On Twitter Wars

So, there’s something that occurred to me while driving recently. I should point out that I’m not living in fear of an impending war, but it does seem more likely that a (new, American) war will happen in the next three years, compared to in the Obama administration. (I’m basing this on things like the adjustment to the doomsday clock.)

And the thing is, if the Trump administration does, in fact, get involved in a destructive war, it will be the first time (to my knowledge) that Twitter may have been one of the root causes of a war. (Assuming you accept the premise that Twitter was a tool used by the Russians to interfere in the election. If you don’t think that, I’d love to hear why.)

Here’s the thing: Twitter’s users aren’t served by it being populated by up to 15% with ‘fake users’ (from the article below). And Twitter, itself, probably isn’t earning money on them. (I can’t imagine the bots clicking on ads, or, if they are, the advertisers certainly aren’t getting value for money.)

The reason the bots are still on Twitter? Money. Twitter is locked into a broken business model, and unable to kick the bots off.

This is from a Bloomberg article:

And cracking down on bots puts Twitter in a vulnerable position with Wall Street. Investors have penalized the company for failing to get more users. The more that Twitter cracks down on fake accounts and bots, the lower the monthly active user base, the metric most closely watched by Wall Street.

“I think there’s a business reason why Twitter doesn’t want to be good at it. If you have fake accounts and you’re valued around active users, the valuation will be adjusted,” said Scott Tranter, partner at Optimus, a data and technology consultancy.

Which just means that there’s one more reason why, as I wrote before, more of the Internet needs to cost money.

 

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More of the internet should cost money

Here’s an unpopular opinion: we should pay for more of the Internet. By ‘we,’ I mean the people who use it.

Let me put down a bit of foundational work:

Advertising leads to tracking

My argument is this: I would rather pay Facebook, or Google, the money myself, rather than have them collect data on me and target ads. Further, think of the resources that these “engines of innovation” are dedicating to tracking us and serving ads, when they could be dedicating them towards solving problems.

For a savings of $20/year, I have abdicated the ability to be the final customer of Google, Twitter and Facebook, and instead became the product.

That alone would be a reason to consider paying for websites and leads me to what I think is a bigger point.

Advertising prioritizes eyeballs over experience

These tech companies are keeping their customers happy, but we’re not the customers (see above, but none of that is really a new idea). But I don’t think people emphasize enough the social costs of this.

Ask yourself, if the cost was $5/year for a Twitter account, would there be 48 million bots on Twitter? Further, what if Twitter spent the energy they now invest in finding advertising customers and serving ads in actually cleaning up the user experience? The could have actual people and not A.I. checking abusive tweets. That alone would be a step up.

Further, imagine the user who has already paid for a Twitter account. Most trolls have a separate account only for trolling. Maybe they still would, but how often would they pay the $5 registration fee after being banned for abusive behavior? In most cases (I’m willing to wager), a warning that “if this behavior continues, this account will be suspended” would be enough. After all, Twitter wouldn’t have to try and figure out if there were duplicate accounts, allowing users to create a second (or 48 millionth) account after suspension would be equivalent to a $5 fine for abusive behavior.

Would people still get trolled? Sure. Would trolls become more subtle? Yes. But, would the total level of trolling go down? I think so. And the customers — the users — would be much happier about it.