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This was probably the most chaotic week for the social-media business in years, maybe ever. I called my colleague Charlie Warzel, who has been tweeting (and writing) through it, for a recap and his prediction for what comes next.
But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.
Kate Lindsay: Yesterday you tweeted about changing your Twitter username to “The Real Charlie Warzel (Parody Account)” “to make a joke about Musk’s inept management”—and then not being able to change it back. Please explain.
Charlie Warzel: On Sunday night, Musk had some higher-level people trolling him, including Kathy Griffin. Twitter suspended her, and then Musk started tweeting about the fact that anyone who is impersonating another person on Twitter and not announcing in their username that it’s a parody account will be suspended. This is probably 4 or 5 p.m. and I’m just winding down for the weekend, enjoying my evening, and wanting to do a fun joke at Musk’s expense, I guess. And so on a whim I decided to rename myself. And within minutes it came out that if you are a verified user and try to change your display name, you’ll lose your verification status, meaning that I am just forever preserved in this very stupid in-the-moment joke. So the joke was clearly on me.
Kate: Musk gave all paid users the blue check once reserved for verified accounts—then revoked it today, after paid users started impersonating major celebrities and corporations. Now there’s a gray check. What is that about?
Charlie: Underneath the blue check mark they rolled out this gray check mark that said “Official,” and that was gonna be the status that shows that you’re a trustworthy government account on top of the other verification status. From a design perspective, it’s horrible. And it had all these inconsistencies: Exxon was official, but the White House POTUS account was not.
Elon Musk saw the complaints and killed it within two hours. His company continues to hemorrhage talent that is doing privacy compliance and infrastructure and keeping the website up, and meanwhile he’s trying to get the kerning on the letters around the verification badge right. It’s shuffling around the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Kate: You wrote about all the ways that it is possible that Elon Musk could kill Twitter. Do any of them seem to be happening right now?
Charlie: I’m alarmed at how quickly a lot of the things in that piece are coming to fruition. I asked around in the days before Musk took over, and everyone was like, If you’re focusing on misinformation on the site or bringing back Donald Trump, you’re focusing on the wrong thing. Someone can quickly kill a platform on a technical or structural level. Social networks look and feel simple and easy, but they’re extremely complicated and fragile, held together with glue and duct tape. And it seems like Musk either doesn’t understand that or doesn’t care.
Kate: So major outages are possible, and advertisers are backing away, concerned about moderation. Musk has mentioned bankruptcy as a possibility. Is Twitter really going to die? I go back and forth on this every day.
Charlie: I’m super pessimistic from a monetary standpoint. Musk is not mincing words. Part of [the problem] is that he added billions of dollars of debt to the company’s books with his purchase. So it’s sort of like the “We’re all trying to find the guy who did this” meme.
The one thing I don’t really worry about is Twitter overnight becoming a cesspool of disinformation. I honestly have not personally seen anything in my timeline to suggest that. But I do think from an economic standpoint, it’s really, really worrying. And even looking from a talent standpoint, it’s like, who wants to work for this guy?
Kate: Why should people who don’t use Twitter care about any of this?
Charlie: Whether you like the effects or hate the effects of Twitter’s relevance culturally and politically, there’s a lot going on there. You can attribute the rise of insurgent politicians and figures like Donald Trump to their presence on Twitter. But also, Black Lives Matter spread on Twitter. There are a lot of activists around the world, especially in countries that suppress free speech, that use Twitter in that way. It’s embedded in the fabric of our culture and politics. To have that go away really quickly without something to replace it—I don’t know what the effect is, but I do think that it’s meaningful.
The other thing is that there’s a bigger structural problem with the way the world works in 2022. You have the world’s richest person who, kind of on a whim, sort of as a joke, decides that he’s gonna buy this huge lever of communication for hundreds of millions of people, and just do with it what he will. And we all have to stand by and let that happen. I’m not saying that Elon Musk is history’s greatest monster, but it’s a pretty damning indictment of capitalism.
Kate: While all this was going on, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, laid off more than 11,000 employees. Is that an indictment of the company’s pivot to the metaverse?
