#Musk + #Twitter, Liberal Democrat Aghastitude, and Social Capital on Social Media

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

I apologize for my failure to provide a witty headline. I thought of #Twittergeddon but it never went viral, and #Twitterdammerung even less so. So I settled for “#Musk + #Twitter.” Because — for those who came in late — dimple-cheeked bezzle-Boer Elon Musk finally consummated his takeover of Twitter, leading to many headlines like this one from the Daily Mail, which is representative: “Gigi Hadid deletes Twitter because it is ‘becoming more of a cesspool of hate and bigotry’ in wake of Elon Musk’s takeover of social media platform.” In this essay I will first clear Musk, the personality and businessman, out of the way. Then I will look at Twitter, asking why it is permitted to exist. Then I’ll look into liberal Democrat aghastitude at Musk’s takeover; and finally I’ll look at the role of social media platforms in creating social capital (mostly among subclasses of the PMC), which I find the most interesting and important aspect of the entire mishegoss.


Musk is not necessarily a [glass bowl], or lunatic driven round the twist by too much money and power. Sure, with the episode of midget submarines to save the Thai Cave Boys, he was, totally, and then with his union busting at Tesla, his hyperloop scam, the tortured monkeys, Grimes… But SpaceX seems to be doing OK, perhaps because rockets are proven technology. So, with Musk + Twitter, do we get SpaceX, or do we get the tortured monkeys? Let’s wait and see! From the Wall Street Journal:

In Elon Musk’s first week at Twitter Inc., he flouted much of the advice management gurus have dished out for decades.

In the days since he closed a $44 billion takeover of Twitter, Mr. Musk has worked to rapidly overhaul the social network. He fired many of the company’s top leaders, including its general counsel, chief financial officer and chief executive officer. He conducted sweeping layoffs, eliminating roughly half of Twitter’s workforce on Friday. Along the way, he floated new product ideas, mocked internal management training, publicly disclosed a decline in revenue and hinted that other changes could be on the way.

Twitter on Saturday said it has begun rolling out software updates to charge users $7.99 a month for its Twitter Blue subscription service, up from $4.99 currently. Subscribers get their accounts verified, a service that has been free and offers a blue check mark to notable accounts.

The billionaire’s swift actions stand in contrast to those of many new leaders, who often use the first 90 days to meet with employees, listen to concerns and assess how to improve a company’s products before embarking on strategy shifts, executives and corporate advisers say.

So the business press experiences aghastitude, too, and then writes about it. I never expected to see the Wall Street Journal throw a flag for norms violation, but here we are.

However, cutting costs (by reducing headcount) while increasing revenues (by charging for account verification) is a time-honored strategy to achieve profitability (characterized by Vanity Fair, in another headline that captures well the febrile coverage of this topic, as “Canning Half The Staff And Begging People For $8“). Musk’s strategy might not work in Twitter’s case, but it’s not prima facie stupid or insane. We might also remember that all the executives Musk heaved over the side had never managed to make Twitter profitable, which last I checked was what executives are supposed to do. Or maybe not? Let’s turn to Twitter as a company.


As a sidebar, let me confess at the outset that I am a dedicated Twitter user. I curate what I read very carefully, and reject Twitter’s frequent offers to let their algorithm take over my feed[1]. I inhabit various quiet neighborhoods that are important to me; photography, among other things. Twitter also makes finding Antidotes for Links a breeze, much easier than it was, pre-Twitter. Further, there is no better way to follow breaking news (especially with a properly curated feed). I could never have followed the twists and turns of the Covid epic without Twitter, and that very much includes the science. (It’s not easy to make a complex technical argument in a series of tweets, but some have mastered the form; not as well as a blog can, but still not badly.) In short, Twitter does a lot to make my real life, and especially my work life, more productive (and more pleasurable, because I discover things I never would have discovered otherwise). And all for free! Not a bad deal, the sort of deal a decent public utility should offer. End sidebar.

As a business, Twitter is both small (relative to tech behemoths like [makes warding sign] Google) and unprofitable.

Twitter’s pre-Musk seemingly permanent unprofitability raises the question: Why was Twitter even permitted to exist? Of course, one answer would be the vanity of squillionaires, both Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and Musk having achieved that happy state. From FiveThirtyEight:

In his statements about his intent to buy Twitter, Musk espoused the importance of free speech to democracy, calling the social media platform “the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.”

As many have seen, “debate” in our “town square” can sometimes get a little, well, heated, which is why Twitter is often characterized by grizzled, weary veterans as a “hellscape,” Then too, humanity includes multitudes of [glass bowls]. In either case, “there’s just some people that I can’t get along with.” “I mean I’ve tried and then I’ve really tried,” but all this is why Twitter has blocking and muting functions, not only for accounts, but for terms[2]. I really don’t understand the whinging here. (Well, I do, but let’s wait for the aghastitude section). Twitter is only place in the world where I can call Rochelle Walensky a eugenicist and a criminal to her face — or at least the face of her intern. That’s not negligible. (One of my accounts was permanently and instantly banned because I called nursing home murderer and quondam Governor “Ratface Andy”[3] — on his quarantine-breaking brother Chris Cuomo’s feed. I wasn’t sorry, and promptly acquired a new account, which Twitter makes easy, very much unlike Facebook).

