Classically Inclined

December 3, 2022

Social (media) shifts

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 10:42 am

There are days when having decided to stick with a blog and writing it it feel quite retrospectively trendy. That certainly has been my (somewhat ironic) mood over the last few months as the purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk has begun to have impact on how the platform functions and who occupies it.

I have been on Twitter now since 2010. That’s a long time. It encompasses pretty much the entirety of my professional life, and has become entwined with that professional life in some interesting and (I hope) productive ways. I first joined Twitter as a graduate student finishing my PhD, preparing to return to the UK, but very aware that I didn’t know anyone in the UK Classics network as I’d done all my graduate work in the USA. I’ve always been on Twitter with a professional purpose, albeit not one which (contrary to some social media training) sucks all my personality out of whatever I share and turns me into some high-performing academic automaton. It’s not a space I want to give up.

However, since Musk’s purchase there have been major concerns about whether the platform is going to remain useable. The most fundamental worry is simply whether all the code will carry on working and if the relevant hardware will boot up in the morning. However, the firing of many content moderation teams and other staff with oversight of keeping Twitter safe has sent many looking for other social media platforms to join instead, and a plethora of new options have sprung up and been enthusiastically adopted.

I am, however, cautious about this exodus to greener pastures. Initially, that was because my memory went back to another exodus I experienced with another platform I had a long history of use on, and the devastating effect that had on my use of that platform and then its substitute. It never really recovered, and I never really got the same sort of thing out of it as I had done. I didn’t particularly feel like doing that again.

The other thing that I feel uncomfortable with is that people leaving Twitter because ‘it doesn’t feel safe now’ have missed that as a space, it hasn’t felt safe for many marginalised people even with a full content moderation team in action. Black & Global Majority people, women, trans people and those with disabilities have always had to build in their own protection mechanisms on this and other platforms (I am a great fan of the report and block options when this sort of thing manifests). Claiming a golden age of ‘safety’ is only possible if you ignore those other experiences.

What I hadn’t realised is that this phenomenon has been given a name, “digital white flight” – and that, too, I learned from Twitter, which (if you want to use it like this) is a great place to hear voices from underrepresented and marginalised groups you might not get to hear otherwise. The heart of the idea is that as a digital space is felt to be ‘unsafe’, privileged groups abandon it, and leave marginalised groups to face the consequences. But, do you know, I’m not going to do that. I want to carry on sharing space with the people who I’m sharing that space with – and if some other people are only just becoming aware of what the experience has been like for so many others for years, then they’ve a bit of catching up to do. So, while I have set up my insurance policy in case Twitter just doesn’t load one morning, I’m staying put.

Greek and Latin literature has a good run in Golden Age and Fall narratives; I’m particularly thinking of Ovid’s take in the Metamorphoses, where things go downhill in direct proportion to technological advancement. It’s a narrative pattern that it’s tempting to follow and impose – Twitter in the ‘Musk Age’ must be worse than Twitter in the ‘Pre-Musk Age’, so abandoning it for another space, to chase another Beta (Golden) Age, must be preferable. People telling themselves that story were announcing their intentions to leave Twitter as soon as the sale was finalised, before anything had actually happened, giving that story further power. That story, though, requires us not only to ignore the abuse faced by marginalised groups, but also the fact that pretty much any major corporation is at this point owned by people whose political and ideological positions probably don’t align with ours.

So rather than enacting a decline and fall narrative, I wonder what other stories might be available to tell about this change in the Twittersphere – not in terms of the owner, but in terms of the community. I wonder.


Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: