site banner

Culture War Roundup for the week of October 23, 2023

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

Happy Birthday Elon Twitter

We're almost at the one-year anniversary of Elon Musk taking over Twitter X. How have your predictions fared? I'll answer below.

I didn't have much familiarity with Elon Musk at the time, but I was willing to give him the benefit of doubt given his successes with Tesla and SpaceX. I think this has borne out for Twitter from a technical perspective, because barring a few minor hiccups, I'm impressed at how reliable of a platform it has remained despite significant reductions in staff. The constant cataclysmic predictions over the last year seem obviously off-base.

I think the conflict of interest issue remains a serious problem. I wrote about the stark difference between Old Twitter's willingness to duke it out with censorious governments, compared to Musk Twitter's policy of acceding to takedown requests. Musk also flip-flopped from initially claiming his devotion to free speech includes the 'elonjet' account [Yes the tweet is still up though it has a Community Note, which remains Twitter's greatest feature, and Musk's deserves credit for not making his own tweets immune], only to change his mind afterwards. Musk has maintained a vendetta against Substack ever since they launched the Twitter-like Notes, and Substack links were initially prohibited outright for a few days (Musk claims Substack was "scraping" data or something) but they still don't generate any previews like other URLs.

That elonjet shift illustrates some of Musk's erratic behavior, because his argument for wanting to ban the account claiming that it provides "real-time doxxing", and in support of that argument he posted a video purporting to show a "crazy stalker" who had been following him as a result of elonjet (also claimed he was going to take "legal action" against the guy behind elonjet). He never provided any additional details of who this person was and how exactly elonjet was implicated, and the last update I was able to find was almost a year ago and says the apparent "crazy stalker" in the video was being treated as the victim by police (which of course isn't conclusive).

Because Twitter is now privately-owned, we don't have exact numbers on how well it's doing financially but the few indicators available indicate a significant decline in revenue from advertisers (the overwhelming source of revenue) apparently fleeing the platform. Musk claimed that advertising revenue was down as much as 60%, but it's hard to know how seriously to take that number since he revealed it during his feud with the ADL.

Musk appears to wants to shift away from a reliance on advertisers and towards a user subscription model. People can pay $8/month to get Verified status which (among other things) provides a visibility boost on the algorithm. The old Blue Check system was needlessly cloistered, and the other current Verified benefits are fine, but the pay-to-boost feature has been really annoying, because it more likely than not ends up artificially boosting inane posts no one would otherwise care about. Musk also wants a $1/year subscription to tweet, and claims paid subscriptions are how to prevent spam and bots but there are countless current examples of Verified accounts spamming everyone with t-shirt advertisements or hawking crypto scams.

We don't have exact numbers about "engagement" but as far as I can tell Twitter remains the haven for the journalistic class, despite their grumblings and promises to evacuate to bluesky/threads/mastodon.

I still believe that Musk is an extremely competent leader for engineering projects. His biographies paint him as someone able to wrest impossible results through what appears to be sheer will and stubbornness. His personality does not seem like a good fit for a social media company that has to wrangle conflicting directives from users, advertisers, and governments. It's difficult for me to imagine Twitter entering a new golden age under his watch, so I predict he'll either quit or significantly step back from his responsibilities. I can't imagine how a user paywall would stop the money hemorrhage, and I haven't seen any encouraging signs from him about a commitment to free speech (except Community Notes, which remains the GOAT).

Of course, I'll still use it.