Nevertheless, if Musk has decided to preserve Twitter as a “town square” out of the goodness of his squillionaire heart, he’s picked the wrong business structure. Founder Dorsey:

Well, I don’t and I don’t. Amazon, Google, Facebook, TikTok, LinkedIn, and the other Silicon Valley behemoths are all profitable. The exception is Uber, which is not and cannot be (as Hubert Horan has shown here in exhaustive detail). For Uber, stupid money plus a good narrative is always a possibility, but I prefer to speculate that Uber as a sort of bank shot by the investing class: Worthless in itself, but useful for other investor-friendly reasons, like destroying public transportion generally (indeed, the very notion of public goods). In other words, an unprofitable tech firm — rather like the strangely empty yet staffed Manhattan storefronts whose only possible raison d’etre is money laundering — is useful for other reasons. To someone. Who, in Twitter’s case, might that someone be? Moon of Alabama provides an interesting speculation:

The human rights team leader gave some hints:

Shannon Raj Singh @ShannonRSingh – 17:58 UTC · Nov 4, 2022

Yesterday was my last day at Twitter: the entire Human Rights team has been cut from the company.
I am enormously proud of the work we did to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights, to protect those at-risk in global conflicts & crises including Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Ukraine, and to defend the needs of those particularly at risk of human rights abuse by virtue of their social media presence, such as journalists & human rights defenders.

The human rights team was the 'regime change' force on Twitter. It intervened in conflicts where the U.S. preferred a certain side.

Jerri ☮️ @JerusWorld – 20:42 UTC · Nov 4, 2022
Replying to @ShannonRSingh

So you are the one that was censoring pro-Ethiopian and Eritrean voices in order to help the rebel group from Tigray. May Karma pay you back for thousands of lives perished in US/West proxy war.

Shannon Raj Singh had previously meddled in Afghan and other countries' cultures:

Shannon Raj Singh is a Legal Counsel for SAHR, advising a Kabul-based team on sexual violence litigation in Afghanistan, which aims to end the invasive and discriminatory practice of female virginity testing.

She is an international criminal law attorney focused on victim-centered responses to mass atrocities. Currently based in The Hague, she has experience working with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and a number of human rights NGOs in sub-Saharan Africa. She has also practiced as a litigator in the United States, appearing in both state and federal courts and assisting with overseas corruption investigations under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

… Twitter's downfall into a 'regime change' outlet came in 2009 when it moved a maintenance window to help U.S. 'regime change' efforts in Iran… That was an expensive mistake. Shortly thereafter Twitter lost access to the Iranian market.

Back to 'regime change' assistant Shannon Raj Singh:

chinahand @chinahand – 18:55 UTC · Nov 4, 2022
Quoting @ShannonRSingh

Somebody should publish the pre Elon org chart. Judging by this twitter walked talked and quacked like an NGO which made it subject to banning in half the world

Twitter had become a 'woke' company that was mostly in the hands of the Democratic Party. By being 'woke' and by supporting 'regime change' efforts Twitter killed its own access to at least half of its potential market.

(We might also remember the role of Twitter in the protests in Egypt’s Tahrir Square.) We have no evidence for this thesis, naturally. But it’s certainly more than plausible, given that Silicon Valley is infested with spooks, and has been since its beginning. Why would they not seize the commanding heights of global communications?

Liberal Democrat Aghastitude

Let’s just turn to our current President on this. From Axios, “Biden says Twitter “spews lies” as company undergoes massive layoffs“:

“Now what are we all worried about? Elon Musk goes out and buys an outfit that sends and spews lies all across the world,” Biden said at a Chicago fundraiser Friday.

“There’s no editors anymore,” he added. “How do we expect kids to be able to understand what is at stake?”

Moderators aren’t editors. And “will nobody think of the children” is a little shopworn. More:

Separately, when asked about the layoffs Friday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the President has been outspoken about “the importance of social media platforms continuing to take steps to reduce hate speech and misinformation.”

“That belief extends to Twitter, it extends to Facebook and any other social media platforms where users can spread misinformation,” she said.

The party of RussiaGate, the party whose CDC director calls masks a “Scarlet Letter” in the midst of a pandemic, the party that platfoms Nazis under the Capitol dome, yammers about “”misinformation”? Really? Come on, man! As for “hate speech,” if you want to see real hate, try mentioning “Susan Sarandon” in a Clinton forum (or Bernie Sanders).

Once again, the technical solution — freely available to all — is muting and blocking. If you don’t want to see a tweet about “Susan Sarandon,” you don’t have to! Jonathon Turley writes:

Perish the thought that citizens might be left to pursue the truth on their own without the government or surrogates in the media framing it for them. How could we possibly “know the truth” without our social media overlords?

This view of citizens are gullible dupes needing to be lead to the truth is a recurring theme among Democrats and media allies. It was the theme of a “Disinformation and the Erosion of Democracy” conference at the University of Chicago with the leading Democratic leaders and media leaders in Chicago last year, including former President Barack Obama. The conference discussed how the views of the public could be shaped if government and media figures worked together to frame what is true and what is not.

Former President Barack Obama flogged this false line at Stanford in April 2022. He started by declaring himself “pretty close to a First Amendment absolutist.” He then called for the censorship of anything he considered “disinformation,” including “lies, conspiracy theories, junk science[5], quackery, racist tracts and misogynist screeds.”

President Biden lamented the loss of a Twitter management that was openly antagonistic to traditional free speech values. Soon after he took over, former CEO Parag Agrawal pledged to regulate content and said the company would “focus less on thinking about free speech” because “speech is easy on the Internet. Most people can speak. Where our role is particularly emphasized is who can be heard.”

Like Biden, many are moving to try to deter Musk from allowing greater free speech by getting companies like General Motors to pull advertising revenue.

Speculating freely, what’s really going here is that when liberal Democrats managed to get a still-sitting President kicked off Twitter in 2020, that meant they had the whip hand over an important social media platform, which they could use for partisan ends; a great triumph for them, the PMC they represent, and (again) their spook allies in the intelligence community. Now — as Biden’s over-the-top “spew” signals — they’re terrified their orange-colored demon figure will return to the “town square,” along with his deplorable followers, undoing all their good work[4].

Social Capital and Social Media

One reason I’m pleased with the #Musk + #Twitter mishegoss is that it gives me the opportunity to present and expound upon the following definition of “social capital” (Bourdieu stans please comment). From Pierre Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital” (1985):

Social capital is the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition—or in other words, to membership in a group—which provides each of its members with the backing of the collectively-owned capital, a “credential” which entitles them to credit, in the various senses of the word.

