If Elon Musk’s controversial leadership of Twitter sends the platform into the slow death spiral many are predicting, what happens to Crypto Twitter?
Insider Intelligence this week predicted Twitter will lose 30 million users over the next two years. That’s about 10% of the active user base, but given that many of those expected to remain are likely to be relatively inactive or are bots, the impact on real, human engagement could be significant. It could also breed a kind of reverse network effect, as the smaller community makes the site less attractive, leading to more departures in a negative feedback loop.
It is also reasonable to assume that Crypto Twitter, the argumentative “CT” community of crypto enthusiasts, critics, meme propagators, NFT creators, coin-pumpers and related trolls, will also see exits.
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More to the point: What will the community look like, in terms of its diversity of ideas, after those departures? Given the prominent (if highly imperfect) role that Twitter has played as a forum in which industry stakeholders discuss issues and hash out differences, it’s an extremely relevant matter for the future of crypto.
Generally speaking, the kinds of people considering leaving Twitter – some folks are calling for a mass “Twixit” event – are probably different in their political and ideological persuasions from those adamant on staying.
Twixit “leavers” likely skew toward a more liberal political bent. Many have expressed discomfort with a reported increase in anti-semitic and racist slurs as Musk has adjusted the moderation policies. Others are angered by the recent suspension of journalists’ accounts. Already half of Twitter’s advertisers reportedly abandoned the platform in the month after Musk took over out of concern about negative associations with their brand. Other corporate accounts are worried that the new CEO’s mass layoffs are leaving the site vulnerable to security breaches.
Those “remainers” enthusiastic about the new Twitter and so committed to stay are likely to be more supportive of Musk’s stated mission as “a free speech absolutist” to end “shadowbanning” and remove supposed political bias from content moderation. Many describe themselves as “anti-woke,” expressing concern about culturally imposed constraints on speech that liberals consider offensive. They tend to align with Silicon Valley tech leaders in their ongoing battle with the mainstream press and believe that “citizen journalism” on Twitter provides a more reliable source of information than “biased” news organizations. Their ranks include a large number of libertarian-leaning people who staunchly defend property rights and are suspicious of government intervention and surveillance.
That kind of division seems destined to play out in Crypto Twitter because the population of people interested in this technology draws from a similar spectrum of personalities as the general population. (Contrary to mainstream critics’ depictions of a monolithic community of lawless, money-worshiping “crypto bros,” the humans in this field encompass a diverse array of backgrounds and political leanings.)
Groupthink in Crypto Twitter’s future
This matters because of the outsized role Twitter has played in crypto discourse. As a decentralized community with no central decision-makers, there needs to be public fora for stakeholders in the industry to hash out ideas and differences. For detailed changes to code, that debate often happens in developer chat rooms, but when it comes to arguments over big, contentious issues, Twitter has played a vital role.
Twitter’s place in crypto was cemented during the Block Size War of 2016-2017, climaxing with the implementation of a “user-activated soft fork” in the Bitcoin code, which effectively prevented miners from implementing a proposal from certain businesses to increase the block capacity of the blockchain. On Twitter, supporters of the “small blocks” status quo aggressively propagated the hashtag “#UASF” to successfully stir support for it.
If that was the high point, many, myself included, argue that the crypto experience on Twitter has deteriorated significantly since then.
The clearest mark of that is the surge in token-shilling bots that fill up replies to tweets and effectively discourage engagement. Musk’s pre-acquisition criticisms of Twitter’s handling of bot accounts and the notion that his move to charge users for identifying check marks could discourage their proliferation offered some initial hope for potential change. But the token bots have kept coming. Meanwhile, at least from this observer’s perch, two other negative experiences of Crypto Twitter appear to have intensified: the toxicity of interactions and the discouragement of nuance and careful readings.
Creating a more homogenous, increasingly fortified pool of ideologues, whether of the left or the right, could make things even more unbearable for anyone expressing a view that challenges that majority. There’s a piling-on effect that happens when one side is disproportionately represented, as encouragement from like-minded users sparks a dopamine release feedback loop to drive abusive behavior. Eventually, when the dissenting minority is driven away, perhaps the toxicity will die down. But then what are you left with? Groupthink.
None of this is in crypto’s interest. It’s axiomatic that permissionless, open-source environments thrive on a plurality of ideas from which the “wisdom of the crowd” can be drawn. Indeed, diversity of thought – which, interestingly, is an argument against “wokeness” – is the reason for the one relatively consistent mindset among crypto people of otherwise varying political persuasions: a resistance to centralized authority over the design of this technology.
Now, I’m not especially worried that if Crypto Twitter shrinks to the point where it ceases to be a useful, open, multi-viewpoint forum, the crypto community will lose its capacity to properly debate and develop ideas. The era of Web3 may shift us out of centralized social media altogether and into wallet-based, on-chain networks of conversation that, while siloed for specific projects, create links of interoperable exchange across communities in which ideas can intersect, clash and synthesize into new concepts.
As my colleague Daniel Kuhn opined, Musk is indirectly offering a clear argument for a decentralized Web3 internet. The contradictions and flip-flops seen in his erratic attempts to define and manage free speech on Twitter are not necessarily a problem unique to him; they are the direct outcome of centralized control, no matter who is in charge. Free speech cannot be “guaranteed” by a controlling private individual with his own natural, human whims and self interests.
The real good news is that we’re already seeing the failings of Musk’s attempts to fix Twitter spurring interest in a new, crypto-friendly alternative: for instance, Nostr, the open-relay protocol that’s seeking to build a censorship-resistant social network, now with former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s financial support. Meanwhile, Mastodon is gaining support.
It was fun while it lasted. But Crypto Twitter’s demise mightn’t be a bad thing.
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