With Trump returing to Musk's Twitter, it's time to get strategic

Whether you exit the bird app, or stay and resist, things are about to worsen

With Trump returing to Musk's Twitter, it's time to get strategic
Photo by Dave Lowe on Unsplash

With Donald Trump set to return to Twitter soon, Elon Musk’s destructive remaking of the social media platform will enter a new phase.

Following up on our previous pieces about how Musk’s takeover of the site is part of a strategy to seize control of brains and tilt public discourse in favor of misinformation and extreme conservative views, here are some recommendations for how to respond.

1. Ban the Bird App. If you don’t have a large following and don’t need be on Twitter for professional or other reasons, then stop using it.

Quitting Twitter will send the clearest signal and deprive Musk of your valuable engagement (and do wonders for your brain).

This may not be an immediate solution for everyone. If there’s nothing really tying you to Twitter, however, make like Elton John and quit! (Elton John, with 1.1 million followers, left Twitter on Dec. 9 due to “a recent change in policy that will allow misinformation to flourish unchecked.”)

While quitting Twitter is simple enough, there are some important steps you may need to take to protect your data and privacy. Read these helpful guides from Consumer Reports and Mashable.

For a social media alternative, check out Mastodon. It’s a “decentralized” platform, meaning it can never be owned or controlled by one single person. Here’s a useful guide for how to join Mastodon. (You can find us at https://sfba.social/@georgelakoff and https://journa.host/@gilduran )

2. Make a Strategic Exit. If you have a large following on Twitter or find it essential for other reasons, make a strategic exit.

Use your Twitter account to let your followers know where they can find you on other sites, like Mastodon, a distributed network that cannot be owned by one person. Post your other social media addresses frequently and encourage your community to follow you on those sites. (Musk briefly tried to ban users from advertising their other social media accounts, proving what a good idea it is to use your account for this purpose.)

The strategy is two-fold: First, you’re transferring your audience and online presence from Twitter to other sites. Second, you’re modeling good behavior for others, making it clear that it’s time to move on (strategically).

Many Twitter users are already doing this!

Even if you plan to stay active on Twitter for now, it’s smart to start building your audience on newer platforms. Who knows, you might even end up with a bigger following or a higher quality of interaction. (And you can edit your posts without paying $8!)

3. Engage in Creative Resistance. We never believed Musk was a champion of free speech and he quickly proved us right. He’s banning activists and journalists and silencing the “free speech” of those with whom he does not agree.

Ultimately, it will prove impossible to beat Musk by remaining on the platform he controls. He and his goons control the most powerful aspects of the site. They can, and will, use it to empower authoritarianism, hate, misinformation and white supremacy. They are just getting started. By continuing to operate within the framework they control, you will be at a disadvantage.

Understandably, however, some people want to stay and fight.

“You don’t fix a thing by leaving it,” said Stephen King, the legendary horror author who has become a staunch Musk critic. (Though we must note that King did quit Facebook in 2020 due to “the flood of false information in its political advertising” and concerns over privacy.)

Still, King makes a point. Some prefer to stay and fight, to mock the budding Twitter authoritarian and use his own weapon against him.

So, why not make a memorable exit from Twitter by engaging in creative resistance? Force Musk to ban you.Tweet about the banned ElonJet account, tweet about the journalists who have been banned about ElonJet – two surefire ways to get banned on Twitter.

Whenever Dictator Muskolini makes up new rules, rush to defy them openly in the hopes of getting banned. Force the “free speech absolutist” to humiliate himself through the hypocritical silencing of free speech on the site he wasted $44 billion to buy.

Ten years from now, you’ll look back and wish you’d been banned from Twitter in the early days!

This is especially important if you have a large or influential following on Twitter. Use your account to engage in creative resistance against Musk and his regime (including whatever new CEO he might get to do his bidding in a less flamboyant way). Have no fear of the consequences, including getting banned. That should be the eventual goal.

If you’re tweeting as if everything is normal, you’re doing it wrong.

4. Support Boycott and Disinvestment from Twitter. In November, the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP called for an advertising boycott of Twitter. While many advertisers have balked at remaining on the site, others are plowing ahead with their ad buys. Unfortunately, this includes news outlets media companies that should know better.

From Axios:

“Twitter is planning to run content sponsorship deals with more than three dozen news outlets, media companies and sports leagues in the first half of this year, according to a schedule of events shared with ad partners and seen by Axios.”

News organizations continuing to run ads include Bloomberg, NBCU, Reuters and The Washington Post.

Some Twitter users have made a point of using their accounts to call out companies that continue to advertise. Others have adopted a policy of immediately blocking all advertisers on site. As Twitter teeters toward insolvency, it will be important to keep up the pressure and make advertising a no-win situation for companies and organizations.

An effective boycott will require a level of organization and strategy not yet apparent. And advertisers aren’t the only targets. Politicians, news organizations, universities, foundations, nonprofits and NGOs must also re-evaluate their relationships to Twitter. They provide essential content and engagement for the site. In addition, they have built key infrastructure that actively pushes people toward Twitter. Most websites today have a tweet button to automatically connect their readers to the site. That needs to change.

News organizations have a special responsibility to lead the way. Dan Gillmor lays out the case in this piece on TechDirt:

“Elon Musk has demonstrated contempt for free speech in general, and journalism in particular, with his behavior at Twitter. He is also demonstrating why it is foolhardy for anyone to rely on centralized platforms to create and distribute vital information. Journalists — among many information providers and users — should move to decentralized systems where they have control of what they say and how they distribute it. And philanthropic organizations have a major role to play. Here is a way forward.”

Journalists and news organizations are a big reason why Twitter has mattered. It has become the main social media frame through which influential journalists see the world. Now that Musk owns it, the site has become his frame. He is using his absolute power as Twitter’s dictator to shift the discourse in favor of disinformation, lies and the extreme politics of conservative radicalism and regression.

Those who continue to operate within this framework will have no choice but to aid and abet Musk’s strategy. Even if you spend all day fighting against him on Twitter, you are helping Musk and his ilk to win because they thrive off of being attacked. They win by forcing you to negate their arguments, because when you engage their arguments on social media you are also helping to spread their arguments.

Unfortunately, the journalism establishment has been very slow to understand how this works. One exception is Fox, which understands information warfare because it specializes in information warfare. As Parker Molloy points out, the Fox channel once stopped tweeting for 18 months in protest against Twitter:

“Fox News abandoned its Twitter account for 16 months in an act of vague protest against the social media platform. Meanwhile, the Washington Post, CNN, and other outlets with legitimate grievances against Twitter have continued to kiss Elon Musk’s ring.”

Of course, Fox has a major advantage: It’s an information warfare outlet rather than a news organizations. So Fox understands how communication and propaganda work.

Imagine if legitimate news outlets had the good sense to follow Fox’s strategy and stop tweeting until further notice. Imagine if they removed the tweet buttons from their sites until Musk stopped banning journalists from the site. Imagine if they used their collective power to push back on Musk’s tyranny – or to take their audiences to another platform altogether.

It’s not clear what will need to happen before the press gets to that point. But with Musk determined to push things as far as they can go, it seems certain we will find out.

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