13/8/2018

Selling Your Power Back to Twitter

One of the candidates in my state’s gubernatorial primary wants to make our state the first to fully convert to renewable energy. It’s a laudable goal for every state, though I think it’s unrealistic that the state where I live will be the first.

I’d love to generate our own electricity at home with some solar panels and a little wind turbine. If anything could, that would make us more mindful of what our family consumes every day. If we generated enough, we could sell some back to the grid, too. We probably don’t need all that power every day.1

I think that renewable energy metaphor is an interesting model for social media, particularly since Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is fond of comparing his company to a public utility2:

I think Twitter’s a success for us when people stop talking about it, when we stop doing these panels and people just use it as a utility, use it like electricity. It fades into the background, something that’s just a part of communication.

The comparison’s ridiculous unless Dorsey wishes to hand Twitter over to the FCC, but let’s go along with it for a moment.

If Twitter is a utility like the electrical grid, where does it get its energy? For all the energy dissipated on its platform, Twitter doesn’t generate much on its own. Instead, it relies on its users to generate all that energy from pithy remarks, photo uploads, tweetstorms, breaking news, and the occasional productive conversation. Oh, and marketing. Lots, and lots, and lots of marketing.

Twitter takes all of that energy and uses it for its own purposes. It’s in Twitter’s best interest to ensure as much energy is generated as possible, because that’s what keeps it relevant. Twitter’s relevance, particularly post-IPO, is ultimately its only case for profitability. All that user-created energy is what gives Twitter its power.

At the same time, Twitter — this massive online be-in — allows some pretty terrible people to feed off that power all its users create. I’ll pass on pointing out its position on the current President of the United States, whose online conduct is reprehensible, simply because it seems unlikely any company in the world will boot a president from its platform. I’ll skip Alex Jones, because Jones isn’t the only example of Twitter’s terrible custodianship of all that power. Instead, how about these:

Did you know David Duke is an active Twitter user? Yes, former Grand Wizard of the KKK David Duke. Duke has almost 50,000 followers. Maybe all he posts are cat memes.

Peter King, the New York congressman who has likened kneeling football players to Nazis3, has over 34,000 followers.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who claimed AIDS was engineered by the West4, has over 45,000 followers.

Neo-Nazi Richard B. Spencer has nearly 80,000 followers. Yes, a real Neo-Nazi5.

Holocaust denier6 & convicted racist7 Jean-Marie Le Pen’s on Twitter; he has almost 125,000 followers.

David Clarke, the ex-Sheriff of Milwaukee County, maintained a policy of shackling pregnant inmates during labor8, forced religious proselytizing on his employees at mandatory meetings9, and has described a members of a minority group as uneducated, lazy, and morally bankrupt.”10 Clarke has over 950,000 followers.

Dinesh D’Souza — who asserted The cultural left in this country is responsible for causing 9/11,”11 claimed that prisoners at Abu Ghraib enjoyed conditions comparable to the accommodations in mid-level Middle Eastern hotels,”12 and who used Twitter to mock children who survived a school shooting13 — has over 960,000 followers.

Nigel Farage, who believes in a fifth column” of religious extremists in the UK14 and went out of his way to endorse an alleged child molester for federal office in another country15, has over 1.2 million followers.

Jenny McCarthy, whose claims that vaccines trigger autism16 have endangered countless people, has over 1.3 million followers.

Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House-turned-conspiracy theorist17, has over 2 million followers.

Laura Ingraham, who has used Twitter to taunt a school shooting survivor18 and called detention facilities for children separated from their parents essentially summer camps”19, has over 2.35 million followers.

Sean Hannity, a conspiracy theorist, torture advocate, and bigot, has nearly 3.7 million followers.

As long as Twitter refuses to remove people like the above from its platform, it is effectively condoning their messages. There are doubtless many people who use Twitter that see this and are disappointed, upset, or appalled — yet who continue to use Twitter to communicate with their own audiences.20 Their persistence effectively supports not just Twitter’s relevance, but its continued dominance. Twitter has made clear its position on the custodianship of its platform.

Why would anyone sell their power back to Twitter, knowing Twitter uses some of it to run the microphones it hands to terrible people?


  1. At least we don’t until we can afford an electric car to replace the sixteen year old sedan we use as a daily driver. I love not having a car payment more than I dislike (sigh) getting 19 MPG. Fortunately, we only drive it a couple miles a day…

  2. Caroline McCarthy, Twitter co-founder: We’ll have made it when you shut up about us,” CNet, 03 June 2009.

  3. Rich Schapiro, Rep. Pete King doubles down on tweet that compared NFL anthem protests to Nazi salute,” New York Daily News, 26 May 2018.

  4. Ahmad Vahdat, HIV created by West to enfeebled third world, claims Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” The Daily Telegraph, 18 January 2012.

  5. Joseph Goldstein, Alt-Right Gathering Exults in Trump Election with Nazi-Era Salute,” The New York Times, 20 November 2016.

  6. James McAuley, France’s National Front co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen says the battle is already won,” The Washington Post, 20 March 2017.

  7. Le Pen v. France, European Court of Human Rights, 05 July 2010.

  8. Associated Press/Journal-Sentinel Staff, Lawsuit says woman was shackled while giving birth at Milwaukee County Jail,” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 16 March 2017.

  9. Milwaukee Deputy Sheriffs Ass’n v. Clarke (United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, 04 December 2009), FindLaw 08-1515.

  10. Tom Kertscher, Which black people did David Clarke call uneducated, lazy and morally bankrupt?,” Politifact, 17 November 2015

  11. Alex Koppelman, How the left caused 9/11, by Dinesh D’Souza,” Salon.com, 03 July 2015.

  12. Michiko Kakutani, Dispatch From Gomorrah, Savaging the Cultural Left,” The New York Times, 06 Feb 2007.

  13. Joe Concha, Dinesh D’Souza apologizes for mocking Parkland shooting survivors after massive backlash,” The Hill, 21 February 2018.

  14. Rowena Mason, Nigel Farage: British Muslim fifth column’ fuels immigration fear,” The Guardian, 12 March 2015.

  15. Andrew Buncombe, Nigel Farage questions Roy Moore’s sexual assault allegations,” The Independent, 13 November 2017.

  16. Larry King Live, Jenny McCarthy’s Autism Fight,” CNN, 02 April 2008.

  17. Dave Weigel, Gingrich spreads conspiracy theory about slain DNC staffer,” The Washington Post, 21 May 2017.

  18. Daniel Victor, Advertisers drop Laura Ingraham after she taunts Parkland survivor David Hogg,” The New York Times, 29 March 2018.

  19. Avery Anapol, Laura Ingraham: Migrant child detention centers essentially summer camps’,” The Hill, 18 June 2018.

  20. I have utterly lost patience with tech industry folks who know viable alternatives exist — and whose adoption of those alternatives could help shift the momentum away from Twitter — yet continue to draw their audiences to Twitter.


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