“This isn’t an airport, no need to announce your departure”. This common social media quip is what some of you might be thinking as you roll your eyes about me writing an entire blog post over quitting a social media platform. Particularly someone as insignificant as me, @jaydpauley with 378 followers. If you don’t like my reasoning, you’ll chalk this up to being 3,000 words of self-righteous “virtue signaling”. This post is written in two parts. The first part is a summary of my experience of being active on Twitter over the past fourteen years. If you’re not interested in my musings about my personal Twitter highlights and just want to read about why I’m leaving Twitter you can jump to the second part, simply titled “Why I’m Leaving Twitter”.
This was me: @Jaydpauley
My favorite things were creating data-driven football content, creating, and posting data visualizations and learning about football, analysis, data visualization, the world, and current events from people who are much smarter than me. More recently, like most people, I’ve been unable to help myself and my engagement in politics and social issues has increased but remained the minority of my posts and comments.
In 2008, a 35-year-old Shaquille O’Neal who was on the downside of his career (14 PPG and 9 RPG) was having a lot of fun on Twitter. He was using the site in unique ways at the time to engage with his fans. One of his favorite things to do was tweet out clues about locations in which he would hide game tickets for his followers to find in public places, such as in the produce section of a grocery store. So, I joined Twitter because I wanted to follow along and be a part of the fun. I never found game tickets, but I found something much better. Twitter made me smarter because of the people I eventually followed and learned from. Twitter opened up new opportunities for me. And Twitter entertained me. Sure, it started to get ugly over the past few years, but ugly was still a choice. Following good, smart, interesting people; staying out of the trends; muting key words; staying out of the comments; and having a carefully curated follow list could still provide a positive experience. It was only a Hellsite if you let it be (and sometimes I let it be).
In 2009 it all paid off, when I came across some information about a potential “house show” from my favorite musician, Kristin Hersh, formerly of the indie rock band Throwing Muses. I sent Hersh a direct message, thinking she wouldn’t respond, but she kindly did and gave me all the details I needed. For those of you who don’t know what a “house show” is, it’s simple. The musician shows up at a person’s house and plays a free concert up close and personal in an intimate setting. Kristin Hersh is big…she’s not Taylor Swift big, but big enough that sitting on the back deck of someone’s house and watching her play for me, my wife and 20 others was mind-blowingly surreal. I’ll never forget that night, that was made possible by Twitter.
I started to really understand the power of Twitter in 2011 when it became a tool of protesters during the Arab Spring. It was fascinating to watch this site play such a significant role in the protests. This made me think about the value of Twitter for other things, like business. I spoke to the Marketing director at the company where I worked and explained that if Twitter can be a vehicle for social change, certainly it can help us expand our reach. She didn’t listen to me at the time, but I blame myself for not being convincing enough and pushing hard enough. But no harm, a year or two later they were on board and started using Twitter in creative ways and began reaching out to their customers on social media.
I’ve been writing posts on Medium for a while, mostly football analysis. In 2018 I wrote a data-driven longform piece about the Super Bowl Hangover. Of course, I shared this post on Twitter. Eventually, by luck and the magic of social media, senior writer for Sports Illustrated, Greg Bishop (@GregBishopSI) found me, reached out, and interviewed me for an article. This article ended up becoming the cover story of Sports Illustrated in February of 2021. The final five paragraphs of the article were about me and my analysis. The article was paired with an accompanying video produced by then Sports Illustrated producer Jessica Smetana which featured me discussing my analysis about year-over-year regression in NFL teams. I am a nobody in the space of football analytics. A nobody who is now and forever featured in a Sports Illustrated cover story (in print, digital, on video, in a matted frame on my wall…and probably on my headstone someday). This happened because of my interactions on Twitter.
Fast forward to 2022, and a football site called the 33rd Team found some of my analysis and data visualizations on Twitter and they reached out to me. I was able to enjoy a wider reach as I began writing for them occasionally. This was an exciting expansion of my hobby, one that took me from writing data-driven football posts for virtually no one to read, to writing for the same company who employs a Hall of Fame coach like Bill Parcells, former NFL GMs, and former players as their content creators. Another milestone made possible by my interactions on Twitter.
