The Twitter Files Are Dead
Musk killed the one good thing he's ever done, out of pettiness
Well, that was quick. After I talked about the spat between Substack and Twitter and its possibly fatal outcome for the Twitter Files reporting yesterday, I woke up this morning to Matt Taibbi chiming in from his holiday retreat on Hawaii.
It seems that Musk has indeed killed the Twitter Files, the only good he’s ever done for the public — as far as I’m concerned — over Substack launching a social networking feature that, in all likelihood, will never take off1. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Musk (temporarily) deleted Taibbi’s Twitter Files threads off his platform — in effect censoring the reporting he kicked off in the first place and has staunchly insisted to be posted on his platform first.
This is a shame and a huge loss for the public. Taibbi seems to be of the same opinion. And I can’t say I can blame him for taking a stance in the way he did. The reasoning for his decision to stick with Substack instead of moving his reporting to Twitter is sound.
I thought about asking him if he was okay — Substack is like a thousand times smaller than Twitter — but figured that wouldn’t go over well and tried a Socratic approach. What would he would have me do, if I couldn’t share links and market my work? The answer: post articles to Twitter instead, enabling a subscription plan. I would get more subscribers that way, I was told. This idea had come up about a month before and I’d cheerfully declined, telling them I was happy where I was. I didn’t think that had been a serious request, but now realized it might have been and tried to focus on the next line of text. Skipping over the part where it’s weird and inappropriate to expect someone to leave a job, I moved to a more bottom-line observation, namely that if I moved, “people would say I’m essentially an employee of Twitter and both of us would never hear the end of it.”
Then and now, I was genuinely trying to protect Elon from his own ideas. He didn’t see it that way and said that was goodbye. Through a fatalistic laugh I asked if this was because I wouldn’t leave Substack, to which he reiterated it was because I’d chosen to “support a company that wants to kill Twitter.”
Taibbi’s decision to choose Substack over Musk’s Twitter seems to have been born out immediately by what happened next.
During this time I was also performatively unfollowed (what grade are we in?), and had my Signal exchanges posted. All this, apparently, because Elon somehow came to believe I was scheming to set aside work on the Twitter Files to pursue my real goal, i.e. helping “kill Twitter” by working with a company a tiny fraction of its size to build a social media app I’d never heard of. I’ve done a lot of drugs and can’t remember ever reaching that level of paranoia.
There are obviously some things I don’t agree with when it comes to Taibbi’s worldview or his reporting. But there’s one reason above all why I’ve always respected the man: he’s simply a good journalist. And he sticks to his guns. He knows that the story is more important than himself, Elon Musk or any media outlet or social media company.
So no one who’s interested in continued releases of #TwitterFiles reports doubts it, I would have crawled across broken glass, eaten maggots by the bucket, anything — you can choose your own self-abasing image — to be able to keep doing Files searches. No offense to Substack, but the idea that I would walk away from a story like that to be involved in some peripheral way with building a new social media startup is, to put it gently, bonkers.
As for Twitter Files reports, Elon apparently announced in a Spaces that these are “done, there’s not much left really… we need to move on.” That may be true as far as he’s concerned, but we still have a lot of material, and more reports are coming. Holding up my end of the deal, these will appear on Twitter first. They just won’t be on my account, since I wouldn’t wipe my ass with Twitter after the events of last week.
I honestly believe The Twitter Files are the most important reporting in the IT world since the Snowden revelations. Which is why I have been spending so much time writing about it here and talking about it on my podcast2 even when nobody wanted to pay me to write about it. Because I think the story is important. That is also why it makes me very sad that this important public service ends, because Musk, once again, had a stupid idea.
Taibbi’s post on the whole debacle closes with the following observation:
It’s not personal. I just can’t drive traffic for any site that’s censored me. These companies depend on our content to make money, and for years we’ve been rewarding all their dicking around with engagement and reality by handing them more eyeballs to sell. Frankly if all accounts walked away in these situations, the platforms would have to cut this nonsense out pretty quickly.
I think he’s right. As I’ve written about only yesterday, I also feel I need to stop posting on Twitter. And I have a renewed conviction to somehow make this change now, after what just happened to Taibbi. It’s hard, though. I need people to find and read my writing. Otherwise there is no point to me working at all.
If you like what I am doing here, you can help spread the word and, in the process, help me moving away from Twitter. Maybe to Substack Notes, maybe to the Fediverse. Let’s do this together!
Postscript: It seems that while Twitter has backpaddled on obviously disabling Substack links on its platform, it is now visibility filtering them. I personally didn’t notice because Musk obviously hasn’t lifted the shadowbanning settings on my own account, but big Substackers with a large Twitter following are figuring it out. It’s all over Notes at the moment:
I might write more on this in the future. I like the idea of Substack Notes in general, but I don’t think the public at large is looking for an alternative to Twitter. Young people are moving to faster, more visual social sites and everyone else is either staying on Twitter or quitting social networks altogether. The fact that you have to subscribe to someone’s Substack publication to follow them on Notes doesn’t help matters, either.
A new episode on this subject will be released later today, in fact.