Post-Twitter, Creating New Tech Tools for Advocacy and Activism
I’ve been a very heavy Twitter reader, burying myself in the text, but I was reluctant to sign up in 2009 because it posed a distraction from building new, free web tools, and raising dough to do that.
People did amazingly substantive work in tweets—but whatever happens to the platform, it wasn’t a place where many creative people achieved even a tiny amount of financial stability. All of our work byproducts and attention passively enriched $TWTR shareholders at Morgan Stanley and the Vanguard Group, and big brands that lobby against fair corporate tax rates.
In the golden era of RSS + blogging, coming after the start of the horrific American crime of the Iraq war, I was enthusiastic about the idea that through the loose coordination of the internet, we could build new information resources shared as widely as CNN’s narratives were.
Some of the fields still possible:
- On the civic side, the #opengov and #opendata movements years ago sought to liberate the best official information about what elected officials were doing, what experts and locals thought about their records, and who was funding their political allies. After lots of progress at the federal level, enthusiasm and resources dried up at the state and local levels, to the point where there was virtually no funding support to make state and city governments more open and responsive. Social media didn’t build. Instead of tweeting, finding ways to support small open-source projects like OpenGovernment and Councilmatic could still make localized political info a quick search away for Americans.
- On the political side, the Democratic Party’s leadership—highly indebted to corporate money and hollow fundraising sirens, compared with developing a small-donor grassroots base of engaged members—nominated their preferred presidential candidate in 2016 and 2020, and held on to decision-making through this year. If people support things like truly universal health care through a Canadian-style single-payer system, a federal jobs guarantee of a living wage and good benefits working on green energy or social care, free public education—these causes are not being advanced by the current Democratic Party’s leadership. There’s plenty of money in the federal budget. Even in the social media-saturated 2020 presidential contest, liberal Democrats wouldn’t acknowledge that a single-payer system would save trillions of dollars and untold American lives compared with the status quo. Social media came up far short of building consensus even among Democratic primary voters on important, empirical questions. Finding ways to support small nonprofit platforms like AskThem could still create new habits of public accountability around people in power that is lasting, not superficial like yelling over Twitter.
- On the cultural side, even people with large Twitter follower counts were scrambling for freelance copyediting and communications gigs. If Twitter becomes right-wing unpleasant and smaller, the next platforms could do more to incentivize users to subscribe to micropayments—like the Twttr superfollow—with better rewards. To earn $5,000 a month, a creator would need 1,613 donors at a dime-a-day. But the numbers really start to work at the level of a nickel-a-day, requiring 3,226 donors, or only a penny a day, at 16,129 donors. On the giver’s side of the deal, imagine supporting a project you care about for $3.65 a year instead of $60 or $108 or more for a Substack. If micropayments are built in at the start, the next platform could help civic-tech hackers and outsider artists afford rent, Obamacare, and internet/phone service.
After the 2016 Electoral College outcome, I don’t make many predictions anymore, so I won’t make one here, except after that preface that it seems Twitter is likely to be around, maybe atrophied. If it’s online, I’ll probably keep an old outpost to point off the site, but mostly plan to see folks’ names at Mastodon.