So, after 14 years of highlights, fun, learning, engaging conversations, and some cool milestones, I’m leaving. I’m aware of the opportunities that Twitter has brought to me in the past and I understand that future opportunities might be harder to come by if I leave Twitter. But I’m okay with that. I’ll figure out other ways to socialize my analysis, my hobbies, and my thoughts.
Why I’m Leaving Twitter
Unless you’re getting your news directly from the owner of Twitter, you have seen many examples of the shambolic takeover of Twitter. There are many reasons one might consider leaving Twitter after the last couple of months. Here are my thoughts on my departure from a site that I have enjoyed for the last 14 years.
I’m not leaving Twitter because the owner is ruining account verification, one of the most important aspects of Twitter. Who knows where that will end up. It was going away, then it was $20 per month until a Stephen King tweet, then it was $8….
Then very predictably, trolls bought blue check marks to appear “official”, then fake accounts started popping up and tricking the public with their $8 official verification check marks.
not Lebron James…
Then the owner decided to have two different colored check marks, a blue one and a grey one so we know who is official official and who is just official. It was a mess. So, then the grey check mark went away. Then the grey check mark came back again. Then the terrible idea of allowing people to buy a blue check mark was discontinued. As I write this, I don’t know how many colored check marks there are and what the colors mean, and if I do know, it will probably be different tomorrow. I don’t know if the tweet from the local Department of Transportation about a road closure is really them. Or worse, I don’t know if I should believe a major announcement from the county Sheriff’s office. But this debacle isn’t why I’m quitting
I’m not quitting Twitter because the owner decided to lift bans on accounts that were removed because they incited violence. The owner reinstated the account of our former president who has used many channels of communication, including Twitter, to incite violence. Known antisemite Ye was reinstated, then banned again after he tweeted an image of a swastika. Many other controversial accounts were reinstated adding to the ugliness that starting to fester and grow on Twitter. Content moderation is difficult, and I don’t have all the answers. Would I prefer these accounts are gone and out of my Twitter experience? Sure. I guess that’s why I have a mute option (for now…unless that’s for sale too). Free speech, hate speech, and inciting violence can be a muddy and confusing mess that lends itself to interpretation. I would like for Twitter to err on the side of less hate and violence, but this isn’t why I’m leaving.
I’m not quitting because the owner stopped Twitter’s enforcement of its COVID misinformation policy. I’ve given up on getting through to Covid conspiracy theorists at this point. If you refuse to believe that one million Americans have died from Covid, if you think Covid comes from 5G, if you want to eat horse paste, drink fish tank cleaner, or if you think the vaccine is inserting a microchip inside your body or making you magnetic, then go on with believing these conspiracy theories. I give up!
We should all get ready for Kimberley to be given a platform for tweets like this……
And we can expect to see an increase in some real thought-provoking nuggets like this…
Of course, there are implications for public health and safety if we allow misinformation on Covid treatment or prevention. It’s irresponsible to stop enforcing this policy and we should buckle up for the bat-shit crazy that will ensue, but this isn’t what’s going to make me leave Twitter.
I’m not quitting Twitter because of the owner’s strange personnel decisions. Such as asking Twitter employees to commit to a “hardcore” culture, where they are expected to work “long hours at high intensity,” or resign…and giving them only days to decide and click “Yes”. Additionally, the company laid off thousands of employees, then realized they needed many of those same employees and asked them to come back. Of course, this isn’t why I’m leaving Twitter, but it’s certainly why I would never work for Twitter.
Notice a trend?
- Verification is for sale, then there are two types of verification, then verification is not for sale anymore.
- Ye is banned, Ye is back, Ye is banned.
- Employees laid off…oops, please come back.
I’m not quitting Twitter because the owner told me to take my impressions, clicks and engagement to Mastodon. Or that he called Mastodon, “Masterbatedone.” Imagine the CEO of Hulu calling their competitor NetDicks in a tweet. Twitter is being run by an 11-year-old boy.
