So this might be the end of Twitter. I'm about 1/2 convinced Musk is willing to burn 44 billion dollars just to drive the thing into the ground, for reasons that I'll give towards the bottom. And if the platform disintegrates I think it will be difficult to replace, for reasons I'll also give near the bottom. But don't skip ahead. It's all good.
About 20 years ago Southern Baptists launched a series of letter writing campaigns designed to convince Disney that Disneyland was too gay-friendly and if the company didn't stop supporting same sex marriage they (the Southern Baptists) would boycott the place. It didn't work. Not enough Baptists were willing to back up the threats; it turns out they all loved riding The Matterhorn and touring The Haunted Mansion. And if you have ever been to Disneyland, you know that the young lads they employ there are so fresh-faced and clean-smelling that they're impossible to hate. So the boycott never caught-on among the broader public, either.
But I'm more interested in the mechanics of the thing,
The Baptists would rent the basement at a local church. Then 50 or 60 local Baptist kids would be recruited, and there would be desks made available to them from the on-site Sunday School. The folks behind the protest would provide a model letter stuck up on a big white-board, and the kids would be given envelopes, sheets of lined paper, and pencils. They would be asked to copy the letter, sign it, and stick it in an envelope provided. Later a stamp would be affixed and the letter mailed. And Hey Presto! if you repeated this process in enough rented church basements with enough kids then maybe Disney would think they were facing a back-lash over their too-gay-friendly, anti-family policies. Again, it was not very effective. For example, if there was a grammatical/spelling error in the model, it wound-up in all the kid's letters. The folks at Disney weren't stupid; they recognized AstroTurf.
But the more important thing: there was a monetary cost to every step in this process, that increased in a linear fashion for each protest letter generated. Paper cost money. Pencils cost money Envelopes cost money. U.S. Stamps back then cost around 25 cents apiece. Renting church basements cost money, although maybe the Southern Baptist Church defrayed this expense. You had to buy the kids a box of juice to keep them hydrated...
The moral: pre-Internet, there were costs to mounting a consumer boycott that simply do not exist anymore
Because slowly email became the dominant form of communication, and the material expenses related producing a piece of written material fell to zero. You could also organize via email, and ditch costs associated with congregating at a physical location. In a few ways, though, the mechanics of protest were unchanged. Someone might provide a template letter, and you might be invited to personalize the letter you eventually emailed to the people you were trying to reach.
A much better climate for protest, but hardly perfect. Within a particular company there was always someone who read these letters. If they thought it warranted, they would pass news of your campaign up the Chain of Command. Eventually someone important in the company might conclude that your concerns were valid, or that your boycott might be successful and cost the company money. So a change in the corporate direction might be made.
More often they would just hit the delete button. All your work would disappear into the ether, and nobody would be any wiser.
But then Twitter came along. Like e-mail it allowed you to write (tiny little) letters and encourage other people to do likewise, and all for free. In your letters you could bitch about some product and send your concerns to the company making the product, and so could your followers. And by product I mean things like Ye or Joe Rogan or Kyrie Irving.
But here's the key difference between a twitter vs. email campaign: your complaints were no longer made in a vacuum, but before a huge audience of media types, who for whatever historical reasons have chosen to colonize Twitter and make it their social media platform of choice. It's not just the company that saw your efforts, it was a bunch of people paid to ask questions like: what are you going to do about all those complaints, Disney? It is far more difficult to bin a twitter swarm than it is a pile of neatly written letters or an inbox full of emails.
What I think you wind up with is the world's most effective means of organizing a very specific kind of protest. And this tool has been adopted with a vengeance; it's behind what we call Accountability Culture, or Cancel Culture if you don't approve of it.
So what about Conservative complaints re a bias? Isn't Twitter just a tool of The Left being used to oppress the Right? Well, sort of. The typical twitter protest flags online assholishness, and the Right provides an incredibly target rich environment for this kind of thing. I mean, Liberals can be irritating pricks, and some are true monsters, but they usually hide it under a veneer of polite behavior. Like my mom used to tell me: the least you could do is try and act normal.
And of course Conservatives use Twitter and other social media to exactly the same purposes. Ask James Gunn. They just don't have as much fun with it because The Left is better at keeping its pathologies under wraps.
And the thing is, cancelling J.K. Rowling or Dave Chappelle or whoever is a business decision on the part of the people who employ or sponsor these people. Twitter is just a bunch of words the business may or may not find compelling, based on how damaging the threat of a product boycott promised by the words seems to be. Nobody cares about your outrage unless you have money. You notice Adidas didn't abandon Ye right away: the Calculation was "Sure he hates Jews, but how many sneakers is he selling to other people?" Only when the calculation went negative was Ye fired out the door. Netflex never dumped Chappelle; his trans-bashing comedy brought eye-balls to the service, and apparently still sells out arenas.
So consumer boycotts don't always work, even when they use Twitter. Sometimes they shouldn't work. Sometimes the company is right to stick with their man or woman. They just work better than they used to, and better then they would without the platform.
Assuming you the reader buys all this, is it worthwhile for Elon Musk to pay 44 billion so he can, basically, crash the car he just bought? It might be; he's now officially a figure in the Alt-Right, and Twitter has been used very effectively against his people. Is it worth 44 Billion to win a battle in the Culture Wars?
Because if Twitter goes away tomorrow what replaces it? Maybe history provides a guide: the early days of Musk's Twitter remind me of the End of Napster. People may not remember, but one of the biggest stories during the last half of 2001 was: what happens to the file-sharing movement when Napster is shuttered for copyright infringement? September 11th changed media priorities, but what did happen was that users drifted to various alternative platforms that were harder to shut down: OpenNap, pure P2P systems like Gnutella or Limewire, and even that weird Freenet thing that I could never get to do anything. While many of these systems worked, none of them worked as well: to find everything you could previously get on Napster, you needed to join multiple networks. And connecting to an early P2P network sucked up a lot of bandwidth. Everything else on your computer suddenly worked a lot slower.
After Napster the world of file-sharing sharing staggered on, but was permanently diminished. This could be Elon's intent with Twitter. And indeed the Exodus from Twitter seems to be spilling over onto a couple of alternative platforms that have promise but are not yet ready for the growth they are currently experiencing. May be history is repeating itself.