Around 20k people from across the globe including from non-first-world countries such as India, Ghana, Mexico etc. gathered this morning (India time) on a Twitter Space hosted by @katienotopoulos @broderick titled ‘Twitter was a website’ to express panic, show solidarity and seek alternatives as Twitter confronts an extinction level event. In internet’s history no other platform could give us this level of real time global connect. I got a chance to speak as well. Last I checked a whopping 196k people tuned in to the Space collectively. And we are about to lose it all. I took some notes while listening. Here they are and some of my additional thoughts.

Can it really happen? Will Twitter die?

Technically, there’s probably nothing in law that can prevent Musk from pressing the kill switch and throw his 44 billion dollars into the ocean. And all our identities, data, our digital lives can disappear in a New York Minute. We have all ‘agreed’ to Twitter ‘terms’ when we joined so we have given up our rights. Had Twitter been an Indian company then irrespective of the existing laws somebody would have filed a PIL arguing that even though privately owned Twitter is a community property because it has millions of stakeholders and any action that would adversely impact millions to billion cannot be allowed as per principle of natural justice. Laws are made and unmade in India by a PIL all the time. I believe in US a similar option is available under class action law suits but not sure what American lawyers are thinking at this point. Meanwhile, people are mostly talking about migrating.

Is it possible to migrate and if yes, where can we go? Which another platform would fit?

I am pursuing my PhD research on trolling and Twitter is my research field. Earlier this year, I wrote a whole chapter arguing how Twitter is the only truly global public sphere using the framework given by Jurgen Habermas in his ‘Structural Transformation of Public Sphere’. That, if we use Habermas’s framework for a public sphere like London coffee houses or Paris Salons, fix the few drawbacks like racial and gender gaps prevailing in 17th century, and put it on internet we get Twitter. There’s no other internet platform that comes close to be as freely accessible and flat.

Elon Musk himself talked big about Twitter being the town square or town hall but he has no idea how big the platform is.

A town square is the first place outside home where people gather to hear and speak about things. Weather, crimes, government announcements, local rumour. Anything. One might just stand and listen and observe. Another might rush to the town square to inform public about something. Perhaps raise an alarm, seek help, find buyers for whatever she is selling. From the government to opposition leader to preachers to entertainers to sex workers to police and media everybody would go to the town square. Without this town square you won’t be able to have a public opinion, you won’t know what public is thinking.

Does the functionality of the town square come from the public who gather or are there some unique architecture of the place itself that helps? I think its both. People start gathering at a given place because it’s convenient (easily accessible, centrally located) and as more people gather more things come up around the space and it grows as the centre of the town. The space remains alive because those who gather find something useful to take home. So the space has a value which is created by people itself. It’s a very mutual organic process. Now, if people started gathering at a new location a new town square could potentially emerge but it would take time and patience, and its unpredictable. Moreover, you’d need all the people or at least vast majority to migrate to the same new location not get scattered. Not easy.

On the Space a lot of speakers raised concern that Mastodon or other platforms have design issues, they will not give the same feeling or comfort of familiarity so we should rather go back to old platforms like Fandom, Live Journal instead of a new platforms like Mastodon. Another speaker said that other platforms are not globally known. A speaker from Mexico (¿Por qué es Tendencia? @ porktendensia) said we don’t know anything else but Twitter, we don’t know where else to go.

A point to remember here is that even Twitter was like that when it started. It was started in US by a random dude with mostly American users but it became a global through a mutual, organic process. As people started gathering, the platform evolved. Just like a town square. If it happened once, it can happen again. But could take another 20 years. Meanwhile what happens to some of us were almost born on Twitter? Who have built entire infrastructure and architecture of their physical and virtual lives around Twitter both professionally, personally, politically, socially, artistically? What happens to businesses and jobs surviving on Twitter?

Speakers also mentioned the archiving and documenting of the information on Twitter which is a valid concern. Just this morning I was thinking that there are so many little Twitter culture, art, artifacts and other practices that have not been documented by any academic study and if it all gets deleted it would be like losing an entire civilization due to an extinction level event.

It seems the Space was not recorded. But tons of people are talking about it. Many calling it the best Space on the issue so far.