The Death of Twitter
So, it’s finally happened. Twitter is dying. I won’t go into the ins and outs of how and why it’s dying – for anybody reading this who doesn’t know the broad strokes of it, you can give it a quick Google and it should be fairly easy to catch up with the overall situation. This week, I’m interested in exploring the ramifications of its inevitable slow death for creatives these days. In the last few days I’ve seen plenty of writers, comics and creators venting their frustrations online about how it will affect them to lose the followings they’d built up online, and lose access to their own bodies of work. There’s also been a mass exodus of creatives to Mastodon, in order to get in early on a platform where they can rebuild the communities they’d built on Twitter. To my embarrassment, I have set up a Mastodon account myself, because it turns out my desire to not end up without any work is greater than my desire to live a life off social media, but I don’t really know what my attitude to the place is really, or to any of all this noise and panic. I’ve built up a modest audience and a consistent presence on Twitter over the years, and do get a decent amount of work through that platform, so I’m certainly not glad it might be on its way out. But my overriding response to the whole thing has been a sort of grateful acceptance of the fact that none of it really matters, or shouldn’t matter.
Don’t get me wrong – I know that people who have been ambivalent or even gleeful at the death of Twitter have been chastised by other people for overlooking the genuine connection and community that platform has built for people, especially those with access difficulties when it comes to connecting with people and being part of communities in the flesh. I’m also aware of how many people in comedy and the arts genuinely make the bulk of their income from opportunities offered to them off the back of their social media output and presence, and that the threat to those people’s livelihoods is a big deal. I’m not trying to minimise Twitter, or what is happening to it, nor to suggest that the difficulties people are facing as a result of it is a good thing. But I am choosing to see it as a huge opportunity to rethink what social media is for when it comes to being a creative person in the 21st century, and how we could restructure it for the better.
Of the two points mentioned above, one – the building of community – is easily replicable. You can build community on Mastodon, you can build it on TikTok, you can build it on Twitch or Youtube, you can build it (God forbid) in real life. The reason I started this newsletter in 2021 was because I wanted to find a way to build community online that wasn’t dependent on an external platform vulnerable to a hostile takeover by an eccentric billionaire. It’s worked really well – I love hearing from the readers of this newsletter, and exchanging ideas and stories with them, and finding out how the fragments of my own life resonate with fragments of theirs. In time I’d love to think about how to make more of that communal aspect to this newsletter beyond occasional one-to-one replies and follow-up conversations, and do hope I get there eventually. We can all build something similar online, if we choose to. The second point – of Twitter being a genuine source of work, opportunity and income in the arts – is the one I think needs harder work in order to unpick.
Once upon a time, the only deciding factor in whether or not you wanted to work with someone was whether or not you considered their work to be any good. If it spoke to something in you, then there’s a good chance you might work well together, and that there’d be something to explore creatively and collaboratively there. As things get more high-stakes, more people have to reach some kind of consensus as to whether something is good – to make a film or a TV show or a play or a radio show or whatever, quite a few people have to agree that they personally believe it’s going to be good in order for it to get made. As such, certain amounts of creative give-and-take and compromise have to be incorporated, most likely to the betterment of the idea. And then, with the rise of social media, it became possible to assess that level of consensus before you’d even made a decision as to whether you thought the idea was good. If X number of people online think it’s brilliant, then a lot of those harder decisions further down the line could be avoided – it’s already popular!
The job of making difficult creative compromises became unnecessary, because thousands of people on the internet already think this thing is good, so it should be possible to just transpose it wholesale for this film/TV show/whatever, and that should prove popular. Time and again, this didn’t work – creators discovered online who were given total freedom to just replicate their social media outputs in a different medium didn’t do very well because the hard work of exploring how to successfully adapt something for a new medium hadn’t been done. The assumption had been made that the pre-established “reach” of their online work meant creative compromise and consensus could be dispensed with, to the cost of the idea. (I don’t say this as a blanket dismissal of all creators found via social media – many have made great work in one context, then put real inventiveness and skill into how to adapt the essence of that work into another context. I say it as an observation of a general trend among commissioners and traditional industry gate-keepers away from risk and personal conviction and towards pre-built audiences).