I’m not quitting twitter because hate speech has increased since the new owner took over. Researchers have analyzed the data before and after the current owner took over and have identified the following increases in hate speech:
- An increase of 200% in anti-black tweets per day.
- An increase of 58% in gay slurs per day.
- An increase of 61% in antisimitic tweets.
It blows my mind that so many people are giddy over their ability to use the N-word now. I get excited about a homemade pizza, Christmas, or a new season of Ted Lasso. It’s hard to fathom a similar excitement someone gets by typing N**GER and hitting reply…but free speech, I guess.
This trend is terrible, sad, and scary. But I’m not leaving Twitter because there are cruel racist people who have failed at life and need to place the blame on other groups of people. I won’t quit because of that, because we still have the adults in the room who will set the example for others to follow, right?…RIGHT?
Sure, despite the embarrassing 5th grade humor mentioned above, the owner of a $44 billion company certainly wants to have a successful and healthy organization that will grow, make money, and become a respected leader in its industry. Despite what I, and many others, consider questionable policies about hate speech / free speech and spreading misinformation, those can be tough decisions, and I personally don’t ever want to be the one who has to figure out how far to take content moderation. But what’s not a hard decision, in fact what I consider to be an easy decision, is to not be hateful or racist in my own speech. Moderating one’s own content is a no brainer, particularly for the person in charge, who has arguably the strongest influence on public discourse in the world right now. The owner of Twitter can hide behind free speech when allowing others to be terrible people online, but when he does it himself, there is no hiding.
“When someone shows you who they are believe them the first time.”
― Maya Angelou
The owner is showing us who he is, and I believe him. For those who are not in the loop, his tweets might seem innocuous. What’s possibly offensive about a cartoon frog? What’s wrong with tweeting misinformation if it’s not stated as 100% fact…you know, the classic “I’m just asking questions” tweet?
The tweet to his 112 million followers pushes a false conspiracy theory that the political attack on Paul Pelosi (Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 82 year-old husband) was actually the result of a romantic relationship between Paul Pelosi and the attacker. By the way, the same website that produced this story also pushed a story that claimed Hillary Clinton is dead and the person we see is her body double.
More misinformation (or satire which is what the owner can claim) triggering the usual attacks on MSM (Mainstream media) when the owner tweeted a headline that “CNN: Elon Musk could threaten free speech on Twitter by literally allowing people to speak freely.” Of course, this was from a satire site, but the owner of Twitter used a screen capture rather than linking to the site, and of course, as intended many of his followers believed this and piled on CNN for this “headline”.
So, just a little misinformation so far, but what about racism and bigotry? What about this cartoon frog I mentioned earlier? Here is that cartoon frog being tweeted to 112 million people.
The origin of Pepe the Frog is not racist. But over time this frog has been appropriated by far right, racists groups. Over the past 4–5 years, on the darkest and nastiest corners of the internet such as 4-chan, this frog became a meme used as a hate symbol. The far right has gotten very good at using ironic and silly memes to bypass obstacles in spreading hate. A cartoon frog is much less likely to be removed from social media than a swastika, but the message still gets delivered to the intended audience.
From How the Far-Right Weaponised Memes by Vice.com
Crucially, the slippery meanings of memes gave them a degree of plausible deniability, helping them find a wider audience, and normalise hate speech.
“Far-right movements will use memes to code and cloak more insidious ideologies and terminology under the guise of humour,” said Ashton Kingdon, a Ph.D candidate at the University of Southampton who researches how right-wing extremists use technology for recruitment and radicalisation.
“It allows the defence of people to … say that they might not have known had this insidious meaning or say that it was just a joke.”
The owner of Twitter knows what he is doing, he’s not a Pepe the Frog traditionalist who was enjoying Matt Furie’s frog cartoon in 2005.
