Good Friday Morning! Except to winter, which arrived in force this week across vast swaths of the country. The first temperature change reports out of Wyoming were stunning. The National Weather Service there wrote, “65 degrees in 15 hours. This breaks the all-time record for temperature drop at Cheyenne, WY. The old record was 64 degrees in 19 hours set back in 1950…that’s 72 years ago!”
NWS added the following temperature change numbers:
- 10-minute change: 32 degrees
- 30-minute change: 39 degrees
- 1-hour change: 42 degrees (new record) – previous 37 degrees
- 2-hour change: 51 degrees (new record) – previous 40 degrees
- 3-hour change: 55 degrees (new record) – previous 43 degrees
- 15-hour change: 65 degrees (new record) – previous 64 degrees
While it was less dramatic, I watched a similar temperature drop in Tennessee. In one hour, we had a temperature drop of 21 degrees. At the two-hour mark, we’d seen the temperature drop 30 degrees, the wind chill was in the single digits, and there was an inch of snow on the ground. Before that cold front, it was in the mid-40s and misty.
This week, I will go through the case of why social media is failing and how I think Twitter could succeed. Links to follow.
Also, I want to wish everyone reading this a Merry Christmas! I hope you and yours have a safe and warm holiday season with friends and family. I’m thankful to have you onboard another year as a reader.
Where you can find me this week
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[12/19/2022] Chinese Communism lies about its COVID dead – Conservative Institute
[12/23/2022] Biden’s Christmas Gift to Americans: More Inflation – Conservative Institute
The case for Twitter’s success.
I was listening to an interview on CNBC with an investor talking about Twitter. The lean of the conversation was to the left, but the overall point was that Twitter would lose relevance under Musk and wouldn’t be important by 2024. The conclusion is certainly possible. If you’ve been on the internet long enough, you’ve seen a few social media companies come and go.
I do have my doubts about that, though. Twitter fills a niche that few other sites touch, and that’s important.
Noah Smith, an economics writer, penned a column saying that Twitter (and centralized social media) is a failed experiment. The internet has tried to bring people together, and we all hate each other. Noah argues for a return to the “old internet,” which was more fragmented and aligned to individual bubbles.
[W]hat’s interesting is that even the people who do expect this sort of exodus don’t seem to believe that there will be another single, unified platform that just replaces Twitter. The look and functionality of the original is simple to replicate, but no one seems to think that everyone will just move to New Twitter; everyone seems to expect that if and when Twitter does decline, the future is fragmented.
Because maybe, just maybe, we’ve learned our lesson. Maybe we’ve realized that the internet simply works better as a fragmented thing.
Centralized social media, as Jack Dorsey wrote, was a grand experiment in collective global human consciousness. It was a modern-day Tower of Babel, the Human Instrumentality project from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Yes it was a way to make some people rich, but it was also an experiment in uniting the human race. Perhaps if we could all just get in one room and talk to each other, if we could just get rid of our echo chambers and our filter bubbles, we would eventually reach agreement, and the old world of war and hate and misunderstanding would melt into memory.
That experiment failed. Humanity does not want to be a global hive mind. We are not rational Bayesian updaters who will eventually reach agreement; when we receive the same information, it tends to polarize us rather than unite us. Getting screamed at and insulted by people who disagree with you doesn’t take you out of your filter bubble — it makes you retreat back inside your bubble and reject the ideas of whoever is screaming at you. No one ever changed their mind from being dunked on; instead they all just doubled down and dunked harder. The hatred and toxicity of Twitter at times felt like the dying screams of human individuality, being crushed to death by the hive mind’s constant demands for us to agree with more people than we ever evolved to agree with.
He makes a good point. If Twitter does fail under Musk, this is probably one of the reasons why. But it’s equally true that Twitter could succeed – or rather, a site that performs Twitter’s function could blossom.
There are two reasons for this: 1) Some people want an “open town square.” 2) The general use of social media goes up, even as Twitter sinks. That means even if Twitter fails, the niche that Twitter fills must get filled.
Those two points go hand-in-hand. Internet fragmentation, as Smith and others define it, already exists. If you want your own individual bubble, you can find it. Facebook Groups, messenger apps, text messages, Reddit, and subscriber-based sites (Substack, Youtube, etc.) exist. If you’d like to retreat to a bubbled world, you can go there. The fragmentation market has a myriad of options.
What is hard to create is a large, general ecosystem where everyone can see and comment. Twitter is, for better or worse, the live comments section of the internet. Live news gets broken on Twitter, and you get INSTANT commentary. That’s why I love Twitter. If a significant news event happens, I can watch news narratives among journalists and pundits form in real-time. Occasionally, you can watch coordinated efforts to sway this opinion when the commentariat class uses similar talking points.
