Thursday, August 15, 2019

Twitter Follies and Our Digital Dystopia

A couple of weeks ago, Twitter locked my account over this tweet:

As far as I can tell, this tweet violated no rules, nor did the block notice tell me what rule I had violated. There was literally a blank line in the notice where the violation was supposed to be.

After waiting two weeks with no action on an appeal, I deleted the tweet (it can live on here for all time, or until the people running Blogger have a similar attack of whimsy.) This is a minor irritation, but it does focus one's mind on the fact that large areas of the public commons -- places where art, politics, propaganda and rebellion happen -- are in the hands of a tiny number of technology companies.

These companies' very size pushes them towards a conservative (small "c") orientation because, like network television of old, they are free services offered to a mass audience. Services like that tend to succeed by being liked by many people and hated by no one -- which is, in the long run, a surefire recipe for mediocrity.

Television stopped sucking when operators like HBO and Netflix created a competing model in which, due to the dynamics of subscription services, lots of people could hate a thing, but if a reasonable number of people loved it enough to keep sending their subscription fee, you could offend, bore, or outrage a bunch of people on the margins. And that is why Three's Company and The Wire are very different kinds of art.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and their rivals are free, mass-market services -- more Friends than BoJack Horseman. And if we're going to continue to organize, advertize, and solipsize online -- and what is the alternative? -- that is going to be a problem.