Twitter and the End of the Social Internet

The next step for the internet is away from personal connectivity

Colin Horgan


image via Wikimedia Commons

“The end of twitter is taking forever did tolkien write this,” Twitter user @PleaseBeGneiss (its avatar an illustrated rock) posted Tuesday. The joke garnered around 90,000 likes. (In a follow-up the account’s owner tweeted “a ton of people saying it’s actually george rr martin but have you considered i didn’t think of that”.) Indeed, the death of Twitter — heralded and expected from the moment Elon Musk walked into its headquarters in San Francisco carrying a sink (ie. let that sink in) — hasn’t happened. Though things like two-factor identification seem broken and parts of the site itself are now a bit janky, overall, service has continued normally. For all the weird decisions Musk has made since taking over, including significant layoffs to critical staffing areas, Twitter lives on.

But, Twitter should die. If for no other reason than that it represents an outdated, flawed version of the internet — one that we need to move beyond, even if we’re not sure where to go next.

The promise of the social internet, or Web 2.0, was simple: connection. This was what the platforms said they’d do for us. And the possibilities created by connection were seemingly as endless as the relationships we could form either online or that were somehow mediated by the internet. This was as true for Facebook and Twitter as it was for YouTube and Uber. The new era of connectivity heralded a whole new kind of society — one that, in the most utopian projections would bring about a more democratic, egalitarian, agile, and innovative world.

But then we all met each other and something strange happened to everyone: we all became assholes. Driven by algorithmic design and biases, motivated by reactionary ideas, spurred by engagement and audience reach, we got caught in a lie. The tech wizards and visionaries told us that it was through their platforms that we would enter humanity’s new golden temple, but in reality what they’d built was just another shopping mall. Once we got inside it we transformed into hyperreal, hyperactive versions of an angry shopper. Overwhelmed by a constant barrage of advertising, grifting, and stale music, we started to turn on one another, fighting over the most…