Bourdieu describes, in my view precisely and accurately, the value of Twitter accounts and the functioning of Twitter as a whole, from the user perspective. (For example, one of my neighborhoods provides informational resources about masks.) Bourdieu further writes:

The existence of a network of connections … is the product of an endless effort

Such an endless effort, like the infinite scroll, being the site for the extraction of economic capital. More:

… at institution, of which institution rites—often wrongly described as rites of passage— mark the essential moments and which is necessary in order to produce and reproduce lasting, useful relationships that can secure material or symbolic profits. In other words, the network of relationships is the product of investment strategies, individual or collective, consciously or unconsciously aimed at establishing or reproducing social relationships that are directly usable in the short or long term, i.e., at transforming contingent relations, such as those of neighborhood, the workplace, or even kinship, into relationships that are at once necessary and elective, implying durable obligations subjectively felt (feelings of gratitude, respect, friendship, etc.) or institutionally guaranteed (rights).

Twitter accounts are divided into two classes: Those with “blue checks” (a literal credential, of which more below) and those without (in which case their credential is their body of work, as well as the quality of their network, both available for inspection. For the proles, the rites of institution are likes and retweets; not nearly so powerful

For Blue Check Twitter users, their mark of distinction has been a form of social capital — as a member of the press, of government, a celebrity, a best-selling author, in short, a top-drawer PMC — and the prospect of simply being able to buy one causes them great agita. From the New York Times:

Twitter’s verification system was initially rolled out to help prevent impersonation on the platform. It was debuted in 2009, inspired by someone posing as Shaquille O’Neal. The Twitter account for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was the first to receive the distinction.

Indeed, what an honor! More:

Since then, the check mark has become a somewhat contentious symbol. For public figures, including celebrities and journalists, it is a way to confirm that users are in fact who they claim to be. But to other users, the check mark has become a status symbol, unfairly reserved for a select group.

Newsweek explains:

Currently, Twitter verification is free and only available to people who fit three metrics, according to the site: Authenticity, Notability and Activity. Authenticity is simply that the Twitter user is who they say they are—for example, a verified celebrity with a blue check has been confirmed to be either the celeb or their representatives.

Activity is similarly obvious: the user must have a complete profile, confirmed email and have logged in to the site within the last six months. Twitter also requires the user not have been locked out or suspended within the last year.

Notability, however, is more nebulous[6]. To apply for verification, a user can provide coverage from verified news organizations, a link to a Google Trends profile, their Wikipedia page or other industry-specific sites like IMDB. Follower count may also be taken into account. Twitter makes the final call as to whether or not someone gets the verified checkmark.

“Notable,” eh? Just let me take a moment to drag out my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary:

. Note the sense of “notable” as a noun under the ancien regime. Bourdieu once more:

The title of nobility is the form par excellence of the institutionalized social capital which guarantees a particular form of social relationship in a lasting way.

So when Musk removes “Notability” and “Activity” from the metrics for a Blue Check, he’s destroying the social capital of many existing Blue Checks. And he’s right to do so, technically, morally, and from a business perspective. Read the screen shots from Musk:

(Exactly like the admissions scandals. Hegemonic PMCs gotta PMC.) And if the only remaining metric is Authenticity, yes, why not “piggyback” off the payments systems?

From the Blue Check, hegemonic PMCs, let’s turn to the residual majority: The exceptional PMCs and the dull normals (like me). Twitter, for them, has proved an important path to accumulate social capital, and in some cases, rather like the French bourgeoisie who purchased titles, working their way up to Blue Check-dom. I’ll present one thread from an account I really like:

I’m certain that Black Girl in Maine didn’t have a Blue Check when she started out; and I know other accounts that have enjoyed similar benefits that aren’t anywhere near being notables.


Of course, there are alternatives to Twitter. Mastodon, for example:

Jimenez is a notable example, since it’s my firm conviction that the aerosol scientists would never have found each other and coordinated their efforts without Twitter, greatly to the public’s benefit. So let’s wait and see[7].


[1] There’s really no reason for anything but a reverse chronological feed of items (or topics) from accounts I select. That’s how the blogosphere did it, and the blogosphere was correct. The only reason for the algo is to sell me something, or sell me. If I want serendipity, I’ll go out and get it when I want it. If Musk fired the people running that algo, that makes me happy,

[2] If I don’t want to see any Tweets with the words “smile” in them, I can block it. Handy!

[3] “Ratface Andy,” like “short-fingered vulgarian,” was minted by the late, great New York Spy.

[4] And possibly endangering whatever operations their spook allies have going, whether foreign or domestic (“cognitive infrastructure”),

[5] You can be 100% sure that if CDC and WHO could have suppressed any mention of “airborne transmission” on Twitter as “junk science,” they would have; that’s what they tried to do, uysing their authority.

[6] William Gibson gives a fine example of “notability” in Spook Country:

With the black priest shoes flat on the floor, he rocked back an inch or so on the chair’s rear legs. “If my associate weren’t so absolutely convinced of your identity, Miss Henry, things would be very different.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“Bear with me. There is public history, and there is secret history. I am proposing to make you privy to secret history. Not because you are a journalist, actually, but because you are, to whatever extent, a celebrity.”

“You want to tell me your secrets because I used to be a singer in a band?”

“Yes,” he said, “though not because you used to be a singer in a band, specifically. Because you are, by virtue of having been a popular singer—”

“Never that popular.”

“You already constitute a part of the historical record, however small you might prefer to see it. I’ve just checked the number of your Google hits, and read your Wikipedia entry. By inviting you to witness what we intend to do, I will be using you, in effect, as a sort of time capsule. You will become the fireplace brick behind which I leave an account, though it will be your account, of what we do here.”