When people reach out to me and want to work with me on something and send me something they’ve made as an example of what they do, my first and only priority is to assess whether I think the thing is good. Whether or not it seems to be popular is completely irrelevant to me. But I understand why this has become the prevailing mindset in the creative industries – it’s because it’s easier. It’s easier for the exec producers and commissioners to pursue the mindset of “Bring me what is popular” rather than “I will seek out what is good.” The path to this becoming the prevailing mindset in the creative industries has meant that creators themselves (myself included at times) have chased the building of a large social media following as a reward in itself, because it becomes a passport to other opportunities. But Musk’s catastrophic takeover shows the limits of that approach, because it’s so easy for what you’ve built to be taken from you. The only way to avoid that is to re-orient your creative process entirely around your values, around the principle of making what you want to make.
I have no idea how this could possibly happen on a mass scale – when I explored some of these ideas on (of course) Twitter, someone pointed out that popularity and reach pays the bills, so trying to orient yourself entirely around your own personal assessment of quality is a luxury for the rich. Perhaps that’s true. Certainly, the idea of democratising the creative industries so that genuine quality becomes the dominant measure of what does well over reach or popularity requires everyone to agree to make decisions on those criteria, and it’s impossible to really do that because the genie is out of the bottle. Those of us who make stuff for a living are competing in a marketplace of ideas, and in a marketplace you need signifiers of why one idea is better than another – hence why number of followers on any given platform has become a currency. I understand all that.
But I guess what I’m wondering is – if Twitter dies, does it really matter where everyone flocks to next? Does it matter if one person decides Mastodon is the place where they want to put their shop window and showcase their work, and somebody else decides they want to do it on TikTok, and somebody else decides they want to set up their stall on Discord (NB I don’t know what Discord is), and so on? If we all shifted our mindsets a little bit further away from needing to build the biggest audience on the most popular platform, and a little bit closer to just making whatever we want to make and then putting it wherever feels like the right place for it, and then showing it to the people we want to see it and hoping it connects with them and speaks for itself, wouldn’t we ultimately start to see better work being made and better creative communities being built? Isn’t the end of Twitter, rather than being a sad death knell for things people worked really hard to build, also an opportunity to rebuild our attitudes to the internet with these values in mind, and turn it back into a place defined by its creativity and community and less by its mercantile jostling for position? It’s just an idea, but I think it’s not a bad one.
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – This week I saw Adam Riches’ first work-in-progress of a new gameshow format called I Don’t Want You To Win and it’s already brilliant, so God knows how good it’s going to be when it’s finished. He’s trialling it again on Tuesday at the Bill Murray and you can book tickets here!
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – This video Bec Hill took of me having a breakdown on a small indoor children’s rollercoaster.
Book Of The Week – Writing In Pictures: Screenwriting Made (Mostly) Painless by Joseph McBride. I’ve just started work on a new comedy script called I Can’t Live With Myself, and while I know a fair bit about how to write good screenplays for film or TV these days, it’s still something I want to learn more about and get better at, so this is proving a helpful companion while I get back into writing.
Album Of The Week – Palomino by First Aid Kit. This is their first album since 2018’s Ruins, and I absolutely love it. It’s ever so slightly more skewed towards pop than their earlier stuff – there are moments that sound a bit like Florence + The Machine – but it still has all the country-folk stylings of their older albums, and the combination of the two is really nice. Probably my second-favourite album of theirs after The Lion’s Roar.
Film Of The Week – Triangle Of Sadness. Go see this. Just go see it as soon as you can. It’s incredible. There’s a 15 minute sequence in the middle that’s absolutely riveting and appallingly hilarious at the same time. The film is a ridiculous satire of the super-rich in which the guests on a luxury cruise gradually devolve to the essence of who they really are. It’s absolutely brilliant.
That’s all for this week – let me know what you thought! As ever, if you’ve enjoyed this newsletter, I’d love you to share it with a friend or encourage other people to subscribe. Catch you all next time, and take care of yourselves in the meantime,
PS Here’s a belated Hallowe’en picture of Miranda’s pet rabbit Mr Stonkers being spooky in the woods.