That’s to not say that Twitter doesn’t matter in any respect. Precise individuals are on Twitter, in any case — legislators, journalists, celebrities, school professors — and they’re typically talking about real things, reacting to police brutality, the warfare in Ukraine, inflation, the Jan. 6 rebellion. We’re speaking to 1 one other in addition to witnessing conversations amongst highly effective folks — and even entering into these conversations ourselves. It may be fascinating. As Nate Silver, the FiveThirtyEight founder and author, put it (on Twitter, naturally), “The elite-to-elite interactions are what make Twitter distinctive.”
And that’s truly simply my level: The “elite-to-elite” interactions held on Twitter may be edifying and galvanizing, and may spur folks to actual motion, however on-line politics works when it’s tied to offline efforts — getting obsessive about Twitter itself is simply getting in your individual manner.
Twitter can also distort political actuality. In case you spend a whole lot of time there, you’re most definitely seeing different individuals who tweet quite a bit, a gaggle that doesn’t characterize actual life. So that you would possibly vastly overestimate the quantity of people that assist, say, packing the Supreme Court and underestimate the number of people who don’t vote at all. (I’ve by no means, for instance, met a “tankie” in actual life, however they yell at me on Twitter pretty typically.) Twitter customers also may be extra detrimental than the overall inhabitants, and negativity spreads faster on the platform than positivity. American Twitter customers are additionally prone to be Democrats, and people Democrats are more liberal than non-Twitter-using Democrats at that.
And typically Twitter lends itself to the unlucky Extraordinarily On-line angle, which I defined a few years ago as being deeply enmeshed in web tradition and believing that occasions in that milieu — like trending subjects on Twitter and viral Fb posts — matter within the offline world, too. Donald Trump’s win in 2016 wasn’t resulting from his Twitter account, however as I’ve argued before, a part of what I believe contributed to his loss in 2020 was his obsessive concentrate on Extraordinarily On-line topics (Russiagate! Part 230!) that most definitely had little to do with what folks predisposed to vote for him cared about (the economy, crime, et cetera).
Elon Musk is Extraordinarily On-line, too — as evidenced by his untethered Twitter behavior, randomly insulting senators and saying he’ll put cocaine back in Coca-Cola — however he’s additionally an individual whose work issues offline. His corporations Tesla and SpaceX are prone to have much more impression on how on a regular basis folks reside their lives than Twitter ever will. It may final for one more 10 years or may simply go the way in which of MySpace (keep in mind MySpace?). And as for his concepts for the place to take Twitter, Musk sounds, to me, like a really rich one who is unsuitable about what free speech means in the context of a private platform, however, hey, he’s received company on that front.
I believe that the response to Musk’s deal to purchase Twitter is probably extra telling. In case you suppose his buy is a harbinger of doom or a sign to start a truth and reconciliation commission about so-called previous manipulation on the location, possibly that’s not likely about Elon Musk. Possibly it’s extra about you.