He also tweeted and then deleted an image of a prominent White Nationalist named Anthime “Baked Alaska” Gionet. The classic tweet-and-delete, a wink to white supremacists, while pretending to the rest of the population that he didn’t know what he was doing and removed the image. Who among us hasn’t accidentally searched for an image of a person saluting a McDonalds flag at half-staff and then tweeted it out for no apparent reason?
Owner of Twitter:
There are probably a hundred different ways to tweet out an interesting and funny message about how social media has evolved since the olden days. Hell, even if you want to go the carrier pigeon route, I’m sure there are some good zingers out there. But this is what the owner of Twitter decided to go with…
Anything, ANYTHING would have been better than an image of a Nazi soldier. Getty: “A German Wehrmacht soldier carries a cage of carrier pigeons used for relaying messages, on the western front during the German invasion of France, known as the Battle of France, in WWII, circa May 1940.” Again, this is a pattern of behavior and not one small error in judgement in an otherwise normal history of non-offensive tweets.
Want more Nazi stuff? Here you go. Now, I guess he gets a pass here, he wasn’t the owner of Twitter yet when he tweeted this since-deleted tweet in early 2022. But he was still a grown-ass man, owner of multi-billion-dollar corporations and in the midst of purchasing Twitter.
White supremacists are great at coming up with coded language to talk to each other. Cartoon frogs, the OK hand signal, Hawaiian shirts, and the numbers 14 and 88. The 8th letter of the alphabet is “H” and “88” represents the “HH” as in “Heil Hitler”. 14 is used by white supremacists as a reference to a 14-word mission statement written by a KKK leader from prison: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” Admittingly, this one very well could be a stretch, but when your hand is caught in the cookie jar enough, you don’t earn the benefit of the doubt. In a seemingly random tweet by someone in which the owner of Twitter was not tagged, he responded with this.
We’ve all laid down in the grass on a warm summer night looking up at the stars and wondered things just like this. Although, we weren’t owners of multiple billion-dollar companies, and we probably wouldn’t have posted our fleeting thoughts to Twitter, and we wouldn’t consider such a random thought important enough for 112 million of our followers to hear it, but I guess it could happen. Again, this could be innocent. That being said, the bat signal went up and that signal came across to his followers loud and clear.
This guy got the message (there’s that frog again)…
So did this person…
And this one got the message also…
Not every image of a cartoon frog is racist. Not every use of the number 88 is racist either. A meme about Hitler…at best extremely poor judgment. But then another Nazi meme after being criticized for the first one? Random picture of a well-known white supremacist…I, I have no explanation for that. What about spreading misinformation? We’ve all been duped before; it could be a mistake. Misinformation a second time?
He has too many incidents of flirting with white supremacists on Twitter. Too many incidents of misinformation before and after owning Twitter. Each one of his potentially racist posts in isolation can be deemed an ignorant or innocent mistake. But collectively, all of this adds up to way more smoke than is required to determine that there is fire. A person who is smart enough to build rocket ships and electric vehicles is smart enough to not keep making the same dumb accidental racist mistakes on Twitter. He knows what he is doing.
Rule of thumb, if it makes racists happy, it’s a bad tweet.
This is why I’m leaving Twitter. I can’t reward the owner of the company who I believe spent $44 billion dollars just to allow himself to be a racist troll online and to use his status to spread misinformation. I don’t want to reward a company run by a petulant man-child with a 5th grade mentality who finds joy in signaling and dog whistling to some of the cruelest among us. I won’t be a part of this, and besides I may just be getting a head-start on everyone else when Twitter collapses.
I won’t be missed by Twitter. I’m just @jaydpauley with 378 followers. 10,000 of me could probably quit Twitter, and it wouldn’t make a dent in Twitter’s KPIs. I will miss my 378 followers and the 81 accounts that I follow. I’ve had so many wonderful conversations in the past 14 years. But the cream always rises to the top. Or in my case mediocrity will find somewhere else to be mediocre. I will land somewhere, and I will get my 378 followers who enjoy my analysis, data visualizations, occasional thoughts, and we will enjoy having meaningful conversations and learning from each other once again.