I’ve been on Twitter since 2009, and I’ve been a Twitter shareholder since 2012. Back in 2011, I wrote a column on OutKick about Twitter being the future of media. I’d encourage you to go read it to look back over ten years ago on the Internet to what I thought Twitter could be.
Here’s what I wrote to begin that 2011 column.
“Every morning starts the same way for me, I roll over and check Twitter on my iPhone.
I check Twitter before I check my email, my text messages, or even get out of bed. My wife has even threatened to start her own Twitter account to remind me to take out the trash. I read all the news from the 170 or so people I follow and then I read every single thing y’all send my way. (Every morning for 786 consecutive days an Alabama fan has accused me of being gay).
Put simply, I’m addicted to Twitter.
If I could only consume one media product, Twitter would be my pick. Over any newspaper, over any single television station, over any book, magazine, website, radio station, or other media product you can name.
Basically, if I was stranded on a desert island and had a solar powered Twitter feed with working Internet service for that feed, I don’t think I’d be that lonely.”
Much of that column has been proven correct — especially my argument that Twitter empowers the individual content creator over the larger media entity, the name on the back of the jersey over the name on the front of the jersey — but I no longer read most of the mentions that come my way.
There are just too many mentions and most of them, fairly rapidly, devolve into arguments among Twitter users. I use Twitter more to share my opinions and content and then let others debate them. I wish there was a way to filter high quality mentions, but so far that doesn’t exist. (See below).
Eleven years after I wrote the above column, I still typically start my day on my phone, but by clicking through to see what’s trending both on the curated feed Twitter has for me and by seeing what’s trending in general on the site, scanning the verified tab to see what verified users, yes, the Twitter blue checks, might have commented to me, and then I move on fairly rapidly to email and text messages.
During the 13 years I’ve been on Twitter, I’ve sent over 100,000 Tweets on pretty much every topic under the sun. I’ve used Twitter to supplement my radio and TV careers, I used Twitter’s now shut down video component, Periscope, probably more than almost anyone in America, and truth be told, I’ve probably used Twitter products too often when I should have spent more time on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, three different platforms that completely dominate Twitter in terms of audience reach. But what Twitter has never had in terms of audience, it’s had in terms of influence. In a world that just keeps getting faster paced, Twitter allows a rapid distillation of the cultural moment. What’s said on Twitter, in general, matters far more to the media than what’s said on other sites.
At its best — reacting to live events — Twitter can provide a great deal of fun and information. A huge number of my Tweets over the past decade, for instance, are reacting to live sports and that’s what initially drew me to the site, this spontaneous and fun loving sports bar culture. Twitter can, in these shared moments, be a great deal of fun, but at its worst — and Twitter is often at its worst — the site is essentially the worst parts of the modern day Democratic Party on steroids — an obsessive focus on identity politics and cancel culture that makes discussion and debate virtually impossible.
I don’t know exactly when the overriding theme of Twitter switched from let’s have fun to let’s make sure that someone loses their job over a Tweet, but I think it’s impossible to argue that hasn’t occurred. I understand that people use Twitter for a variety of reasons, but when I click the trending topics section now and see someone’s name, I often assume they’re trending for one of two reasons: a. something awful happened to them, if they’re old, I think they may have died or b. they’re trending because they said something “controversial” either in the present day or at some point in their life and people are trying to cancel them.
It’s this censorious mob culture, which recent leaders of Twitter have emboldened, that now, more than ever, characterizes daily life on Twitter. As someone who has trended many times, I can assure you that the first few times you trend on Twitter for something “controversial” you’ve said or done, it feels like the whole world has suddenly descended to your doorstep. But I’m also here to tell you that it’s relatively short lasting and within a day or so you emerge on the other side of the trending episode and find out not much has changed.
Sometimes people ask me how I’ve gotten to the place where I can go on radio, TV, and social media and say exactly what I think every day. And I think the easiest answer to that question is I’ve been through the Twitter mob’s cancel fire so many time I barely feel the flames now. Sure, it gets hot and fiery for 24 hours, but then it ends. And someone else is getting fried the next day. That’s why I’ve been arguing for years that companies and individuals should mostly do nothing when they trend. Just continue with your normal life, wait 24 hours, and it’s pretty much over.
