Flipping the bird

On the goldfingering of Twitter.

Elmo goldfingering a blue checkmark

Mayhem! Chaos! Trumpalooza Grand Reopening! Advertisers run away screaming! HR by neutron bomb!

The 14th largest social network is up in flames. A super villain (or superhero, depending on your affiliation to a cinematic multiverse) has taken over the Instagram of the political influencers.

Hail St Elon

St. Elmo of the billions: liberating the bird protocol out of it’s self inflicted capital markets misery …

Elon Muk, the morphing Ferengi

… or Elon Muk, the billionaire with the morals of buccaneering Ferengi? Svcary questions.

But actually the man himself already spilled the beans.

Musk on Twitter: How do you make a small fortune in social media?

Start out with a large one.

Think fuck you money on a cosmic scale. Just in case you don’t remember: his current personal wealth pretty much equals the GDP of Hungary.

Should we be concerned? Sure. There’s just a handful of social media platforms out there. On the top you’ll find Meta (Facebook), Meta (Instagram), Meta (Whatsapp), Meta (FB Messenger). Youtube is the only Western outlier, Chinese players fill up the rest of the top 10 (no Twitter here, see above).

No, Twitter isn’t playing in this premier league of MAUs and DAUs. But being the designated playground for many political influencers, activists, journalists and many other players, it’s punching way above its weight.

Removing all existing checks and balances by turning this privately run global town square into the sole fiefdom of a single individual is rightfully scaring many current participants in this ecosystem. Especially with the new owner coming in being somewhat infamous for his rather volatile approach to things.

But, to be fair: the structural problem with social media is not Musk buying Twitter. The structural problem is a setup, which merges technical protocols with their technical platforms. Imagine there would be only one Email service provider on the planet. Or just one global phone company.

Monocultures are inherently dangerous. And definitely not resilient.

After the code review at Twitter HQ

So what’s in the box? Some code review at HQ.

The current hubbub with wacky code reviews and drainings of the engineering pool is just a distraction. Like Meta sinking billions in a wacky resurrection of Second Life (while they firmly control the social graph of billions of people).

The drama unfolding around Twitter is about governance. Who should be able to set and enforce the rules – and based on what or who’s values? Mind you: those social media monoliths are global juggernauts – and are quite resilient.

If you ever questioned what’s more important: the star player or the whole club, the deplatforming of Donald Trump gave a quite decisive answer. The empty husk of the freshly reinstated Twitter-Trump handle (no Trump inside – yet) has already way more followers than all of Truth Social, the real RealDonalTrump’s privately owned platform in total.

If we look around in the tech realm, there’s currently three governance models on the table.

  1. Corporate: Alphabet, Meta set and enforce the rules for their properties. Markets and other stakeholders are the checks and balances.
  2. Regulations: governments set the rules for their jurisdictions. With some luck, they are elected and regulate for the common good.
  3. Open source: stakeholders / the community decide.
Baffled users meet Elon, the wizard of their Oz

Who will be running the show?

Twitter is currently morphing into a solipsistic subset of 1. Corporate. Just without any market checks and balances. No shareholders to appease, no advertisers to fondle.

No wonder some people get scared. But not much to be done here. As long as there’s no viable alternative, those platforms do not simply just go away. Mastodon is out there since quite some time. But not even Trump’s Truth Social had the pull to make this federated network of mom and pop servers fly. Nor will the Twitter-takeover.

So far, so bad. Now let’s have a look at 3. open source governance. I know the timing may be a bit off. But check out how the crypto space is dealing with governance. Don’t forget: public blockchains are open source and open data, just with a built-in financial model.

What you’ll find is a plethora of different approaches. From core dev decides to token-based oligarchies to community based DAOs. It’s a well funded lab with lots of learnings to apply to orgs like Twitter as well.

Will Twitter be tokenized and open sourced? Will Elon paint it red and merge it with Jack’s box? We don’t know. Currently we’re back to square one and have to pray that the new digital overlord adheres to Google’s claim of the nineties: Don’t be evil. Which is anyway the admission that as long as everything takes place in a black box, you have to trust the owner of this box and are at his mercy.

Don't be evil.

Digital Citizenship and Social Network Feudalism

In the real world, we abhor censorship, take many civil rights for granted. But as digital citizens, we happily click ourselves back into the 17th century.

Facebookistan has the 3rd largest population on the globe, just behind China and India. Google+, the new kid on the block, already surpassed Switzerland (big deal), Senegal, and even Australia. Which puts its current rank somewhere between Canada (population of 34.5 million, rank 35) and China (Republic of Taiwan that is, 23.2 millions, rank 50).

Mark Zuckerberg in the 17th century.

Now, those numbers do not make Facebook into a sovereign state, at least not in the traditional sense. Sovereign states are defined by territory. But the Googleplex is not like the Vatican a sovereign enclave in a larger territory. It’s still just a piece of real estate located in the US. And “Business is War” doesn’t mean Google war droids attacking the design soldiers of Jobs.

No land, no armies. The differences between Facebook (more than 10 times the population) and France (real nukes, real food) or Google (credit rating of AA+, just like the US) and Greece (CC, just like me) are obvious.

But so are the similarities. Sovereign nations are defined by their people, otherwise the Antarctica would be a superpower. And it’s we, the digital people, forming those digital Leviathans of the 21st century, which provide us with our digital IDs and currencies. They handle our communications, they might even tax us or control, what’s to be published or not (on their our Kindles and iPads).

350 years ago, Thomas Hobbes’ concluded, that an absolute monarchy be the best way to govern any sovereign. This would be a fringe opinion nowadays, at least in the western part of the real world. Our ancestors fought pretty hard to get us, where we are now: nobody should stay above the law, censorship is bad, sovereignty belongs to the people.

But a look at the digital domain might make Hobbes a happy man. The digital sovereign is not the people, but a corporation.

  • Post your artwork on Facebook, which might offense some bible belters? You’ll get evicted (as it happened to my friend Thomas). Eventually you might be allowed to return (as it happened to my friend Thomas). But no legal recourse here. It’s a little bit like GDR light.
  • Use a pseudonym on Google+? Say good-bye to your Google account.

In a heavily distributed digital universe, this wouldn’t be a big deal at all. Don’t like this bar? There are plenty next door. But Facebook isn’t your neighborhood Hooters, and Larry Page definitely not the soup nazi. There are not even a handful of Digital Sovereigns aspiring to become the operating systems of our digital lives.

The preamble to the United States Constitution starts like this: “We the People of the United States, … secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Our digital selves do not enjoy a constitution or according rights. We the users, have to accept some Terms of Service. And as most of you never really read what you OKed with a single mouse click, we hand now over to Richard Dreyfuss declaiming some parts of the Apple iTunes EULA.