Noah is right that people want a moderated environment; that’s a market niche that needs filling. But the wide-open free-for-all of Twitter is also a market niche that must get filled. Smith points to sites like Facebook and Twitter declining among teens, and he’s right. That’s a bad sign for older social media sites. But teens aren’t moving offline. They’re going to places like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat (everyone is on YouTube). The irony of those sites is that they’re all video-based; Facebook was right about its pivot to video. But it gave up. If you want an instant video reaction to something, you’ll get it on those sites.
Interestingly, I’d never noticed much politics on Instagram until the pandemic. Now, I regularly see political videos on that platform, and I know they exist on others too. As younger generations grow up, they d do the same things as previous ones: argue about politics online.
Further, people of all ages want a viral moment. People want the dopamine hit of everyone seeing something they did or posted. Fragmentation can exist, but it limits the viral reach.
CBS News reported a few years ago, “About 86% of young Americans surveyed said they’re willing to try out influencing on their social media platforms — and 12% of young people said they already considered themselves one, according to a report from Morning Consult. Another 20% of young people said they know an influencer personally.”
If that’s what people want, then platforms that can reach numerous people will always have a demand. It may not be Twitter or Facebook, but it will be something. Influencers can exist with a smaller reach among these fragmented communities – but American culture incentivizes the person with a broad reach. There’s more money there. And as long as that is the case, people will want a comprehensive platform capable of reaching as many people as possible.
There’s a case for Twitter, but Elon Musk must pivot. TikTok dominates the short video space, but it is likely headed for a complete ban in the United States. State and Federal governments are all involved in banning TikTok on government devices. We should proceed further than that.
Facebook/Meta are focused on the Metaverse, while Instagram is heating up. If TikTok disappears, that creates an opening for video. Twitter very nearly had TikTok before it was popular with the service “Vine.” If Jack hadn’t stupidly killed that product, he’d have the top social media company on the planet. If Musk brings that back as TikTok heads for a ban, he has the makings of a killer product again.
Further, Elon Musk has a secondary power too. If he brings back Vine with Twitter, he could combine that with Starlink access and instantly create an internet/social media network that’s nearly impossible for authoritarian governments to eliminate.
I agree with the thesis that Twitter could fail. But I can also envision Twitter succeeding – going from the back of the pack to the front with careful management. There’s a market niche to fill, whether by Twitter or someone else. A fragmented internet already exists and be found anywhere. Nurturing the free-for-all environment of Twitter is the more challenging space to build – but it’s possible (whether Musk brings back Vines is a critical part of the success strategy).
The ultimate irony is that people only started declaring these social media sites dead when conservatives figured out how to make traction on them. In 2008, when the Obama campaign used new tactics to drive engagement on Facebook, they were lauded. When the Trump campaign did the same thing and improved on it in 2016, it was a “dark time” for the country. Twitter was in a similar boat – it was an excellent platform while things like the NYPost got banned. But once Elon Musk bought it, it’s now a failed experiment.
That’s partially why I don’t take many of the hot takes regarding Twitter seriously. But I think Noah Smith makes valid points, not just about Twitter, but the broader world. But you cannot discount the power of Twitter filling the free-for-all niche. Before Twitter, the blogosphere filled that niche. Before that, the 24/7 cable news shows did it.
The combative space of social media is only for some. Still, for the commentariat class (which I realize I’m a part of), there’s a strong desire to be there. If Musk can figure out how to get Twitter to survive the economic recession, Twitter will have a place in the political, news, and social commentary world.
And frankly, when you see the other options like China’s TikTok, we should want Musk to succeed. American companies have issues, but allowing Chinese spyware to dominate social media is a dangerous precedent. A report out of Forbes today showed how TikTok is getting used to spy on journalists. American policy should center around having social media outlets that don’t include the Chinese Communist Party.
Links of the week
A Pastor Got Fed Up With a Crime Hotspot, So He Bought It: Minneapolis church took over a gas station that was drug-dealing haven, as the city seeks to recover in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder – WSJ
The Triumph of Trump’s Amateurs: The Abraham Accords happened because the foreign-policy grandees weren’t in charge – Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary Magazine
The Myths of American Individualism – Samuel Goldman, Acton Institute
Russian troops raped and tortured children in Ukraine, U.N. panel says: The findings by the United Nations experts are the latest allegations of war crimes against Russia since its invasion of Ukraine. – NBC News
Covid is China’s Vietnam War – Ben Hunt, Epsilon Theory
House January 6 Committee Releases Final Report – National Review
Lead and Cadmium Could Be in Your Dark Chocolate: Consumer Reports found dangerous heavy metals in chocolate from Hershey’s, Theo, Trader Joe’s and other popular brands. Here are the ones that had the most, and some that are safer. – Consumer Reports
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Remembering Those We Wish We Lost In 2022 – Waterford Whispers
Thanks for reading!