In Twitter terms, Henry is a notable.

[7] I’ve tried Mastodon. The onboarding process is horrid. The software is not so bad. The real issue is that Twitter provides a single space for “debate.” Mastodon, being a federation of servers, does not. Twitter, in consequence, enables a level of serendipity that Mastodon, at least in its current form, does not:

Readers, thoughts?

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. ambrit

    As your mention of Mastodon suggests, Twitter has the hidden function of erasing years of work by “behind the scenes” actors to put the ‘mopes’ into multiple silos. Ensiling the masses thus enables that old political strategy, Divide and Rule. “Wild West” Twitter is thus a legitimate libertarian instrumentality.

  2. Michaelmas

    Lambert S.: But SpaceX seems to be doing OK, perhaps because rockets are proven technology.

    I like the name ‘Bezzle-Boer.’ And launchers are a proven technology, sure. But reusable launchers that come back down to land gently tail-first like in the old SF movies were definitely not.

    What enabled that was the advent of brute-force amounts of computational power to control landing rockets, stabilizer gyros, and God knows what else microsecond by microsecond. So someone else could have done it, including NASA. But if NASA had done it, they’d have taken another thirty years, testing every iteration of the technology, getting programs and sub-programs canceled along the way.

    SpaceX and Musk did it. If the liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas (LNG) propellants mooted for the SpaceX Starship — boy, is that a Barnumesque crock of a name — that may also be a significant innovation. So credit it to the Bezzle-Boer — and SpaceX’s scientists and engineers, more significantly — for that

    Conversely, Musk’s whole Mars thing is a crock. Basically, all sorts of problems exist with chemical rockets for trips beyond the Moon. But the main one is that, yeah, you just conceivably could get a big chemical rocket like that loaded with hundreds of people up there and then, Rube Goldberg-style, launch a second one up just to fuel the first, which is what SpaceX is proposing. After that, you could fire up the thing and its original blast would eventually carry it to Mars because, as per Newton’s first law, an object will continue in a state of uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state of motion by an external force.

    But it would take nine months. All those hundreds of people on Musk’s Starship would be dying because they were riddled with cancers from cosmic rays by the time they reached Mars. God knows how they’d survive on the Martian surface and manufacture the fuel to return to Earth.

    1. Michaelmas

      @ Lambert –

      As for the rest of your post, well-argued. I heartily approve of this: –

      …when Musk removes “Notability” and “Activity” from the metrics for a Blue Check, he’s destroying the social capital of many existing Blue Checks. And he’s right to do so, technically, morally, and from a business perspective. Read the screen shots from Musk:

      JUST IN: #BNNUS Reports@ElonMusk confirms previous #BNN reports that @Twitter employees received compensation for “selling” @verified checks. pic.twitter.com/00HCsNyfBB

      — Gurbaksh Singh Chahal (@gchahal) November 6, 2022

      (Exactly like the admissions scandals. Hegemonic PMCs gotta PMC.) And if the only remaining metric is Authenticity, yes, why not “piggyback” off the payments systems?

      1. marym

        A blue-check who tweets “news” without any links tweets a screen shot of a tweet from a non-blue check with a cartoon avatar and Musk’s reply of Yup, Not clear if he’s yupping the accusation or the need for investigation. This, imo, isn’t good evidence of whether there was or wasn’t selling of blue checks by twitter workers. It does provide some clues as to what Musk thinks of workers.

    2. ambrit

      For the tech of the Mars Project, google Mars Direct.
      See: https://www.marssociety.org/
      [I’ve connected to here before.]
      Water is known to be on Mars in accessible locations. With supplies to that, cracking the water into oxygen and hydrogen gets you basic Steampunk Tech return fuels. Something does not have to be whizz bang new to work, and work well.
      As for radiation worries, water is the best basic radiation shield I know of. Build ’emergency vaults’ inside water jackets in all interplanetary ships for those pesky solar flares. On the surface of Mars, just build into the ground. A few feet of dirt does wonders for radiation shielding. I have seen proposals for the manufacture of bricks on Mars from the dreaded “red dust” to build basic vault structures that are then covered with a few feet of dirt. Since Mars has a minimal atmosphere, the Terran human explorers will have to live in sealed enclosures anyway. Why not underground?
      Anyway, stay safe, and keep looking up!

      1. Michaelmas

        I’m familiar with all those concepts. I’m sceptical in the extreme about their implementation, especially the notion of getting enough water for those water jackets launched into orbit.

        Cheaper and more feasible to use nuclear rockets because they get there faster — in the case of a nuclear rocket maintaining constant 1G acceleration, in just a few days.

        (And I don’t mean nuclear drive as in Dyson’s crazy Orion project, but in any other of a range of designs , from NASA’s NERVA to nuclear cryogenic propulsion.)

        1. ambrit

          With water now found on the Moon in usable quantities, the source of the “interplanetary” water jackets is no problem. The Moon’s gravity well is small enough that simple electro launchers will do for ‘commercial’ quantities of water from surface to Low Moon Orbit, (LMO.) The bigger problem with present day “interplanetary” travel will be maintaining bone density and body ‘tone’ in low gravity situations. As an example of science fiction film done right, see “Moon,” where Sam Rockwell’s character, working on the Moon, indulges in regular high impact treadmill workouts.
          As for quicker travel methods, I have read of ion propulsion schemes where the build up to “speed” and slow down at destination takes longer, but is done at a constant, albeit slow rate of change. The relative merits of the various transport systems depends on the mission profile. Slow boat light sails will be perfectly all right for unmanned cargo ships that do not need to get there quickly. Manned trips will need high ‘impulse’ forms of propulsion.
          As the visionary clique will tell you, who knows what sort of breakthroughs in physics are lurking just around that infamous ‘corner’ that God throws the dice from time to time. To assume that Terran humans have discovered all there is to know about the Cosmos we inhabit is hubris.
          Stay safe and hope you and yours make it through the looming Sixth Extinction.

