Into The Silence
What a Musky Twitter Means for the Future of Organizing and the 2022 Election
Since going all in on Twitter more than a decade ago, I’ve tried to take breaks from time to time. It’s never historically gone well, let alone during the pandemic when my extreme extrovert self couldn’t handle the isolation.
This time, though, it’s different.
To be fair, two days ago when the Musk/Twitter deal was approved, I didn’t exactly quit Twitter. My account is still there and I simply did what I have done half a dozen times before: I downloaded my data, and I wiped a year’s worth of tweets.
That process has always felt rather cleansing to me. No one is who they were a year ago. Time moves too fast these days, and our growth doesn’t always need a historical record.
I feel very strongly this time, though, that I don’t want to perform for Musk’s audience. I poked my head into the timeline this morning only to see that Musk himself is already publicly attacking senior Twitter employees in direct violation of the purchase agreement, agreeing with Pizzagate conspiracy theorists from the far right wing who have engendered hate and violence in real life, and that his trollbot army is attacking anyone who dare mention the overlord oligarch’s name.
As with most prominent progressive accounts, I’m also down more than 1000 followers in 36 hours. Noted far right figures like Ron DeSantis have gained 100,000 plus. No public explanation yet exists for this disparity that makes any sense.
All of this doesn’t bode well for the future of Twitter for obvious reasons. Narcissists like Musk are notoriously uncontrollable, though, so none of this comes as a surprise.
Here in my little world, though? I slept through the night the last two nights for the first time in a long, long while.
Why? Because I didn’t end the day in my bed, scrolling Twitter with a phone in my hand. I ended it reading Resmaa Menaken’s fantastic book, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies.
Will I return to Twitter? Who knows. Right now, though, my body and my brain are demanding a hard pause, for my own sanity, and also because I don’t want to be farmed for profit by someone I so roundly deplore.
During this little hiatus, I’ve been considering what the end of a functional Twitter might mean for the November election.
The activists and organizers in my circles have mixed feelings.
On one hand, the best and most effective organizing has always been conducted offline. Black Voters Matter, New Georgia Project and Fair Fight didn’t win us the Senate via the Georgia runoff by sitting behind screens and tweeting about Reverend Warnock. The efforts to organize communities and states are always more effective in person (masked in this era, to be sure) because so much of community organizing is about reminding people that we all have power, and that there are places where we all belong and our voices make a difference.
As well, Twitter has been such a dominant player, second only to Facebook, in the spread of disinformation by actors intent on democracy’s destruction that doing more offline protects the hearts and minds of the most effective activists, notwithstanding that the only folks leaving Twitter en masse weren’t really in the cult of the right to begin with. All of us function better when we’re not being relentlessly harassed and abused by folks in the far-right cult with false narratives of hate.
On the flip side, though, one can’t negate that certain very critical national races have depended on public awareness to fundraise and to garner support. Candidates that I adore and that should be elected in November have garnered huge national platforms through Twitter. That helps more than one might realize on the outside given the nature of party funding in tight races with first time candidates.
But will a Musky twitter cause interference in the November election? If Twitter becomes a larger Gab or Gettr or Truth Social thanks to this acquisition, probably not any more than it already has. After all, we all know already that the Twitter algorithm simply feeds us more of what we’ve already engaged with these days.
There is no question in my mind, though, that Twitter itself will allow Trump back on its platform under Musk, and will roll back what little protections against harassment and doxxing that already existed. It will become tougher for anyone marginalized to be present there in any consistent way.
Some of my closest friends from Twitter are vowing to stay and fight the rising tide of disinformation, and that’s admirable. However, here at a recently turned 51 years old, I am a bit cynical about the prospect of one account, or for that matter even several hundred committed accounts of those who can stand the hate, being able to turn the tide of millions of far right bot and troll accounts hellbent on our mental destruction.
Does this mean I won’t miss it at some point? Of course not. In some ways, Twitter has served us all very well. To be sure, the “public square” aspect of Twitter has been a huge benefit during the pandemic. I learned everything I know about Covid from epidemiology Twitter. I knew waves were underway before anyone else in my extended family. I was able to make choices about how to protect my kids and my family notwithstanding misleading health policy across the nation. I’ve also learned so much from great minds on Twitter across the board. This is no small thing.
But my fear right now is that Twitter is devolving already into something worse than it has ever been. Abuses of power– which by the way is how I categorize Musk’s acquisition– always engender others to abuse what little power they have as well, and Musk is notorious for his absolute army of abusive trolls online. Whether we want Twitter to make it or we choose to leave it behind, we may no longer have a choice if we’re progressive, public, and want to maintain our sanity.
And regardless, there are more pressing ways to do the work.
For the past two years, I’ve been vociferously advocating on The Broadcast with ECM for folks to start organizing at the hyper-local level for the 2022 election. I’ve been talking about school boards and water boards and zoning boards and city councils as places where the battle for the future of democracy would land, and I’ve been proven right more than I wish.
Ground zero for the end of democracy is in your own backyard right now, and the attack is landing on librarians and teachers and trans kids and people who can get pregnant, with white suburban moms as the absolute pivot point for disinformation and fear given that, as a voting block, we can throw whole elections. Those of us who know this are not doing nearly enough to defend the rights of those around us that are at stake.
This week, I attended an online LGBTQ+ focus group meeting for my school district concerning policy choices for trans and non-binary students and their protection. There were six parents and one LGBTQ+ high schooler on the Zoom in a district serving 35,000 kids. SIX. Stark and frightening, and yet not nothing. As Lin-Manuel Miranda so perfectly coined, tomorrow, there’ll be more of us.
Because if we are not engaged locally, policy will be written for us by those who are louder than we are, and failure is not an option.
And so perhaps the silence of online disengagement at the moment is an invitation to look around us and get loud elsewhere. So much needs fixing and so much needs our attention.
Staring into a screen, no matter how engaging, was never going to save democracy anyway.