bits to open the floodgates back open to inflammatory propaganda in the name of restoring “free speech.”
Which leads me to question (rhetorically), who exactly will bear the wrath of Twitter not being “a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences,” as Musk said in response to growing concerns about who the new Twitter might be inviting or re-inviting to the “town square?”
#BlackTwitter, which has been identified as “an internet community largely consisting of African-American users on the social network Twitter focused on issues of interest to the Black community in the United States,” has functioned not only as a haven for joy, jokes and trending memes on Twitter but also as a corner of the platform where anti-Black racism has been unapologetically called out and where Black organizers have mobilized in efforts to aggressively combat white supremacy in every iteration it presents itself.
Will Musk’s Twitter allow space for pointed language and content that fiercely challenges systems of white supremacy? Will it censor Black and other marginalized advocates from sharing information relevant to the struggle for liberation? Will it exist as a space where only Black culture and entertainment and merriment will be accepted but resistance and strategic activism will be met with dismissals from the site?
Musk says that there is “currently great danger that social media will splinter into far right-wing and far left-wing echo chambers that generate more hate and divide our society,” but who is he most likely to muzzle if the heat of the “town square” bonfire morphs into an inferno?
Conventional wisdom would suggest that the likes of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers and neo-Nazis will be unrestricted in their ability to plan, plot and strategize in plain view in Musk’s Twitterverse, whereas freedom fighters of color might very well find their timelines interrupted.
I am not of the belief that the new “Chief Twit” in charge will be impartial about what brand of “open dialogue” his Twitter will allow. I am of reasonable concern as to what may be the consequences of his acquisition with regard to who will get the mic back.
The bigots are already back out to play on the bird app. And I can very well see myself leaving that nest sooner than later.