          1. Michaelmas

            ambrit: The bigger problem with present day “interplanetary” travel will be maintaining bone density and body ‘tone’ in low gravity situations.

            A spaceship with a nuclear drive running at constant 1G thrust would also have the virtue of creating an Earth-equivalent artificial gravity.

            As for the physiological problems that Zero G presents for humans — and talking of the Sixth Extinction — here’s the real longterm answer:

            Human Speciation Now!



            1. ambrit

              A general observation.
              The underlying ‘truth’ about “wild” speciation through standard evolution is the massive failure rate. All of those “unlucky” or “unfit” ‘experimental models’ die off, often early in their potential life spans.
              Creating theoretically “superior” versions of a life forms involves a distinctly materialist viewpoint. One is forced to contemplate and eventually effect the termination of ‘failed’ experimental subjects. This is a direct threat to the Terran human quality of, for want of a better term, “soul.”
              Short version; to play God, one must be prepared to embrace and acknowledge one’s responsibility for and involvement in ‘Horror.’ The ending of Conrad’s book “The Heart of Darkness” is true in that it expresses the “lower nature” of Terran human existence. Combatting and trying to suppress our propensities to lie, cheat, steal, kill, maim, and corrupt others is a primary manner in which Terran humans are different from the ‘run of the mill’ being on the Earth. That Terran humans manipulate their environments is now known to not be a quality unique to us. Other “lower classes of being” do similar. So far as I can see, Terran humans are the first to systematically also manipulate our inner lives and experiences.
              Insofar as the above development has endured, there has to be some benefit from possessing it. It makes us better able to survive in the uncaring and dangerous phenomenal world.
              The ultimate danger that I am suggesting here is that eventually, Terran humans will do something where they do not get to ‘terminate’ the experiment, but that it terminates them. With this in mind, I do see a useful purpose for space stations; as places for experimentation too dangerous to carry out on the surface of the Earth. Then, if something goes “wrong,” into the sun with it.
              Stay safe and help those around you to do the same.

      1. Greg

        As does Nadia, beloved ex-soviet engineer queen of mars. RGB mars is a great trilogy, even if it does get a bit deep into the political shenanigans in the middle book.

        Water as emergency shield for radiation. They still all get pretty cooked, but they get handwavium cures for the resulting cancer blooms so it’s OK in the end.

  3. Alex Morfesis

    Elon boer-blob is just a new pair of shoes on the same old body…it was him or some Eddie Lambert type buying and trying to milk the pension money free float until it devolved into the next myspacegeocities…Twitter has a chance…since there is nothing around to take its place and the sunk cost of time invested leaves most to settle in for the ride…for now….

  4. none

    cesspool of hate and bigotry

    That’s wretched hive of hate and bigotry. As in “you’ll never find a more wretched hive…”. FTFY. Heh.

  5. Angie Neer

    Thanks, I needed that! A serious (but not without levity) and level-headed analysis, which I haven’t found anywhere else—certainly not on Twitter. I’ve done a lot of lurking on Twitter, without an account. Until a few months ago, I could browse freely in a Safari private window. Then they started limiting how much they would show in that way, but I found work-arounds. Once I almost signed up for an account, but stopped when it insisted on a phone number (what for? I don’t intend to use it with a phone.) I’m also afraid—seriously— of being addicted. I think Twitter is the fentanyl of social media. But I’ve learned a lot just peering through a narrow window at specific tweeters I’ve come to admire. Deep down I do want Musk to be humiliated and ridiculed, but he seems immune to that.

  6. timbers

    Distantly related: The Chinese response to Germany’s Chancellor Scholz visit to China w/German business heads in tow, makes it very clear that China and I’d say also the global south is totally hearing the Western mantra of “shared values” as US imperialism, European colonialism, and Western racism directed at them. China’s official account of X’s response to Scholz was devastating, if polite.

  7. spud farmer

    I stopped checking Twitter a few months ago. I had one relapse last month where I went back on and checked what the accounts I follow were posting but the increase in nervous tension (in my body) was palpable and I haven’t been back since. Following current events and analysis thereof took up a substantial portion of my free time and it became an almost compulsive habit. But the payoff definitely wasn’t worth it. I finally decided that all the aggro and hyperbolic screeching, not to mention being exposed on a daily basis to the unhinged and dangerous nonsense put out by our overlords, wasn’t adding much value to my life and had in fact become a stressful burden.

    I still check a few select websites, including NC, a few times a week, read the occasional forwarded article that lands in my inbox and listen to the occasional podcast episode while walking. But no more daily doomscrolling on Twitter or obsessively keeping up to date on this or that event. My tuning out the endless “news” chatter isn’t going to make one iota of difference and given how grim things are I’d rather spend my free time interacting with friends and family, doing volunteer work and amusing myself in non-destructive ways.

    Quitting Twitter obviously isn’t as difficult as quitting heroin (which I have some experience with) but I did feel the addict’s urge to check “just one more time” and relapsed once before going back on the wagon. It might sound like I’m virtue signalling but I’m not speaking for anyone but myself here. That said, Twitter’s (and social media’s) negative effects aren’t a secret and I am sure there are others out there for whom taking a break would objectively be beneficial. But that’s for them to decide.

    With this Musk thing blowing up on Twitter I can imagine the outrage and panic it is causing and I almost want to chuck a bag of popcorn into the microwave and check it out myself. Almost. Maybe that’s why I wrote this comment…to preempt any compulsive urges and another relapse ;-)

    1. fjallstrom

      I never really got into Twitter, the short form doesn’t suit me.

      But your post reminded me of when I quit Facebook after realising that the algoritm had realised that I react to that which makes me angry, therefore the feed got customised to making me angry. Not a healthy place to be.

