I think Ben Thompson described an interesting plan for addressing Twitter’s content moderation and financial model on Apr 18 in his article, “Back to the Future of Twitter”. [1] His basic idea is to separate Twitter into a backend service that hosts content and a front end client that provides moderation and algorithmic curation. Twitter would then open the backend up so that anyone can develop their own client by paying for access.

The backend would do the minimal amount of moderation necessary to conform with the law in each jurisdiction and then provide optional services to the clients for more sophisticated moderation and algorithmic filtering and ranking. Twitter would continue to host their existing front end and possibly create more over time.

The idea is that the plethora of clients would allow for experimentation and meeting the diverse user preferences. You could have heavily moderated clients as well as wild west anything goes. While all clients would reference the same social graph and tweets/replies, each client could use whatever methods they want for filtering and ranking.

Some possible clients I’ve considered.

1. A client geared towards journalists and other prominent people that provides them with a layer that filters out harassment. This could include manual curation of their DMs, replies and retweets. The service would also have a team of lawyers for reporting credible threats of violence to law enforcement and sending cease-and-desist letters for proper libel. (Note this works well with Elon’s plan to require human identity verification, even for anonymous accounts.) This service would be expensive and geared towards people that value this layer of protection for professional reasons.

2. A client geared towards techies like myself that want to experiment with their own algorithms. While we’re a niche group, many of us would gladly pay quite a bit of money to support such a nerdy hobby. There’d be sharing and critique of each other's work as we toil to optimize our own Twitter experience. Over time some of the ideas might filter into other mainstream clients.

3. Partisan clients. Fox news could provide a client as could CNN. Even the DNC, RNC, and other parties could provide their preferred view of the social graph. They’d be openly filtering and ranking the social feed in a way that corresponds to the user's political preference.

[1] https://stratechery.com/2022/back-to-the-future-of-twitter/

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There are three possible outcomes

1) Elon makes Twitter better -> a win for society

2) Elon destroys Twitter -> a win for society

3) Elon somehow makes Twitter worse (probably impossible), thus making Twitter users suffer more -> a win for society

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I don't experience Twitter as a hellscape. I block trolls (roughly, anyone whose aim is to cause trouble) immediately, and converse only with people with whom I can engage productively. I mute conversations and people who go on too long. I don't interact racists, but I routinely report them when I happen to run across them. I can't see Musk improving this.

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Twitter, by enabling everyone to hear everyone else, is our Babelfish, which Douglas Adams explained was the cause for more wars than anything else in the universe because of this very quality.

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Oct 31, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

It feels to me like the risk of allowing a bunch of terrible people back on the platform should have been mentioned here?

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Based on what I've seen so far, Elon is committed to making all these problems worse. For example, he wants to make blue checks cost $20/month, heightening their significance as a status marker instead of a scam-prevention tool. And he wants to bring back some very toxic right-wing people who spread hate and misinformation, instead of also banning the hateful leftist accounts (which is what you'd do if you wanted to create a more civil discussion space).

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At one point, I was planning to die without owning a cell phone. That didn't work out.

But, I'm still planning to die without having sent a single tweet. My chances of achieving this goal look better every day.

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I have a theory that Twitter's toxic culture is really just a reflection of US political culture.

I'm a Canadian and spend a lot of time on Canadian political twitter -- and it just seems so much less toxic than US political twitter. From what I've seen, the same is true of political twitter in other countries, as well as the non-political parts of Twitter that I frequent.

But the main scene on Twitter is US politics -- US journalists, politicians, activists, pundits, etc. talking / yelling at each other. And this part of twitter is incredibly toxic *because US political culture is toxic*.

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My theory on this is that Twitter attracted journalists because it is great at disseminating breaking news. A single tweet by a journalist on the ground acts more like a bullhorn given its audience. All those journalists attracted the attention of people in communications, particularly in the world of business and politics. And that cosy elite naturally came to believe that their little society represented society at large. Eventually the day arrived when an even smaller society of trolls, SJWs, and tiny "mobs" realized that they could grab the bullhorn and send the elites running in fear.

It's like when Themistocles claimed that his little boy ruled the world, reasoning that the Athenians ruled the world, he ruled the Athenians, his wife ruled him, and his boy ruled his mother.

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There might also be something to Elon’s desire to crack down on bots. Not just their spam, but how they can like/retweet to boost content.

Who knows how much of Twitter’s viral behavior is being shaped by bad actors using bots to inflate likes and retweets. We already know that Russia has used social media to amplify extreme voices across the US political spectrum, particularly the far right, to heighten social division and animosity. Who knows what they’re currently doing. And there could be numerous other bad actors using bots to manipulate the Twitter experience. A bot crackdown could lead to less bile and vitriol, giving a more pleasant user experience.

