Way back in the olden thymes, I would come back from the mammoth hunt and relax by dialing into a BBS and mixing it up with others about sports. Back then, you had to know how a modem worked, in addition to knowing how to write a bit of code. My first “home computer” was a VT220 terminal and Hayes smartmodem that “fell off a truck.” A friend set up an account at his university and provided a POP.
Back in those days, “internet culture” provided no moderation and little in the way of restraint. The social justice warriors of today would have all committed suicide if exposed to the culture of 1980’s internet content. It was almost all smart dudes with more confidence than good sense so the arguments quickly got nasty and personal. If you could not handle it, no one cared. You were probably a pussy anyway.
Eventually, the BBS moved to NNTP servers and mail lists. Then the GUI revolution brought the masses into computing and onto the internet. Messageboards evolved as the social media tool for the mouse wielding internet warriors. Now, comment systems for articles, Facebook, Twitter and other apps have made social media ubiquitous. If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me why I am not on Facebook, I’d have a lot of nickels.
The point of this trip down memory lane is two-fold. One is to establish my bona fides as an original interwebs gangster. I’ve been at this a very long time. Second, and more important, is that social media is not new or even close to new. Things like Twitter and Facebook are just continuations of other platforms. The same group dynamics that gave us Godwin’s Law 25 years ago exist on modern platforms. Here’s a 20-year old guide to UseNet users that applies just as well today.
Social media has always struggled with the tragedy of the commons. An active community is almost always free in order to invite a large number of people to participate. The Pareto Principle applies everywhere in social media, which means some small fraction of the users do the bulk of the posting. There are, however, some portion of users who take pleasure in ruining the fun for everyone. These are the people at the beach, who “accidentally” walk on your kid’s sand castle.
In the old days, boards were self-regulated. The trolls and idiots were eventually ignored by everyone so they went away on their own. Then technology put a premium on access so the idiots would have to sign up and maybe be approved. Private boards and lists are still around today for this reason. Pay-to-play schemes have been tried, with limited success. People just don’t want to pay to argue with other people.
The most common solution to this dilemma, one that never seems to work, is to moderate the debate. This is always associated with a set of nebulous rules of conduct that can be interpreted anyway you like. The mods remove posts that violate the rules and maybe suspend users who refuse to comply. It’s one of those things that works in theory, but never works in practice. In fact, it tends to make things worse, blowing up whole communities.
This is what is happening with Twitter. They created a “trust and safety council” to police the platform and get rid of the bad people. The creepy name is an artifact of our feminized age. Only women and homosexual males fret about trust and safety on-line. It also signals that it is more than just an attempt to ban ISIS terrorists and criminal gangs from the platform. The words “trust” and “safety” are now dog whistles for the maniacs on the Left.
That’s the reason moderation of message platforms fails. There are two types of people doing the moderation. There are those forced into it because they own the site or the hosting company requires it. It’s a terrible job for them so they quickly ban anyone that causes trouble. It is the old line about killing some chickens to scare the monkeys. The trouble is, they usually end up banning too many people and the community collapses.
The other type of person moderating content is the social justice warrior. They sign up for this job so they can chase off everyone that disagrees with them. Look down the list of people on this Twitter committee and it reads like roll call at the local asylum. These are people who think North Korea is a hippy colony of free speech. Giving these crackpots power is the sort of mistake a dying company makes as a last gasp to win support.
This led to the banning of Robert Stacy McCain by deranged fanatic Anita Sarkeesian, the mentally unbalanced grifter behind FeministFrequency and member of the Twitter thought police. She has had disputes with McCain for years so as soon as she was given authority to abuse, she abused it by banning her critics, starting with McCain. This has set off a revolt among Twitter users and a quest for an alternative to Twitter.
The fact is, the technology behind Twitter is no great shakes. It’s not much of a value proposition to users so it has to be free with minimum ads. That’s fine as long as the owners are not dreaming of becoming the next Bill Gates. But, that’s the problem. They built out a huge infrastructure with loads of debt thinking they will become billionaires. Instead, the stock is tanking and they are not long for the world.
What comes next is predictable. Rival services will spring up as Twitter, the brand, is increasingly associated with the sort of deranged fanaticism associated with nut-jobs like Anita Sarkeesian. Quitter.de is already up and running as an un-moderated, distributed platform. I just setup an account, but I’m not much for this type of platform so don’t expect a lot of action. Tumblr is another alternative. There are others.
There was never a great argument for Twitter as a company, but seeing them follow the well worn path of previous social media operations says they are doomed. The SJW’s will chase off everyone remotely interesting and then start feeding one one another. It’s the two women in a kitchen problem. It always ends the same. Once Twitter stops being cool for media types, it stops having a reason to exist.