      Still got my account, there are some groups I sometimes visit. Similar to Lambert’s description above, there are good places on Facebook, where people co-operate around common problemes. I very intentionally avoid scrolling the main feed though.

      If Twitter or Facebook never came into existance, I guess most functioning groups that are there now would have arisen on forums and blogs.. The people, the groups, are the value, the software is at best an organising tool, at worse an obstacle.

      1. Thuto

        “If Twitter and Facebook never came into existence…”

        The ambient emotional temperature of society would be lower that’s for sure.

        1. fjallstrom

          It may not be the algorithms main function, but they sure are good at “feeding the trolls”, as it was called on the forums.

  8. skk

    I originally joined Twitter because fellow stranger commuters were using it to organize shared ubers when we got stranded because the train service was halted due to an accident. Also to complain and get responses when the train was delayed.
    Once I quit commuting it all went into a hiatus for several years until I started following fintwits. That’s when I discovered the sheer amount of shitfuckery that goes on, but reading it became quite addictive. Whatever happens next will be interesting
    Especially if Elon stops offering cheap access to all that data inside tweets from the past 13 + years and figures out a way of making money out of that himself.

  9. Mikel

    Musk in 2020. On Twitter. Re: Bolivia

    “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.”

    I wouldn’t think he is getting rid of regime changers on Twitter.
    He’s probably just replacing them with his own.

    1. Objective Ace

      At least that tweat indicates he doesnt see the need to hide his positions. Just like everything else in the 2 party system: I at least respect the one side for being honest.

      You might be right of course, but I’ll at least wait before casting judgement

  10. ChrisPacific

    I think you meant ‘Wall Street Journal throw a flag,’ unless a flaf is some kind of high finance tantrum.

  11. JBird4049

    >>>She has also practiced as a litigator in the United States, appearing in both state and federal courts and assisting with overseas corruption investigations under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

    Oh, she deals with the overseas corruption investigations as there is really nothing for her to deal with domestically? That’s good to know. Does she work for with the State Department as well?

    1. Bugs

      The FCPA is an essential extrajurisdictional tool for the US to attack foreign firms that are either too competitive or challenge the USian status quo. Sending signals, as it were.

      I don’t know if it’s been written up here but I’d love to see the NC team FCPA takedown.

      I do remember Trump making fun of it before he ran, I think in regards to Walmart bribery in Mexico. Something along the lines of it just being “how business is done in those countries”, expressed with his usual clarity/vulgarity.

  12. TheMog

    Re Mastodon – I’m probably going to try it out, and not close my not very active Twitter account, then work out where I have a better chance of finding my people.

    I think one of the issues with Mastodon is that it doesn’t offer a user experience as easy as it is on the bird site – if you’re an aging nerd like me who goes “oh, this is kinda like Usenet, I’ll just set up my own instance” it feels relatively “easy” to someone like me and complete gibberish to my non-technical spouse. And (if I understand this correctly, I’m still at the beginning of my journey) you can‘t move your identity from on instance to another, at least not easily. Hence me setting up my own instance, that way I own it like I own my blog that I also host on my own (rented) server.

    Having been in software for 30+ years, I have concerns about some of the other teams that allegedly have been laid off like the accessibility team. That is a change that concerns me as I know enough people who rely on screen readers to work with computers and accessibility is a problem for a lot of websites at the best of times.

    A completely different thought though – it’s been pointed out (I believe on NC and also some other places) that The Musk made a large part of his fortune thanks to direct and indirect government subsidies. Makes you wonder if some of that played a role in his acquisition, especially based on some of the topics that were discussed above.

    1. Bugs

      I was thinking the same thing – it’s just a bunch of newsgroups with a cute UI. Usenet is still out there but mostly used for piracy these days from what I understand.

  13. KD

    I have to say the PMC got me nervous. First, “election denialism” as a projective trope (from the Russia gate crowd), now cries of democracy under attack, and the election isn’t even here yet. I don’t know how they could put in the fix given elections are decentralized across the states, and at best they can play around in the local machines. Everything suggests that the Dems are going to get trounced, so when it happens, are they going to claim interference by Trump/Russia, try and invalidate the results (like 2016), and get all the spooks and the media to cover for them? [Democracy hasn’t had such great guardians since the Cheka went out of business.] I guess Musk has delayed the new verification process until after the election to prevent “misinformation”. I can’t understand how smart people can believe all this crap, but believe they do, Russia gate and all.

  14. Gulag

    Maybe your analysis is a bit too narrow.

    Musk tweeted this message quite recently:

    “Because it consists of billions of biodirectional interactions per day, Twitter can be thought of as a collective, cybernetic super-intelligence with a lot of room for improvement.”

    John Robb has supplemented Musk’s definition with the argument that this network (twitter) is an emergent intelligence–a type of new social-decision making system(what he calls a seemingly out of control swarm) which is extremely powerful and, in his opinion, extremely dangerous.
    According to Robb, this emerging intelligence arises from the data and patterns of interaction produced by the people that use the network ( certainly including prominent PMC types as you argue above) as well as algorithms that influence and constrain it along with a likelihood, for twitter participants, of increasing changes to individual neural networks that may be having an impact on how one thinks.

    Sound like an entirely new beast which Musk is trying to modify.

    1. Thuto

      I think Robb’s “emergent intelligence” argument and its “cybernetic super intelligence” complement from Musk both overstate the case. Yes there are billions of interactions on twitter but the vast majority of those are non-bluecheck voices located in the “longtail” that don’t necessarily move the needle on “social decision making” to any significant degree. It’s the most vocal, radical activist types minority on twitter that warps the perception of reality by creating the appearance of a faux “consensus” on topical issues (and the media portraying their takes as representative of a wider social consensus by labelling them e.g. “widespread outrage”, when in reality it’s the vocal minority that is outraged), that’s why Dave Chappell said “twitter is not a real place”.