Further, this is the type of change that would be difficult, if not impossible, to do as a public corporation. Such a crackdown on bots would significantly decrease Twitter's monthly active users (MAUs), a key metric by which social networks are judged. If a public corporation’s quarterly report announced a massive drop in MAUs then they’d be crucified in the market. This would likely also include a large drop in ad revenue since in pretending to be humans many bots will load the full webpage, including ads.

Yet as a private company Twitter could better weather the storm. There wouldn’t be public investors dumping the stock or demanding a change in management. While ad revenue would initially decrease, marketers would reevaluate the value of an ad impression with the knowledge that fewer ads are being shown to bots. We’d expect their ad analytics to show higher ROI on ad impressions since fewer are wasted on bots that will never buy a product. Over time, marketers would likely be willing to pay more for each impression and revenue would recover.

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"...the inventor of the retweet button."

This account seems a little ahistorical to me. If I recall correctly, the retweet button wasn't invented out of thin air. It evolved from informal use of the "RT: <quote>" convention. People were already used to being able to reply/comment/etc from other medium like reddit/chats/etc so they just wanted to do that on Twitter. Twitter's original concept was kind of to not be that, but the public had other plans. Twitter reader / front-end software was already eliminating need to copy/paste and allowed one to use the retweet link structure to browse through connected tweets. Twitter adding the retweet button was yielding to popular/consumer demand, and we all knew that at the time. After a lot of forgetting, it seems there is this odd new narrative that it was some kind of game-changing yet irresponsible breakthrough (and Noah even knew the guy!). Feels like hubris.

I get that there's some difference between copy/paste vs retweet button, even if you could use a front-end/reader (not everyone will). Still, the reality would be Twitter pushing against the common-sense accommodation of this organic usage of their app. It's not a feature that they just "gave" or can just "take away" the way the blog seems to suggest.

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Noah: How familiar are you with Mastodon? It actually does have T&Cs it sticks to where Twitter doesn't.

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"This includes trolls and sadists, divisive ideological agitators, foreign government operatives, and people with emotional problems who use Twitter battles as a substitute for therapy." this part. I have been talking about this for years. I have found on twitter so many young kids with problems and instead of asking for help in the real world they come to twitter and complain all the time about how the world is unfair, how their life is unfair, how they were X o Y, every single week there's someone who wants to kill himself/herself but never wants to talk or says she/he's going to deactivate for the only reason she/he wants to see if they miss him/her. It's really sad that as society we are seeking for people who we barely know's acceptance.

I tell some friends that they should block and mute the accounts they dont like but instead they reply to them and keep doing it for hours, they get angry and have headaches but they acts as if it's the end of the world if they dont reply back.

One thing I dislike the most about social networks and twitter mainly is the cancel culture, it's like you have bee a better person now than the old you from 10 years ago, people stalk all your tweets to see one simple mistake and cancel you. There's no longer improvement.

I admit, I...myself Im adicted to twitter, I have been for 13 years but I have been here because it's the only place where I can talk to others without worrying about not talking to them for years. I tend to ignore or not miss people in my real life (I have asperger which makes me less interested in meeting my friends in real life) and twitter is the only way for me to not get tired of talking to them or say "wait...going to take a break" but I can fix that .

Sorry if my english is not that well, im a spanish speaker and lately my english has been going downhill

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Sorry Noah, that your timing was so bad -- this came out just as Elon retweeted a disgusting conspiracy theory story about Paul Pelosi, and the guy you praise for bringing reform to Twitter turns out to be a crypto person (not exactly a recommendation, especially if crypto turns out to be a ponzi , as I think it is).

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There's a high probability that Musk makes things far worse. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, so let's look at Musk's past behavior on Twitter:

1.. He promoted medical misinformation about Covid-19.

2. He promoted vaccine disinformation.

3. He libeled a British cave diver who saved 13 kids trapped in a flooded cave by calling that heroic diver a "pedo" repeatedly because the diver correctly pointed out that Musk's suggestion to send a submarine was ludicrous and useless (that cave had passes barely wide enough for a man to squeeze through, zero visibility, strong currents, etc.

4. He helped spread disinformation about the attack on Paul Pelosi that was instantly adopted as cannon by Trump Republicans and Qanon idiots.

Prognosis: Twitter was in poor health before the introduction of this malignancy, and this will cripple it if not kill it.

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I’m pretty much ready to give up on Twitter now. Elon can do what he wants with it. I really like what is going on with Substack. It helps me focus on stuff I really care about because I pay for it. Hopefully, in a couple years the rest of the good columnists I like will have moved over and they will improve the app. I like a Reddit a lot, too, for the same reasons. Regular social media is mostly a bunch of noise. Everyone I know who has given it up is glad they did.

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