Photo by John Duncan on Unsplash

By Erin McNeill, MLN founder

I had started my Marketing, Media and Childhood blog for parents in 2010 and it was gaining some readers and getting some engagement from commenters. I heard from parents who wanted to talk, book authors, entrepreneurs marketing a solution for parents who were trying to control their kids’ screen time or content. I was calling researchers, academics, activists, educators and people creating new media literacy resources and programs.  It was intellectually exciting, and fun. I was communicating with all sorts of people around the world.

Then my friend Laura, an early blogger, said, “You have to get on Twitter now to promote the blog.”

And I said, “Ugh.”
“I can’t.”

But she was right. I got on Twitter and I loved it. I found my people there. Back when no one had heard of media literacy and we were screaming into the void, I found a community. Later we met at conferences. Eventually, when I started MLN, many people found out about us on Twitter.

Twitter is where we talked and built and shared. To this day, it’s where I get my media literacy news. I always learn something when I go to Twitter.

Yes, I get my news on social media. All these breathless reports about people getting news from social media. It’s just not clear what that means. I find out news from my Twitter feed. Of course I do. I come across new reports from think tanks. New studies, surveys, resources. I find them on my Twitter feed. Upcoming conferences. Which mainstream news organization is writing about our movement. I discover new, legitimate publications that are covering interesting and relevant topics on Twitter. I find out about adjacent organizations. I keep in touch with my peeps through the years. Getting news from social media doesn’t mean randos making things up. Real, authentic people and organizations are posting their news, and I find it there. We post our MLN news there. Sometimes our news gets covered in the press. But if not, the rest of our community can find out about it on Twitter.

Journalists use Twitter to find sources. It’s an amazing resource. You can find out what is actually happening at some remote place from primary sources. Real people are sending out real, current observations. And you can look back in time and research a past event. It’s an important site for open source investigations, both in real time and historically. It takes some skill and work to sort the junk from the real, and that has become harder now that there are so many users on Twitter and so many are not authentic. There’s a lot more to sort through now. Things have changed over time.

It has been an important public communications network. For some time, I’ve been thinking that ideally Twitter would be run as a nonprofit: not beholden to shareholders and constantly seeking to build profit at the expense of everything that matters to a people who care about democracy, freedom of speech, and a government run by and for The People. It’s potentially a public good. Something that we can all rely on as a tool for communication. Democratizing access to the air waves, in a sense. But that doesn’t work when the business model is mass surveillance for private profit. Now, we’re hearing about Mastodon, which is similar to Twitter but a nonprofit. That sounds interesting!

Another model is a subscription model. I didn’t freak out when the suggestion to pay for the blue check mark came up. I mean, of course the original plan was ludicrous. [This needs an update already: that ludicrous plan actually went into effect and it’s causing all sorts of expected havoc.-em] Of course, this idea that whoever can pay can have a blue check mark certainly renders that whole system meaningless. But a communications service where people pay for it means that the subscribers are the customers, rather than the advertisers. I would pay for Twitter, but there would have to be a critical mass of others there, or there would be no value. I just don’t see that happening.

A surviving Twitter engineer who spoke to MIT Technology Review thinks the platform is going to degrade and eventually fall apart due to a lack of technical attention, now that so many engineers have been laid off.

I’ll miss it.

Shall we all head over to Mastodon and see what’s happening over there?

Essential Twitter reading:

Peter W. Singer at Defense One says: “Now that a critical public communications network has become private property, there are five major cyber risks that have to be accounted for, both within the network and beyond.”

Zeynep Tufekci says we shouldn’t get excited when advertisers leave Twitter, as this means we are essentially defending an advertiser-financed model as a response to Elon Musk’s antics. “Finally, this should, hopefully, make everyone examine the downsides of having a few people have so much influence over the digital public sphere.”  (NYT gift link)

At least old Twitter was talking about ethical AI to make the algorithm more transparent and fair. That team has been fired. Wired


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