Nov 3, 2022Liked by Murtaza Hussain

A thought-provoking and compelling read, as always, Murtaza.

I would underscore your point about Twitter facilitating dialogue between different linguistic communities. I think this is one of Twitter’s more significant accomplishments, which everyone implicitly recognizes, but which relatively few people – perhaps only multilinguals – fully appreciate. By some accident of the US education system, I ended up being able to speak and read German at a fairly advanced level by the time I was 18, right around the time I started using Twitter. Fast forward the better part of a decade, and it’s almost as though I have a second virtual life in Germany. Probably 1/3 of my follows are Germany-based commentators and personalities. I’ve had meaningful exchanges with journalists at Germany’s papers of record – Der Spiegel, Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and so on – as well as members of the Bundestag. When the US seems to fall into an especially dark period – in the aftermath of a school shooting, for instance – I’ll even take a sort of digital vacation on German Twitter, where the burning question of the day often has to do with something as innocuous as systemic train delays, and where the “crisis” of the 2021 elections was… hour-long lines at a handful of polling places in Berlin. On a more practical note, there’s a whole other world of discourse on Turkey, Ukraine, and other countries in the region that, because of the size and diversity of Germany’s immigrant population, is much richer on German Twitter than what I see circulating in Anglo-American networks. Only a small proportion of those contributions are translated into English or surface in Anglophone networks in a meaningful way. In short, the level of sustained engagement with a foreign people Twitter that provides me has had a profound impact on how I view the world.

Others might take these sorts of interactions for granted, but from a historical and epistemological standpoint, they fascinate me to no end. With a few language classes and a Twitter account, one can “travel” to nearly any country in the world and have meaningful interactions with the common folk there, as well as relatively "elite" individuals. (And Twitter’s “translate” function means language classes often aren’t even necessary.) It’s hard to overstate the social and political implications of that kind of technology. (It reminds me of those 16th. and 17th. c. Dutch and English coffeehouses one reads about in histories of the Enlightenment.) Of course, theoretically, this sort of engagement was possible before Twitter, but my understanding of early 2000s Internet culture is that the virtual public sphere – which consisted mostly of online forums – was, to a significant degree, siloed in terms of language: the Anglo-Americans had their forums, the Russians had theirs, and so on. And Facebook, though I can’t exactly articulate why, never seems to really bring users across the globe as closely together as Twitter does. It’s clear to me that Twitter has done the most to bring the global population together under one digital roof, such that it’s probably not even necessary to qualify or support that statement.

It's for all these reasons that I’d be really sad to see Twitter, as it currently exists, fall apart. Of all the social media platforms we’ve seen rise (and fall) over the last ten to fifteen years – Facebook (virtual landfill), Vine (not worth eulogizing, imo), Instagram (now a diet, quasi-pornographic TikTok), TikTok (CCP spyware) – Twitter stands out, in my view, as the only one to have realized the transformative potential of the internet for a positive purpose. And aside from the odd Luddite or anarcho-primitivist, I think most routine Twitter users would agree that the app *does* bring some form of measurable utility in their lives.

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Twitter literally saved my life by showing me the Holy Mother of God tweet by Eric Feigl-Ding, warning of the coronavirus. Sad to see it go, but CounterSocial does it better. Like Twitter replaced Digg, CS will replace Twitter.

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Blogging wasn’t like Twitter because there wasn’t the feeling of instafame from the exciting mass retweet or the chance of engagement with high profile people—but it was like twitter in that we were in conversation with smart people and we could also learn quite a bit about the events of the day and what other people were thinking. During the US Iraq War this included Iraqis subject to the war like Riverbend and others.

Maybe we should go back to blogging if Twitter dies—that includes Substack, of course.

It didn’t entirely limit the unkindness but it’s incredible to see the difference between 15 or 20 years ago on the internet and the current time. There were actual communities, and many fewer trolls. People were much kinder to one another online. People were able to engage on a deeper level. For it’s lack of breadth in comparison to now, there was much more depth than what we have —which is so often designed to elicit emotional reaction and manipulate us.

Even Twitter was like this at first. For the first 5 years of Twitter it was rather slow in a way. You got tweets from people who were from other countries. There was much more random engagement with strangers, and it was much less of a silo and a mechanism to propagandize.

Every year, it’s worse. We’re clinging to the remains of what was once a good format but that’s been ruined over time and is actively being utilized by many bad actors.

Even though it’s tough to lose because a lot of people have structured things, we’re accepting something that hasn’t been good for our society and for individuals. I don’t know if this is the fate of all social media now to create webs of propaganda to ensnare people but the more we accept it as it is, and the less we push back, the less chance we have of something better for us, for engagement and for society

Maybe it’s not possible to get anything like that now but we should try.

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