I’m Staying on Twitter
But it matters that Elon Musk now owns it.
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There’s been some—mostly silly—hysteria over Elon Musk finally taking ownership of Twitter. But there are reasons to be concerned, even if you’re not on the platform.
First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.
Tweet the Truth
Elon Musk finally bought Twitter—or, as it turned out, was essentially forced to buy Twitter after shooting his mouth off about how keen he was to own it. He is now learning that contracts matter, and that this whole fandango was probably a stupid idea; his first three days at the helm have not, shall we say, inspired a lot of confidence in his managerial acumen. I suspect that Musk, as Spock said in a classic Star Trek episode, is about to find out that “having is not so pleasing a thing, after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”
Many liberals on Twitter have unfortunately decided that if Musk owns the platform, they must leave. This is a kind of self-deportation that—like the threats to move to Canada if Donald Trump won the 2016 election—in my view makes no sense. Many of us with larger presences on the platform have seen a significant drop in our follower counts as people make good on their threat to exit.
This is, of course, as much their right as it is Musk’s to buy the platform and run it as he pleases. But I think leaving is a mistake. Twitter, so far, is still Twitter: infuriating and fascinating, disgusting and enlightening, full of very nice people and intelligent interlocutors, along with the usual cohort of angry losers, bored juveniles, and wannabe keyboard heroes. Musk’s ownership isn’t going to change that. So I will put in a word here for a calm and measured response to his arrival.
If we were to avoid every forum or product owned by a reprehensible narcissist, we’d live a pretty simple life. Staying on Twitter does not mean you approve of Musk any more than reading The Washington Post means you’re a fan of Jeff Bezos. As my Atlantic colleague Norm Ornstein puts it, he can stipulate that Elon Musk is “a disgrace and a partner with the murderous Saudi regime”—the Saudis are now the second-largest shareholder in Twitter after Musk, and they are crowing about it—but still realize that many of us have “built a community of friendships that [we] would never have found otherwise,” including people who are “interesting, morally strong and admirable.” Norm does not want to lose that, and neither do I.
More to the point, if you believe that it is important to combat disinformation, spread reliable information, and in general try to defend some basic notions of civility, social media is an important arena for doing all of those things. Abandoning this part of the public square to vandals and extremists—who became more vocal on the platform practically from the moment Musk took over—accomplishes nothing.
Twitter can be a great place to practice some skills that also serve us well in real life. As I have suggested many times, we should sidestep those who want to bait us into endless arguments that are detached from reality. We should state what’s true and the values we support. We should engage those who ask for discussion in good faith. Ignore those who merely want to drain you of patience. That’s a sensible approach, whether it’s Twitter or Thanksgiving with your Fox-obsessed uncle.
We’re all human, and we’ll all fail at this at some point. I have been baited online into plenty of idiotic arguments that I now regret (just as I have been in real life). One way to improve your experience on Twitter, however, is to be less personally invested in it. This may sound odd coming from a man with more than 600,000 followers who has tweeted, by my count, at least eleventy-gajillion times and is known for being willing to pursue a Twitter argument to the gates of hell. But the key is to remember that Twitter is a forum, not a lifestyle. It’s not therapy. It’s not where you’ll save the world or crush your enemies. It’s just people, some of whom are good and some of whom are horrendous jerks, talking to one another.
Still: When the world’s richest man (and the Saudis, among others), own a huge slice of the public space, it matters. It would matter even if Musk did not have the Twitter persona, as he unfortunately does, of a shitposting teenager. Musk, if he is to be believed, plans to loosen the restrictions on Twitter—again, as is his right—to allow more disinformation. Yesterday, he even tweeted (then deleted) links to a discredited conspiracy theory about the Paul Pelosi assault. He may allow Trump back on the platform.
But all of that makes it imperative to stay, not go. Disinformation and trolling works best when the malefactors who engage in it create an impression of being a reliable and trustworthy majority, when they can say that “everybody knows this.” Abandoning such places out of some misplaced sense of moral rectitude simply clears the field for more lies and mischief. The trolls delighting in Musk’s purchase are a very small fraction of the world—and we should not encourage the delusion that there are more of them than there are normal and decent human beings.
- The Trump-organization trial began today. Prosecutors have accused the company of taking part in a 15-year tax-evasion scheme.
- Federal authorities filed charges of assault and attempted kidnapping against the man accused of attacking Paul Pelosi in the Pelosis’ home last week.
- Jair Bolsonaro has not yet conceded defeat after Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was declared the winner of Brazil’s presidential election last night.
- Humans Being: It’s a bad time to be a new Marvel fan, Jordan Calhoun argues.
- I Have Notes: Nicole Chung talked with the poet Christopher Soto about breaking rules in writing and how literature can spur change.
- Work in Progress: Derek Thompson explores what the Moneyball-for-everything mentality has done to American culture.
- Famous People: Lizzie and Kaitlyn recount an album-cover-themed costume party held in Kaitlyn’s backyard.
- Up for Debate: Conor Friedersdorf asks readers: How old is too old in politics?
The Too-Muchness of Bono
By David Brooks
Bono was 14 when his grandfather died. His family was at the cemetery burying him when his mother, Iris, fainted. His father, Bob, and older brother, Norman, took her to the hospital to have her checked out, and Bono went over to his grandmother’s house, where the family was gathering.
A little while later, one of his uncles burst in, wailing: “Iris is dying. Iris is dying. She’s had a stroke.”
It was at that instant, Bono says, that his home disappeared. A hole opened up within him. Bono is now 62 and reflecting on how many rock stars lost their mother at a crucial age: John Lennon, Johnny Rotten, Bob Geldof, Paul McCartney—the list of the abandoned goes on and on. Their mothers’ deaths left them with this bottomless craving. “People who need to be loved at scale, with 20,000 people screaming your name every night, are generally to be avoided,” Bono says with a laugh. “My kind of people.”
More From The Atlantic
Read. The original Dracula novel by Bram Stoker is 125 years old—and still biting.
Watch. The Season 2 premiere of The White Lotus, on HBO, examines the sex lives of the one percent.
Listen. The latest episode of our podcast How to Build a Happy Life explores the happiness we can get from subtraction.
It’s Halloween, and if you think you’re going to get some high-toned classic-horror-movie recommendation from me, you’re mistaken. That would be like handing out organic dried fruit and healthy sawdust treats to kids on the front step. Instead, I’m going to direct you to a bowl of candy corn, a 1985 cult classic directed by Dan O’Bannon (who, a few years earlier, wrote Alien) that still holds a 91 percent fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes: The Return of the Living Dead.
The plot: Military goo turns hard-partying young people into brain-eating zombies. Were you about to ask me about motivation and layers of meaning? Let that go. This is a movie that’s just plain fun, a 1980s time capsule—the wardrobe is as scary as the zombies—with a dumb plot, lots of screaming, and some veteran character actors, including the ever-reliable Clu Gulager. There’s plenty of cartoonish gore, a few risqué scenes, and an ending that I won’t spoil but that I will say includes the use of a, uh, military device that is within my area of expertise.
The world is scary enough these days, and we might as well have a good laugh along the way. Happy Halloween.
Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.