      The reason the blue checkmarks are aghast at Musk’s takeover of twitter is that their superpower of being able to shape perception and influence opinion is being democratized. Musk yanking the privilege of having an outsized voice, and redistributing it for $8pm, is driving the PMC meltdown and the moral outrage.

  15. wsa

    I’m not sure I fully buy the argument from serendipity in favor of Twitter. I found almost nothing through serendipity there. Instead, I found things that were retweeted (called “boosting” on Mastodon) by people I already followed, from tweets linked here or by other people I respected elsewhere, or from my own searches. Mostly what Twitter wants me to attend to is junk I have no interest in. All those methods seem to be working fine in Mastodon (in the day I’ve been using it and setting things up; perhaps it will all collapse at some point).

  16. The Rev Kev

    Highly enjoyable post this so I’ll add this bit. Where it was said-

    ‘Like Biden, many are moving to try to deter Musk from allowing greater free speech by getting companies like General Motors to pull advertising revenue.’

    Musk has said that he may go nuclear on those sorts of corporations and stated-

    ‘Twitter owner Elon Musk has warned that he may identify advertisers that are boycotting his social media platform under pressure from leftist groups, a move that would likely trigger counter-boycotts as the billionaire’s supporters push back against corporate America in defense of free speech.

    “A thermonuclear name and shame is exactly what will happen if this continues,” Musk said on Friday night, referring to the sharp drop in revenue that he’s seen at Twitter because activist groups are pressuring advertisers to stop using the platform.’


    I’m kinda hoping that he does.

    1. skippy

      This leftist thing of late is both absurd and hilarious, Trumpo and a whole clown car of idpol sales people … and that is all these people have left to resort to in attempting to influence others … wowzers …

  17. Acacia

    A-well-a everybody’s heard about the bird
    B-b-b-bird, b-birdd’s the word

    (With apologies to The Trashmen)

    Great article — thanks Lambert! Regarding Musk’s monkey-wrenching of “notability”, it will be interesting to see what happens to all of those ‘notables’ who have spent years painstakingly cultivating (dare I say ‘grooming out’?) their social capital on Twitter, with constant shout-outs to ‘colleagues’, re-tweets of events, publications, etc.

    Anybody who has spent a little time on Twitter knows the type. They seem to have Twitter open all day, and are constantly tweeting, with the knock on effect of buffing out, and polishing their notability. They’re always in your timeline, blurting about some achievement or retweeting the latest sh*tlib aghastitude (until you unfollow them).

    Since Twitter deplatformed many on the political right and booted Trump, there has been talk of another more open platform. Truth Social seems pretty shambolic, but apparently now hosts a lot more ‘truthers’ (not sure what they call themselves) than Gab, Parler, Gettr, et alia. Still small fry compared to the Silicon Valley behemoths, of course.

    The same liberal PMC who nodded approvingly as all the “right wing idjits” were kicked off Twitter may now be wondering what the Bird has in store for them with Musk at the helm. For added spice there are now lawsuits from ex-Twits, and while we’re not quite to that Shatner doco Chaos on the Bridge it’s getting a little closer lol.

    It would be funny if a “liberal” version of Truth Social appeared as a refuge for all the blue checks who had their social capital vaped by Musk, boasting “moar better censorship”.

    1. Skip Intro

      The incestuous network of retweets nicely maps the corresponding echo chambers, but with a social-credit-monetized echo counter.

  18. Stephen

    Great article.

    Elon Musk seems to have paid around nine times annual revenue (assuming the purchase consideration is real) for a business that loses money.

    So he must believe that this is an asset with potential and is following classic approaches to drive that: removing costs he sees as pure overhead / revenue detracting, pushing up prices (eg the blue check mark subscriptions) and seeking to make the platform more attractive to more people by saying he will reduce censorship.

    As you say, we will see how successful this is but I see nothing that is inconsistent with a smart businessman seeking to drive value from the asset.

    One additional thought: I wonder how much of the advertising revenue is government / affiliated NGO generated. That could create an inconsistency with the free speech objective beyond the odd corporation that succumbs to pressure not to advertise. We will no doubt see how that plays out too.

  19. Mikerw0

    I don’t care. I really mean that. If Twitter, and all anti-social media disappeared, so what. I for one wouldn’t miss it. I ignore it, as best I can. Find it useless and destructive. While you cite the social value I see the opposite. Knee jerk, high speed commenting is great for lazy commenters in an echo chamber.

    Recall that when JFK was shot it wasn’t till they had real confirmation that Cronkite would go on the air. They did real work. As I think of all the challenges facing us, if journalists, an increasingly dubious title, spent actual time doing work instead of tweeting and going on TV talk shows I believe the whole discourse will dramatically improve.

    I would much rather read a well researched and thought through blog post on NC then high speed nonsense, that frequently is measured by the attention it garners.

    The future of civilization does not rest in these platforms.

  20. chuck roast

    I’m still pining for the return of my rotary phone. Thanks Lambert for a clue about what’s happening in the real world.

  21. marym

    All kinds of people, businesses, and other entities have blue checks, not just PCM libs. It’s useful to know that some tweets are coming from a vetted account – whether it’s the weather service or the cops or a public official or @GOP – so people can evaluate the substance knowing where it came from, and/or try learning more about the tweeter from other sources.

    That’s what the blue check was for. I never understood why it was controversial. It’s not clear to me whether the $8 per month version would include the vetting that made it useful.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      If you have ever posted at dailykos, you might have a better understanding. They had (and still have I believe) a “trusted user” system that sounds similar to the Bluecheck system, except once you become a “trusted user” it becomes immediately apparent that some privileged individuals are more trusted than others.

      Dailykos was a cesspool of hate and vitriol except that the average user couldn’t see it because trusted users could not only erase the comments of those considered not “Democrat” enough, the could also hide the entire thread on which they were spewing bile at others.

