Twitter's Final Boss: Zuckerberg Wages War
pirate wires #100 // meta goes to war with twitter, threads' meteoric rise, a battle for the heart of amphetamine-crazed shitposters, and the future of american speech
I am become Thottr, the destroyer of worlds. Last night Meta launched Threads, Mark Zuckerberg’s hotly-anticipated Twitter clone, and almost immediately blew a 10 million-person sized hole in the endless debate over Twitter’s fate: will the House that Dorsey Built survive a little more freedom of speech, or will this be the end of the most hated company in tech press history (to which journalists all, of course, remain hopelessly addicted)? Enthusiasm for this latest clone, not only from the press but also from the industry, has been deafening, and for good reason. The truth is, Elon’s Substack nuke never made much sense, nor did the media’s obsession over every other fake Twitter. But Meta is a proven clone assassin; Meta’s Instagram, the backbone of Threads, operates at the scale of something like 2 billion users; and the company is helmed by the most seasoned and successful social media executive in history. From Jack’s inaugural “just setting up my twttr” 17 years ago, this is the first real challenge the platform has ever faced. If Zuckerberg’s challenge fails, it will likely be the last. But if Zuckerberg succeeds, and Twitter declines, there will not be another conventional social media challenge to state power in our lifetime.
The now endemic drama of “we need a new, free Twitter” (which the far right defines as “the far right gets to post,” and the far left defines as “the ‘far right’ does not get to post”) began in earnest in the era of Trump. This was a couple years before Dorsey’s last ditch attempt to save his platform from the fate of every other major speech platform in the country, as America lurched obviously, and dangerously, toward a single political party’s de facto control of publishing. At that time, it was the right wingers pathetically declaring victory, again and again, from their freshly minted, and only ever briefly popular political ghettos: Parler, Gab, and Donald Trump’s Truth Social. A couple years later, following the incredible saga of Elon’s Twitter takeover, came the left’s pathetic reaction, which mirrored the right exactly, and with zero self-awareness: Mastodon, Hive, and finally Post were each stupidly celebrated as the future of social media, and always for ideological rather than pragmatic reasons.
Until yesterday, the only apolitical Twitter clone of note, and our exception that proves the rule — that this is all just war for power — was Substack’s Notes, the introduction of which led to Elon’s most dramatic and unfortunate overreaction to date. In stripping Substack of distribution on Twitter, Twitter nuked the only real long-form alternative publishing platform in the media ecosystem, inadvertently benefiting every one of the company’s full-time assailants from the Washington Post and the New York Times to the sinking ships of Buzzfeed News and Vice (links from which are all still amplified over Substack), while significantly damaging the legacy media’s only natural critics, and Elon’s most natural allies. At the time of the Substack nuke, I warned of the greater threat, and the more ambitious challenge, in Meta. Twitter’s potential was not the upper bounds of a media company like the New York Times ($6.5B at the time of my writing), but of a social media company like Meta ($753B at the time of my writing, after a peak of over $1 trillion). Elon’s competition wasn’t Chris Best, I wrote, it could only be Mark Zuckerberg.
Well, kids, here we are.