Elegy For a Hellsite

Due to a particularly egomaniacal billionaire’s purchase of the website, Twitter is all but literally on fire. Staff are fleeing the ship quicker than rats on a sinking ship and it’s anyone’s guess whether the website’s future can be measured in weeks or days. Either way, it’s more than likely the website as we know it is on its last legs.

And it’s a damn shame.

Look, Twitter is a hellsite in a sea of hellsites, what with its finicky content moderation and tendency to not ban Nazis without significant pressure. It’s far, far from a perfect site. But I love it all the same. Over my fourteen years on it, I’ve cultivated a small, but really interesting, feed that suits me just fine. It’s a mix of writers, musicians, and activists — people whose work I admire in one way or another. And some friends too; it is a social network, after all.

Part of what’s made Twitter so magical is the accessibility it offers to certain spheres. I’ve been following Bree Newsome since she took down the Confederate flag that flew over South Carolina’s State House and I’ve learnt so much from her insights on race and casteism in America. Jenn Fang of Reappropriate has been instrumental in deepening my understanding of the Asian American experience. I got to ask one of my favorite authors how to pronounce a word in his made-up fantasy language. The women behind the reinvention of Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel liked a photo of me and a friend dressing up as their characters. Twitter has been a fantastic sphere for me, a place of learning, interaction, and, yes, a lot of stupid, funny tweets.

Twitter’s death knell, however, is a marker of the ever-shrinking internet. There was a time when I could fragment myself across the internet. Facebook was a public-facing-but-still-people-I-knew space, one where I’d share photos and life updates with friends and family I’d met over the years. Instagram was where I saw the cool photos friends took and shared my own latent photographic interests, brands and celebrities need not apply. Snapchat a place for sending dumb stuff to college friends. MSN Messenger was where I chatted with some friends, and Skype with others. The forum I haunted was for that part of me. LinkedIn was… well, whatever LinkedIn is. And Twitter a place for random thoughts and following the world. 

But the internet’s been getting smaller. For this, perhaps, there’s no better example than Facebook and, later on, Instagram. Facebook used to be a social network, a place to keep in touch with friends online that was more convenient than email and more user-friendly than MySpace. Everyone flocked there because, well, it was easy to use and a great way to keep up with friends. It introduced Messenger and, in the process, killed every instant messaging client out there — why use MSN when everyone was on Facebook anyway? Forums died because it was easier to join a group on Facebook than sign up for another website. Facebook absorbed so many ways of online communication, offering a centralized hub for everything. But then the website tanked its own functionality, devolving into a cesspool of privacy violations and misinformation. People left alongside Facebook’s ability to foster actual connections with your real-life friends. Facebook, at least mine, is just a feed of clickbait articles and ads the Almighty Algorithm tries to foist on me. Of course, in the process, those other forms of communication died out and forums and MSN are shadows. 

Instagram was the photo app, but then it tried to compete with Snapchat and introduced its stories, making Snapchat almost redundant. Now it’s chasing the TikTok high and replacing your feed of friend’s photos with the all-encompassing Algorithm. I can’t scroll three photos before I see something Instagram thinks I’d like to see when, really, I just wanna see those cool photos from the costume party my friend threw. The app’s mission feels amorphous and, in the process, I’ve found that I care less for it. But, frustratingly, it’s the app where some of my friends are and, with Facebook gone, now the best way to keep in touch. It’s not the app I signed up for.

Twitter, of all places, is the hellsite that’s most stayed true to its origin. Sure, doubling the lengths of tweets still feels wrong, but fundamentally it’s been a microblogging website that somehow manages to foster discussion as well as it does memes. Again, maybe this is because I’ve spent so long curating my own experience (spend a month blocking accounts that sponsor tweets and there are a lot less ads; throw in making sure your settings only show tweets from people you follow and you’re set), but that it’s even possible to curate what you see the modern, algorithms-fueled internet feels rebellious. So of course the last vestige of the promise of Web 2.0 is going to be driven into the ground by a rich asshat who envisions himself a messiah of free speech.

Maybe I’m crying wolf here and somehow Twitter rights itself and carries on. More likely this is a missive from the eleventh hour of a website on the verge of descending into even more poorly thought-out policies and paywalling. Consider this a preemptive morning of a website that had a, well, maybe not a good run, but certainly a run. It’s a mess, a hellsite that belongs up there with the rest of them, but it’s also one that’s somehow managed to stay true to itself even as it implodes, replete with dumbass memes and political activism juxtaposed in a microcosm of a fractured psyche that laughs so as not to cry at the horror of it all.

I don’t think I’ll find a website to replace Twitter, but I will miss it when it’s gone.

And be so mad that a guy with too much money decided to burn 44 billion dollars on this website rather than try and fix the world.

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