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For a couple weeks now, Twitter has been reacting to Elon Musk officially purchasing the social media platform and the subsequent eruption of tweets laced with anti-Black slurs.
It’s unsurprising that Musk’s acquisition of the site would make bigots feel more comfortable spewing uncensored racism. Especially as it’s being reported that the team that is responsible for removing posts with hate speech and misinformation was pruned down from hundreds to just 15 people last week. There’s been growing expressions of angst among Black folks about the anticipated devolving of Twitter into a giant collared shirt tiki torch rally now that Musk is at the helm. Let’s be honest: Black Twitter is the star of the show over on that app, and we shouldn’t have to deal with a cyclone of the N-word swirling around us.
Unless, of course, the tweets are coming from other Black people roasting Yahoo Finance’s “N**ger Navy” typo. The jokes flew nonstop for hours that night and into the next day — that was an undisputed Black Twitter Hall of Fame moment. And there were so many others. With many of us likely to retire the app in the coming months, this may be the last November that we get to laugh and reminisce together over screenshots of Elon James White’s tweets recounting eating outside at his in-laws’ segregated Thanksgiving.
We’ve split our sides sharing humor — at times, inappropriately — through devastating instances (like natural disasters) that we watched unfold collectively. There were countless moments when I came away from those giant group discussions struck by how many of us had identical experiences from childhood and beyond. Beginning in my late teens, Twitter exposed me to Black communities across the nation. It deepened my understanding of which experiences and cultural traits were distinct to various regions or church denominations and which were simply part of the larger Black American experience.
It also highlighted many of the commonalities of our communities that weren’t at all entertaining, joyful or nostalgic. News networks didn’t magically sprout a conscience one day and decide to begin reporting on the epidemic of police violence in this country that disproportionately targets Black people, particularly young Black men. That happened because Black people posted videos and firsthand accounts of the police brutality they witnessed, and Black people from all over the country put pressure on the media to cover those stories.
Prior to that, it’d been too easy for journalists and networks to dismiss these grievances, but with this new tool to amplify our voices, we hollered from the proverbial rooftops and refused to shut up about it. Most of us weren’t in Ferguson or Sanford, but we were sharply impacted, nonetheless, by the killings of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown. Black Twitter is where many of us were radicalized. Our organizing power increased exponentially, allowing the collective to shift the national conversation and birth a major civil rights movement, existing both on and offline. Through those often maddening times, we still made room for jokes and joy like the hilarious flurry of classic nicknames for Shaun King. Do you remember how you felt the first time you read the name Talcum X?
Twitter was never free from bigotry, especially as our conversations about systemic racism and anti-Blackness grew louder. Studies have shown that bigoted harassment is commonplace, particularly for Black women. We regularly pressed the mononymous Jack about addressing the Klan vibes on the app. Still, there seemed to be some progress made in recent years with removing abusive, problematic tweets and accounts, as well as with flagging misinformation and adding important context to highly visible tweets.
Less than a week in and the regression already feels palpable, which has everything to do with the character of the site’s new owner. Musk immediately dissolved Twitter’s board and positioned himself as its sole director. Under the guise of championing “free speech,” he’s making the platform more welcoming to bigotry and selling verification for $8. His freezing of Twitter’s trust and safety team’s ability to moderate content isn’t just a cause for concern because N-word use is up 500 percent. What should really be setting off alarms is the fact that he’s weakening the tools that were put in place to regulate misinformation ahead of major elections across the country.
Ultimately, the ability to influence elections seems to be what’s at the core of this maneuver. It’s not enough for rich people to control politics with their money — they also need to control our means of communication. After being called out by some prominent Democrats about not paying what they felt were his fair share of taxes, Musk tweeted, “In the past, I voted Democrat because they were (mostly) the kindness party. But they have become the party of division and hate, so I can no longer support them and will vote Republican.”
Shortly after, we began being menaced by the threat of the petulant billionaire owning the social media site until the deal was finalized last month. Musk’s company Tesla has been slapped with numerous lawsuits, including ones alleging that it failed to address widespread racism at its facilities. There’s no special talent or background that Musk possesses that would make him deserving of control over something he didn’t help build. The only qualification he has is having too much money and a desire for more influence than his wealth already affords him.
This transition comes at a notably inopportune time. Currently, we’re witnessing a more extreme mainstreaming of violent white supremacist rhetoric and conspiracy theories than we have in recent history. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Black Twitter is one of the single most influential forces calling out and demanding accountability for bigotry, whether it’s perpetuated by a neighbor or a celebrity. Musk now being at the helm of our online gathering place will only strengthen the far-right-wing media ecosystem.
I’m coming to terms with the fact that it’s time to start saying my goodbyes. I joined Twitter in 2009, and it’s been past its prime for a while now. It’s overrun with stale discourse, non-Black people using AAVE, bots and stan culture. Add an extra layer of apartheid, and it’s heading downhill even faster. If you need to stay in contact with the community you’ve built on Twitter, I suggest making other arrangements as soon as possible. If you have important information that you need to continue getting out, get an email list from your followers going. I’ve begun following the newsletters of accounts that I hope to still receive important information from.
I don’t want to be one of the last people out. No one wants to be that sad person lingering at last call when the light comes on, rudely awakening them to the fact that the place they’re in is kind of grimy. And they’re suddenly self-conscious, realizing the only thing keeping them there is addiction and an attempt to fill a void.
Maybe the silver lining of Elon Musk gaining control of Twitter is that it’ll be easier for us to let go.
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