      I was appalled at how it all worked after becoming “trusted user” myself and was eventually banned, like many NC posters. This was way before social media was a thing. In the ensuing decade plus, all of social media seems to have adopted the dailykos system which should have been killed with fire way back in the day. Instead it’s like a grey goo that has infested not only the interwebs but the minds of our modern day would-be censors.

      I much prefer things at NC where people are anonymous, there are no “likes” or “hearts” or “downvotes” or what have you and instead posters are judged on the merits of what they have to say.

  22. dcblogger

    aghastitude? schadenfreude would be closer to the mark. except for all the Twitter workers who lost their jobs, this is the funniest thing since Murdoch destoryed MySpace.

  23. Col 'Sandy' Volestrangler (ret)

    Why was Twitter allowed to exist? It may serve the vanity of the rich and the celebrities who helped make it a brand and a ‘place to be’. But cast your memories back to the last big round of Iranian ‘student protests’. What did our humble freedom fighters use to rally flash-mob style protests? #Twitter!!
    In Q Tel and Mega Group are no secret. Mimetic warfare is being practiced on a global scale.

  24. psv

    As an aside, related to Lambert’s mention of the usefulness of Twitter, with regard to for instance Covid news, finding antidotes (and the art he posts from time to time) – I think Twitter is a terrific tool for language learners.

    To me there are two main advantages. On the one hand, the necessary conciseness: lots of short sentences, and short texts on the whole. On the other, it’s great for learning less formal speech and slang. Reading a handful of tweets about something of interest in a language we’re learning every day is a bit like the antidote too – one of the Internet’s small blessings!

  25. ChrisPacific

    There’s a rumor going around that Twitter won’t actually do any real verification for the blue check status they intend to sell. That turns out to be largely true, but it’s mostly due to deficiencies in the existing process, rather than anything Musk plans to do. Looking at the list of requirements, it’s pretty clear that they have not given serious thought to the problem of becoming a digital identity provider. Specifically, it’s missing the verification step, which involves confirming that the person presenting the identity documents is in fact the person described in those documents. This typically needs to be done by another human being, preferably in person, although vendors offer a lot of snake oil (e.g. biometrics) to supposedly get around this. It’s much like the problem of establishing voter identity, a topic on which Lambert has already written.

    Twitter also allows you to change a lot of your details once you have the blue check, including supposedly verified details like user name, and you don’t have to reverify them when you do it (you can’t make this stuff up). This is how the various blue checked Elon Musk impersonators came about.

    Assuming that the new charge is enough to cover the costs and make the service scalable to all users, then Musk is quite right that there’s no reason to have a notability requirement (assuming he intends to remove that). Some of the other things he’s announced are steps in the right direction, like losing verified status on a name change until you re-verify. I haven’t seen any commitment from him to develop it into a genuine digital identity service, though, or whether $8 a month would be enough to cover that.

    Musk is also getting gleefully savaged by the media, and it doesn’t help that his position is already weak. As in this case, if you do a bit of digging on a lot of the problems that are coming up, you find that they are pre-existing Twitter problems and Musk’s proposals will make them no worse, and sometimes a bit better. But that’s not the impression you get from the stories. He’s also made some genuine missteps – it strains credulity to think that he would have a clear enough understanding of who was or wasn’t indispensable to make sweeping layoffs as soon as he did, and the stories about rehiring offers would seem to confirm that.

  26. Glen

    Personally, I don’t twit so take that into consideration for this analysis.

    As far as what Elon does with Twitter, he bought it, he can do whatever he wants. If he wants to festoon it with dicks and balls and crapify the job to the point that his employees piss in bottles and wear diapers (like one of his billionaire oligarch counterparts does) then so be it. I’m not entirely happy about that, but that seems to be the current state of affairs for our billionaire oligarchs running their corporate nation states.

    But if Twitter is now an undeniable part of “the town square”, then set up something similar under the domain of the United States Postal Service, and let the people run it. And while you’re at it, have the USPS provide free internet service, free email, free WiFi at any post office, and basic on-line and in person banking.

    (Putting on my SCOTUS “interpret” the founding fathers to do whatever we want hat:) Having the USPS perform these functions is EXACTLY what the founding fathers would want if they had a chance to modernize the Constitution, and I’m pretty tired of watching my country develop world changing technology only to give it to a bunch of Wall St/SillyCon Valley a$$hats that turn it into a money suck hell hole.

    But anyways, it’s always fun when our oligarchic overlords and the PMC blow a gasket and have a hissy fit so power on dudes.

    1. katiebird

      I remember being shocked in the early 90s that making the Internet public meant giving it away to private businesses. Everything us lists SHOULD be a function of the Post Office and I consider it an outrage that it was given away.

  27. David in Santa Cruz

    Thanks to Lambert for sharing this brief analysis of Twitter.

    I’m among those here who ignored Twitter and never signed-up. For the past decade-and-a-half I have received my news mediated by Yves and Lambert’s Naked Capitalism Links and Water Cooler pages. I much prefer to click-through to original factual reporting than to have some PMC-climber’s 280-character opinion/summation of a disputed and complex issue. As the old saying goes, “Opinions are like belly-buttons and [glass bowls]. Everybody has one.” I’ll form my own, thank-you very much.

    Recently my dear spouse signed-me up for the “curated” AppleNews service. Their “curation” of information about the civil war in “Ukraine” is risible (hat-tip Lambert). It’s like the Black Night at the Bridge scene in Monte Python and the Holy Grail.

    These PMC-run mouthpieces are simply a 21st century Ministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda. Let’s not kid ourselves.

  28. Jorge

    Just as he is mostly not a real founder, Musk M’Elon is not a real “Boer”. His family were weirdo right-wing Canadian chiropractors who left Canuckia for SA because Canuckia was too socialist.

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