One of the great flaws of Twitter is treating it as if if it’s the real world rather than a carnival funhouse mirror version of the real world. By reacting far too much to whatever the passions of the moment are, you generally make things worse instead of better. That reaction, rather than calming the fire, adds jet fuel to it. If you just own what you say and keep moving right along, the mob has no idea how to respond. They’re so used to people begging for forgiveness that they don’t have any idea how to respond to people who mean what they say, don’t apologize, and own it.
Eventually, they stop coming for you because they realize their tactics don’t work on you.
At least that’s been my experience over the past decade.
And in the process, what I’ve found at least, is that every time you stare down the online cancel culture mob, you gain more fans — the cancel culture lot is a small, but loud minority — making you even more impervious to attack.
Put simply, if you don’t like my opinion on something, why should I care what you think? I’m not saying this to be callous or rude, but I care about the opinions of my wife and kids. I live with them. I also care what my friends and co-workers think, the people who know me well. But that’s what, like 150 people at most? Why should I care what anyone else thinks about my own opinion?
I think one of my Twitter superpowers, to the extent I have any, is I just genuinely don’t care what people I don’t know think about me. Some of those people are going to like my opinions, some aren’t, but why should it impact my day? Love me, hate me, all of it’s just noise that doesn’t impact me much. I’m going to keep doing and saying exactly what I think.
So that’s my advice for individual users too.
Now that Elon Musk has officially purchased Twitter, a moment that I’m hopeful can be the most important moment in the 21st century for free speech, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what the future of Twitter should be.
Here were some of my thoughts yesterday on OutKick the Show:
Elon Musk Buys Twitter, what does this mean? Dive in now: https://t.co/Y4LxZTeYgO
And here were some of my thoughts last night on Fox News:
Already you are seeing left wing panic over Musk’s purchase of Twitter, which is fascinating because all Elon Musk has promised to do is allow more free speech on the site. This led one MSNBC guest to worry that Musk might rig the conversation in favor of his own political beliefs. These statements led virtually any Republican or conservative to simply laugh. This has been going on for years now, and it’s as if left wingers are suddenly realizing their ideas and accounts being favored might be ending.
MSNBC “talent” suddenly realizes the owners of Twitter can rig the entire site. This is amazing to watch. Does he not realize all of this was already done to Republicans? pic.twitter.com/Gmc0nVx2jF
Elon Musk doesn’t need my advice, he’s already proven he can send rockets to space better than NASA and reinvented the car engine. That’s why I’m amused by people who think Twitter is too much of a challenge for Musk. He’s become the wealthiest — and most powerful — man in the world by solving problems others weren’t even willing to attempt.
And you think he can’t make Twitter better.
I just wish Elon had been born here so he could run for president one day. But in the meantime, here are ten changes I would suggest to make Twitter better:
1. Ban almost no public figures from the site.
If someone is Twitter verified, it should be virtually impossible to ban them.
This would immediately curtail a large degree of the censorious culture of Twitter. There’s a desperate hope that if people, mostly the left wing, but occasionally the right wing too, attack someone for what they Tweet that eventually it could lead to their banning.
If you end that banning incentive by effectively making banning someone nearly impossible, it would change the conversation immediately.
If you must ban someone, then take it out of Twitter’s control and institute a Twitter Supreme Court. Pick members from a wide variety of political backgrounds and set clearly defined precedents for when someone is banned, requiring every single member to unanimously agree to ban someone based on violating these strict standards. Again, my preference would be to almost never ban a public figure — anonymous accounts should be held to different standards — but if there are going to be bannings, they should be publicly decided by the unanimous accord of a Twitter Supreme Court.
As a First Amendment absolutist, I’d be happy to serve, for free, on a court like this. I’m sure many other people of a variety of perspectives would as well.
2. Allow the people Twitter banned to return to the site, yes, including Donald Trump.
When the Taliban and the Ayatollah of Iran have Twitter accounts, it’s beyond absurd that Trump, who will likely run for president in 2024, isn’t allowed on the site.
Now Trump may well decline to return — my bet is he would because he’s agreed to only use Truth Social based on his equity stake there — but ending the precedent of banning world leaders is important. We should want world leaders to engage on public platforms as much as they see fit. If they make false statements, guess what, there’s an entire industry of people ready to call them out. The anti-Trump media industry was so strong, in fact, that as soon as he left office, many of their business models collapsed.
Look at CNN. Trump losing was the worst thing possible that could have ever happened to their business.
My point is the best way to cure speech you dislike is with more speech, not with less.