Charlie: There’s a lot happening [at Meta] and it’s probably a bad idea to conflate things. Some of the problem is mismanagement. Facebook would hire people to build out new parts of its infrastructure throughout the years, and then when they would pivot, which they do all the time, they kept a lot of those people on. They’ve cited that as a reason [for the layoffs]. Then there’s obviously an economic downturn that’s happening. Tech companies, especially during the pandemic, really beefed up and were planning for a short-term future that was dominated by digital interactions. But obviously, the world is changing again.
Kate: Ten days ago, you wrote that social media is aging, not dying. Has your thinking changed at all?
Charlie: No, I think these are just broad trends. What is most fascinating to me is the ascendancy of short-form video and different communication mediums over text-based posts. A lot of social media used to be this status-update kind of thing. If you look at how people, even if they don’t have a lot of followers, tend to behave on a platform like TikTok, it’s similar to a broadcaster, and it’s not so much like, “Hey, I’m having soup today for lunch.” That’s the way that social media used to be. Now everyone is an entertainer.
Kate: Have your social-media habits changed amid all this upheaval?
Charlie: No, not really. My tweets and all that have only increased—which has got me a little freaked out, because obviously it could all go away. I’m like, Maybe I am too dependent on this thing.
- Ukraine’s troops entered Kherson and appear poised to recapture the Russian-occupied city.
- President Joe Biden spoke at the United Nations COP27 climate talks, focusing on American leadership and the climate achievements of the Inflation Reduction Act.
- The cryptocurrency exchange FTX has filed for bankruptcy, and Sam Bankman-Fried has stepped down as CEO.
- Deep Shtetl: Yair Rosenberg explains how Twitter shapes what you know, even if you’ve never used it.
- Unsettled Territory: Imani Perry on why getting hacked on Twitter made her reconsider her social-media future.
- Books Briefing: The best works of history both clarify our political present and hint at what the future might hold, Kate Cray writes.
The Quest to Make the Best Worst Cup of Coffee
By Alina Simone
My first glass of black, undiluted, pure robusta was a punch in the neck. It was 2,000-proof vodka plus caffeine. It made me want to dive, open-mouthed, into a swimming pool filled with sweet cream. This was nothing like the other wimpy thing called “coffee” I’d spent my entire life drinking, and at some primitive, sensory level, I struggled to process it. But I controlled my expression because Bang Duong, the man who’d grown and roasted and brewed this Thorlike drink, was seated right across from me. It was January 2020, and we were on the second floor of Ho Chi Minh City’s Tractor Coffee, a mecca of reclaimed wood, unfinished steel, and burlap tones that wouldn’t be out of place in Berkeley or Berlin save for one thing: Tractor was one of the only cafés I could find that made seed-to-cup coffee from the world’s least loved variety of bean. That could make it the staging ground for a far-fetched culinary revolution.
More From The Atlantic
Read. It’s a good weekend to get lost in a book. Try one of these 12 picks to help you love reading again.
And spend a few minutes with a poem: Here’s Adrienne Rich’s “Ideal Landscape.”
Watch. In theaters, go see Black Panther: Wakanda Forever—a thrilling blockbuster that achieves the near impossible.
On HBO Max, stream Barbarian, the horror movie that everyone’s suddenly talking about.
If you need a new show, catch up on Season 2 of The White Lotus, on HBO, before the next episode airs on Sunday. (There’s also a new season of The Crown, on Netflix—but it feels much more sedate than it should, our critic argues.)
Listen. On his new album, FOREVERANDEVERNOMORE, Brian Eno—the master of calming music—has recorded a wake-up call.
If Twitter really does burn to the ground, we’ll lose huge swaths of 2010s internet lore. My favorite account from that period is @horse_ebooks, which my colleague Kaitlyn Tiffany has made the case for as “a mysterious source of wisdom and art.” Kaitlyn chose “Everything happens so much” as the @horse_ebooks tweet that would define the internet. My pick? The evocative, and hilarious, “Leg Butt.”
Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.