Over the last couple of months, Freedom News decided to start cutting down involvement with Twitter/X, which has until now been our biggest social media account, while opening a number of speculative alternatives on other social media platforms, including Bluesky, Instagram, Threads, Telegram, Whatsapp and TikTok. It’s not big news; however, it’s worth a bit of explanation as to why we a) didn’t do so earlier and b) are doing so now.
Our approach to social media hasn’t been terribly doctrinaire (or planned out, for that matter) over the last decade. Beyond the old bird site, we engaged with Facebook (News | Bookshop | Group) for many years, dipped a toe with YouTube, that sort of thing. All these are companies with decidedly shady records both as employers (1 | 2) and as actors on the world stage. Facebook, in particular, has had a number of pretty nasty scandals, most infamously Cambridge Analytica, but also in its quieter acceptance of far-right and conspiratorial content while stifling the reach of the political left and, on occasion, outright censoring of anarchists.
Our general take on these latter activities has been that efforts to dissuade us are (correctly) indicative that we’ve had more to gain from posting on mainstream social media than they’ve gotten from our presence – the same logic has seen left groups all over the world do similar, often at the expense of having sites of their own or helping to support alternative open media.
Socials are only really concerned with consumption, which anarchists are historically critical of, making our input superfluous, if not actively injurious, to their aims. Mark Zuckerberg has made his hostility to any kind of on-site politics known on the grounds that while it may draw some people in, it also causes headaches (though, in practice, far-right politics do remain pervasive). As such, while we strongly support radical alternatives such as the Fediverse (we have a prominent presence on Kolektiva), we also keep a toehold at commercial sites where more non-anarchists can be found. Where we did draw a line in the sand, it has been primarily pragmatic, where potential audiences are likely to be or are outright hostile to our aims. Parler, Gab, Truth – there’s little point in making an effort to push at a closed door.
Which brings us to “X” 2023, under Elon Musk.
To be clear, Twitter always had a reputation as a garbage fire. Even before Musk took over, it had gone from the glory days of being used as a first draft of history in the Arab Spring to a site primarily known for its online bullying, permanent state of moral panic and failure to implement clear content moderation policies. But it did remain a place where politics was played out in real time, and revelled in its position as the “town square of the internet,” a space where even anarchists could get a word in edgeways, on occasion.
Musk’s tenure has largely torn down those benefits. From the start, he made it clear what side he was on – and it wasn’t free speech. He booted accounts in the US on the advice of far-right pretend journalist Andy Ngo. He grovelled to the famously open-minded Saudi princes for money to buy it. He silenced critics of Turkish autocrat Erdogan. And he promoted the views of increasingly fringe, unpleasant reactionary figures before his recent forays into supporting outright anti-Semitic content. Prior to that, it had been a smorgasbord of hard-right talking points and “anti-woke” waffling, from the free-speech move of banning the word “cis” to throwing his weight behind swivel-eyed frothers Tucker Carlson and Ron DeSantis.
Musk is, obviously, no outlier in the world of tech-bros. His behaviour is more outlandish than that of Zuckerberg, Gates or Larry Page of “don’t be evil” fame (maybe on a par with Jeff “cringe narcissist” Bezos), but it’s of an order. And they collectively own the bedrock of the internet. It is extremely difficult to avoid putting money in these scumbags’ pockets one way or another, a factor Yanis Varoufakis has gone a bit overboard in describing (catchily) as “techno-feudalism.” Unless you are technically minded enough to set up and run complex, user-unfriendly systems yourself, and most of us aren’t, they force engagement.
But in this case, Musk has shot his own company’s role in the foot. His fall into a far-right conspiracy rabbit hole has increasingly combined with his decision to do away with the equality of voice that Twitter had previously maintained, instead encouraging people to “pay for play” by buying a checkmark that pushes their posts to the front of the queue. Only those who have no other option or who feel comfortable handing him this direct bribe are now able to have their say unimpeded. And given his overt courting of fascists, alongside his hostility to anything left, this has driven a lopsided takeup, with a slurry of hard-right checkmark brigading the top of every viral political post.
The door is now, in effect, closed at “X”. For our purposes, it offers little to no engagement most of the time, drives minimal traffic (approx 4% of our monthly views, down from 7% last year), and this trend looks likely to continue downwards. The decision is essentially being made for us, as thanks to Musk’s efforts, regardless of political leans, our time can simply be better spent elsewhere.
So, with no moral or practical imperative to stay, we’re out, and that’s why. But there’s still plenty of places to follow us, from all the links above to our irregular newsletter, which we highly recommend if you don’t want to miss the releases of our journals, books and Freedom life updates. We’ll keep the X account up for the sake of posterity (it’s costing Musk rather than us, after all) and may come back very occasionally just to avoid deletion or if we feel it’s worthwhile, but we won’t be doing regular updates or engagement – so you may have to use old-fashioned emails if you want to get hold of us from now on.
Cheerio Twitter, it was … all a bit rubbish tbh.
Pic by str00p/CC