That’s true with Donald Trump, but it’s especially true with satire sites like the Babylon Bee and with reporters like Alex Berenson. Neither should have been banned or shut down in the least. Allow everyone who has been banned by Twitter to return.
3. Never ban the sharing of a story from a verified Twitter account.
The single most destructive decision in Twitter history, I truly believe, came when the site locked the New York Post’s Hunter Biden story in October of 2020.
Musk should acknowledge Twitter erred in that situation and pledge to never allow this to happen again.
And then he should stand by it.
If a verified site shares a story, that story should be allowed to spread as widely as the interest in that story reflects.
4. Publicize the shadowbans, favorings, and clearly artificial boosts that Twitter has been providing to certain accounts.
Make it all public so everyone can see it.
Publicizing Twitter’s algorithm would not only be important for Twitter, it would allow us to (likely) see what’s going on at Facebook and YouTube with their own rigged game.
All algorithms should be public and easily examined by those who wish to do so.
Transparency will strengthen rather than weaken Twitter’s brand.
5. Make the data on trending topics public.
How are these topics curated? Who are the editors who make these decisions? How do they make those choices? Allow us all to see how this works.
Make it public for all to review.
That’s the best way to eliminate bias and implement content neutral policies that favor the marketplace of ideas.
It also will help to ensure that Twitter is a platform, not a publisher.
6. Allow people to prove their true identities and favor people for doing so in terms of the reach of their Tweets.
Some accounts will wish to remain anonymous, that’s fine.
But people who put their own names behind what they say and share should be valued over those who choose not to do so.
This won’t eliminate bots and trolls, but it will help to a great degree.
7. Conflict is good, embrace it.
I’m far more concerned when everyone agrees on something than I am when a ton of people disagree. Fevered debate leads to better public policy decisions, mass agreement leads to bad decisions.
Just look at COVID. Twitter horribly failed when it came to analyzing science in real time. They disallowed discussion that often ended up being true and artificially promoted other “facts” that ended up being untrue.
Twitter should not be the arbiter of truth. Get out of that business. Let people argue, let them debate. If we don’t end up reaching a better outcome as a result, then the entire marketplace of ideas is flawed. Science is messy, so should Twitter’s discussion of that science.
Robust debate is going to make some people uncomfortable. That’s inevitable. But being uncomfortable — or offended — should not be considered a point of honor. It should be considered what it is, a point of weakness.
We have to stop making rules to enable the most easily offended to dictate debate. Twitter has bent too far in favor of the perpetually offended.
Yes, that’s going to be messy, but democracy is messy. It always has been and it always will be. Twitter needs to embrace that debate and that conflict, not run from it in a misguided attempt to avoid offending the easily offended.
8. Don’t label Tweets with Twitter editorial opinions.
If someone shares something that is false, the marketplace of ideas should correct it.
What happens all too often when Twitter gets in the game of judging truth is Twitter gets it wrong. Remember when you weren’t allowed to point out the COVID shot had waning efficacy? Or you weren’t allow to point out that masks in schools had no benefit?
Those were both labeled as “false” or “misleading” by Twitter judges.
There are ample media outlets — and other users — that exist to judge truth and falsehood. Twitter should be a platform, not a publisher when it comes to the sharing of Tweets. Stop judging the truth and falsehood of opinions.
9. Allow verified users to “reward” smart, original, or funny Tweeters.
I said above that I mostly don’t read mentions any more. That’s true. But what I often do is scroll through to read comments underneath particular Tweets I send. (or others send.) When I do that, I typically don’t reply, but I do favorite smart, original, informative or original Tweet responses.
I do this as a way to say thank you to people taking the time to respond in an interesting way.
And to encourage those people to continue to comment in the future. Does that work in terms of increasing the quality of the conversation? I have no idea. But it seems like Twitter should work on a function where praising users like this results in something positive for the users themselves.
10. Give us an edit button.
If you need to limit it to a set length of time and allow notations that edits have occurred, so be it, but it’s long past time for this feature to exist.
There you have it. I’m sure all of you have ideas of your own as well. Many of you may agree, many of you may disagree as well. You can fire away in the comments beneath this Tweet and share your own ideas and thoughts.
The marketplace of ideas, it’s beautiful, embrace it!
In the meantime, I’ve added 10,000 Twitter followers in the 24 hours since Elon Musk bought the company.
Probably a total coincidence.