Community mourns the end of the Twitter era: NPR

For a website with a user base known for humor and irony in dark times, the tone on Twitter lately has been remarkably sentimental.

Gregory Bull / AP

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Gregory Bull / AP

For a website with a user base known for humor and irony in dark times, the tone on Twitter lately has been remarkably sentimental.

Gregory Bull / AP

Twitter’s latest trending hashtags, like #RIPTwitter and #TwitterDown, have signaled a virtual wake-up call for the website as if it had died.

Users on the site have continued to praise the social network in the chaotic days since Elon Musk’s purchase of the platform. But the death knell sounded louder on Thursday, who saw yet another output of what’s left of Twitter’s workforce. That night, that was top five Twitter trends in the US all related to what we see as the near end of the site as they know it.

Among the flood of tributes, a consensus has emerged about what makes the platform worth mourning: Twitter has been a uniquely accessible space where otherwise marginalized groups have felt heard and built a community.

Twitter has, for decades, been a site for news, advocacy, entertainment and community. But mass layoffs at the company have left many feeling that the site could snap at any moment. Why is Twitter collapsing, musk major changeincluding his overhaul of the verification systemhave sent people to flee the site for other social media platforms.

But many worry that other platforms won’t be able to replicate the same features they once found on Twitter.

A megaphone for marginalized groups

“It gives people a voice,” says Ryan Broderick, who covers internet culture in his Substack newsletter, Garbage Day. “I think that Twitter’s ability to act as a megaphone for communities, cultures, subcultures is so overlooked that it’s such a part of our lives today that we don’t even think about it anymore.”

That’s a theme he focused on after he and Buzzfeed tech reporter Katie Notopoulos held a three-hour conversation on Twitter Spaces on Thursday night “saying goodbye” to the site. Nearly 200,000 viewers collectively tuned into the chat.

Sanjukta Basu, a writer studying online gender-based violence who participated in the discussion from India, saw the event as a perfect example of the platform’s value.

“I spoke for five minutes about it,” he said. “And all of a sudden, I had all these 50 people following me. That’s the power of Twitter. No other platform gave me this sense of, you know, a global town square.”

Marlee Matlin, an Academy Award-winning actress and advocate for the deaf community, remembers the platform for the connection that has been removed. He says Twitter has helped take “dis” out of “disability”.

“I have found camaraderie with EVERYONE,” he said in an email. “As a Deaf person, it almost removes the communication barrier because I can talk [about] anything or anyone, whether they know American Sign Language or not.”

He credits Twitter’s accessibility features for removing those barriers. The site introduced alt text in 2016, which allows people who are blind or have low-vision access to images through printed descriptions. Last year, the addition of automatic captions reached people who are deaf or hard of hearing with subtitled videos.

But after the musk reportedly cut the team which is used in Twitter’s accessibility features, Matlin says he is worried about who will develop these new tools, as the social media landscape evolves.

Donyale Padgett, a professor of communication at Wayne State University, respects Black Twitter now that he considers it a risk.

“I’ve been relying on Black Twitter a lot,” Padgett said NPR’s said All Things Considered. “It’s a place of refuge. It’s a place of humor. It’s a record of deep things that have happened. It’s where you want to really follow and track the conversation.”

Meredith Clark, author of a forthcoming book on Black Twitter, defines cyberspace as “a series of communities on Twitter made up of Black folks tweeting about issues of concern to people in the Black community.”

Clark points to the Black Lives Matter and MeToo movements as prime examples of the impact of Black Twitter.

“A lot of people can see how people in different parts of the world, different parts of the world and other parts of this country are connecting with each other to talk about issues of racial justice,” she told NPR. Twitter has forced people to pay attention to the contributions of Black people who have historically been distorted or overlooked.

Twitter’s content moderation policy makes it a safe space online for freedom of expression, according to Josh Richman, a spokesman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Richman praised Twitter’s “forward-thinking” and “sensitive” approach to content moderation, whether they succeed every time or not. In Musk’s case, Richman said that protections such as those afforded by Twitter to marginalized communities are likely to backfire.

Advocacy groups now fear the site will become littered with hateful rhetoric against marginalized communities. Some accounts that were previously banned for violating Twitter’s hate speech policy have been allowed back on the platform. While Musk said Friday that Twitter will be demoted “negative/hate tweet” on the platform, he has not determined what is needed or said whether Twitter’s hate speech and harassment policy will remain effective.

Opportunities to improve social media

For many, Twitter’s uncertain fate has given them time to think about what the future holds. Broderick said now might be a good time to start thinking about decentralizing the social media environment that has consolidated an “unhealthy” amount of cultural dominance.

“If you get to the point where one feed determines everything that is in the news, everything that is on TV, everything that politicians talk about, I think that can be really dangerous,” he said. “No matter what website reaches that point, someone like Elon Kasturi will need that power.”

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