After a summer of legal feints and called bluffs, Elon Musk officially completed his purchase of Twitter on Thursday. The company has rarely been profitable throughout its 16-year existence, so when Musk came in over the top with a ridiculously overstuffed $44 billion offer earlier this year, investors threw caution to the wind and happily careened toward the unknown. It worked out for them, eventually, but not before Musk took them for a ride all summer as he tried to escape the deal. Good for them. As for the rest of us, you can understand some of the panic: Musk has spent the last few years burnishing his reputation as a slippery huckster with a vengeful ego; perhaps you remember his rebuffed attempts to send a useless experimental submarine to a trapped Thai boys soccer team, or that sexual harassment payoff, or his newfound allegiance to the GOP. Handing someone with that pedigree one of the most influential social media platforms in the world has been, to put it lightly, a cause for concern. Over and over, Musk centered his bid for the company as a move to protect “free speech,” which in the parlance of the internet right means, simply, “our speech.”
The early returns are already foreboding. As he closed the takeover Thursday night , Musk fired much of the company’s established leadership, which was predictable and in line with his stated stewardship principles: the teardown of Twitter’s content moderation (he did reassure advertisers that the site “cannot become a free-for-all hellscape”), and yes, the reinstatement of Donald Trump (though it seems that won’t be in the cards just yet). We’re in the end game now, baby. All gas, no brakes. Some of the most prolific and popular right-wing posters on the internet are celebrating Musk’s ascension as a long-awaited victory. At last, they have a guy in the chair who will finally repeal all of that so-called liberal censorship (read: the permabans handed out to various influential white nationalists), which, according to guys like Tucker Carlson and Glenn Greenwald, has desecrated the sanctity of cyberspace. High-profile #Resistance posters, on the other hand, are gearing up for the fight of their life. To them, the Twitter that they know and love—this oppressive economy of arguments, invective, and nuclear takes that seems to leave everyone elementally dissatisfied after more than five minutes of exposure—is worth dying for. The way they’re talking, you’d think Thanos had just landed on Earth.
And so on, and so forth. Look, I think most people outside of the Joe Rogan electorate aren’t happy that Musk has wrested control of Twitter. It is generally discouraging to consider how so many prominent social media companies now possess a distinct MAGA verve; Ben Shapiro operates one of the most popular pages on Facebook, YouTube has long played host to a variety of xenophobic content creators, and we have plenty of evidence about how platformed hate can ruin the lives of ordinary people. Elon Musk might not be a full-blooded MAGA creation, but he is representative of a certain type of grumpy, increasingly reactionary Silicon Valley curmudgeon, and if he wants, he can now serve as judge, jury, and executioner of everything that passes through the Trending page. That said, I do encourage my fellow concerned citizens to consider the implications of what they’re saying, as they eagerly sign up for an apocalyptic culture war for the purity of Twitter. Yes, you could flex your insubordination by (I guess?) continuing to tweet, indefinitely, in the exact same way we have been for the previous decade. Or you could recognize a much more sensible truth. Twitter is fundamentally transient and low-value. You can leave the platform, at any time, with your life completely unafflicted. There is no bravery in sticking around; that persistence won’t add anything in the aggregate. In fact, most people wouldn’t even notice you were gone.
This truth has become elusive since 2016, when everything in the American purview—from football teams to internet forums—became refracted by an intense partisan light. Donald Trump used Twitter as the pulpit for his presidential term, spawning a whole legion of liberal movers-and-shakers who aimed to counter his malapropisms with charged, clout-thirsty tirades of their own. (Remember Eric Garland? Man.) Suddenly, tweeting was no longer a venue for dumb jokes or restaurant recommendations; no, it had become activism. This, I think, was the moment that snapped the tripwire of our reality. Yes, social media has been a vector of some genuinely positive social change, particularly for disenfranchised populations. (Think about how Black Lives Matter found real, seismic power in the summer of 2020.) But by and large, there is no code of honor in posting on the internet, but we somehow managed to elevate Twitter into a keening fixture of our political environment—something that is debated in Congress and scrutinized by regulators, something that people are willing to go to the mat to save from the clutches of Elon Musk.
So let me remind you of a few key points that have been lost in the shuffle. Twitter is a private company that provides a consumer service. If that service becomes dysfunctional or mangled under new ownership, you—yes, you—wield the market power to take your business elsewhere. Regardless of the way the polarities of the platform might entrench you on one side or the other, you do not owe Twitter anything. (Thank God for that!) Another key point: If you are a veteran of the internet, you have likely been putting your thoughts on an untold number of websites over the years. Myspace, Friendster, the replies of long-deleted forum threads, the comments of defunct Tumblrs; they each bloomed and died like clockwork, because the internet is founded on atrophy. If there is to be a mass exodus from Twitter as the site falls into Muskified disrepair, then that will be a tale as old as time, or at least IRC chats. Fear not. Somewhere out there, mired in the void of cyberspace, you will find a place to post again. Whatever pleasures you got from Twitter will not be lost forever.
So please, set aside the calls to action; steel yourself from the desire to screenshot a treacly Notes App missive about your decision to post against the grain. You don’t need to fight anymore. Honestly, you never did. If there is ever a time to recognize that Twitter, at its core, is nothing more than a technology asset bandied about by hyper-oligarchs who have no sensitivity for all the misguided emotional stakes we’ve poured into the website over the years, then surely, a $44 billion price tag from Elon Musk is our moment of clarity. Nothing we tweeted ever mattered that much. That isn’t a tragedy; it’s a relief.