“If Elon takes over Twitter, he is in for a world of pain,” writes Yishan Wong, the former CEO of Reddit. “He has no idea.”
Wong goes on to suggest a version of Matt Levine’s Elon Markets Hypothesis. According to Wong, Musk doesn’t “understand what has happened to internet culture since 2004. Or as I call it, just culture.” Wong’s specific example was Bitcoin — Musk’s public interest in cryptocurrency is relatively recent — but it’s also true that at least one hedge fund made a bunch of money by noticing Musk was interested in GameStop and immediately selling.
What’s very funny is that Wong reveals Silicon Valley’s real bias, which is toward coding fun stuff. (This is much like journalism’s real bias, which is to get the news out as fast as possible. This bias often leads to mistakes!) Most programmers and execs at social media companies don’t want to have to police users’ bad behavior. But they are nonetheless spending a lot of time preventing us all from creating flame wars that could engulf all of online. This is a lot less fun than making, for instance, the Twitter timeline go sideways.
This guy ran Reddit, so I’m inclined to think he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to user behavior: left to our own devices, we appear to love creating Battle Royales, where one false move leads to absolutely bizarre, severe consequences. Thomas Hobbes wasn’t right about how we all behave in real life — humans are very good at cooperation when our survival depends upon it — but he is right about the internet, which is red in tooth and claw.
Every unmoderated platform goes to shit because it only takes a few bad-faith users to make it miserable for everyone. The good-faith users leave because the platform is scary, and then it’s only the bad-faith users left. That generally makes things worse.
Wong’s thread, which is worth reading in full, suggests that Musk is, as usual, culturally far behind. Gen Xers were raised in a different, softer world. For Musk and a lot of his Xer brethren, “free speech” is about trying to avoid bans on stuff that might irritate religious authorities (for instance, porn). Wong thought that way, too, until he ran Reddit and discovered the internet was “the MAIN battlefield for our culture wars.”
“This is not the Old Internet,” Wong writes. “That is gone. It is sad. It’s not because the platforms killed it.” No, it’s because there are a lot more people here now, including the feral internet natives (hi!). If you want to relitigate the internet culture battles of the ’90s, go ahead, but those battles are obsolete.