Is there any future for academic Twitter?

Elon Musk’s heavily financialised takeover of Twitter put $13bn of debt on the company’s books which it costs $1bn per year to service. He did this while advertising spending was shrinking and the macro-economic climate was mutating into one utterly hostile to big tech. I struggle to see how this platform survives. They’ve throttled engagement rates for vast majority of users at precisely moment when large number of them were already questioning their relationship to the site. Trust and security issues will spiral as staffing cuts bite. I’m certain it’s heading towards MySpace-esque irrelevance but I think it’s possible ending could be more dramatic than that. The outsize political influence which Twitter still possesses makes it an incredible target and Musk is systematically stripping away all the safeguards. It’s grimly fascinating spectacle. But it’s going to end in tears & we’ll look nostalgically on early 2010s Twitter as golden age of social media. But this man will have burnt $50 bn in one of the most spectacular implosions in capitalism’s history. Which is pretty hilarious.

Telling academics to join Twitter under these conditions is spectacularly bad advice. Join LinkedIn, write for multiauthor blogs, start a podcast, get involved in Slacks/Discords if they exist in your area. But for gods sake don’t join Twitter if you’re not already invested in it. In spite of all this I still find the Tweet a peculiarly generative unit of communication. Possibly through simple habituation but the 280 character restriction helps me condense otherwise diffuse ideas in an extremely satisfying and immediate way. I will miss it when it is gone. But it should be clear by now academic Mastodon won’t be a direct substitute for academic Twitter. The underlying principles are so different that it can’t serve the purposes Twitter has served within higher education. The problem is those purposes rather than Mastodon itself. If academics continue to see social media in terms of engagement and self-amplification as we move into a multiplatform post-Twitter landscape then we’re going to see a lot of people wasting a lot of their time with almost nothing to show for it.

The underlying proposition of social media was that self-amplification was democratic phenomenon enabling everyone to have a voice beyond gatekeepers. It was never entirely true but now capacity for self-amplification is being stripped back unless you pay a monthly subscription. Why do we want to self-amplify as academics? Two obvious answers (1) public engagement (2) being read/cited. The first is a specialised pursuit, second locks us in an attentional darwinianism which hurts all of us. Let the ethos of academic Twitter die with Twitter 😊

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