8 min read

#68 – Collective action

Why social media platforms implode but never die.

We cannot call it 'the great migration' just yet. But Twitter users are quickly moving away from the crazy regime now spelt Elon Musk. And we shouldn't be surprised.

Social media platforms tend to implode every once in a while, no matter their size (remember MySpace, anyone?). But these migrations also pinpoint how dependent we are on our social relationships—online and IRL.

Many of us have been unhappy with the social media platforms we use for a long time. I could list several arguments against each big player in my sleep. But I'm still there. Because as much as we hate them, we love the people who use them.

We hold each other hostage. We don't leave because we don't want to lose them. They don't leave because they don't want to lose us.

Social networking comes with a first-mover disadvantage. No one wants to leave until their friends leave, and no one wants to be first out of fear of being left alone in a new place.

At the same time, we already see that people have moved and that others are joining en masse. Those who move now don't have to be settlers. They can follow their friends, who eagerly show them around the new space when they arrive.

This is usually a sign that one era is ending and something new is taking over.

I'm excited.


Elon Musk taking over Twitter feels like watching a train wreck in slow motion


After Elon Musk took over the ownership of Twitter last week, the story has had daily developments. First, he started firing the CEO and several other top executives and has continued with massive layoffs. Affected employees said there was little official communication beyond abruptly receiving a termination letter or seeing their access to internal tools like Slack or databases suddenly revoked.

Musk has wiped out complete teams. Among them are the teams responsible for human rights, accessibility, AI ethics and transparency, and large parts of the Trust and Safety team, including some of the content moderation. Almost 4000  employees – about 50% of the Twitter workforce –  have been impacted, and it's impossible to imagine that such sweeping layoffs won't lead to operational dysfunction.

Musk also revealed that brands had begun pulling their advertisements, leading to what he said was a "massive drop in revenue". And claimed the platform was losing $4 million per day. But, unfortunately for Musk, few advertisers will be convinced to return when they see Musk's solutions.

Instead, Musk announced that Twitter would start charging verified users $20 per month, but received massive criticism and later changed the amount to $8. However, the cost was never what was criticised. Rather the paradoxical decision to charge users for providing proof of being themselves – at a time when the platform has apparent accountability issues.

This is becoming more of a soap opera each day. However, Musk is publically defending his decisions.

Sidenote: Users are leaving Twitter for Mastodon

Many users are now leaving Twitter for the distributed social media platform Mastodon, which got more than 70 000 new users in a single day. Mastodon is very similar to Twitter, but you sign up to one of many servers instead of one central instance (as is the case for Twitter, Facebook or Tiktok). Each Mastodon server can decide on its own rules – for example, who can join and what you can say. And anyone who wants can choose to run a server (for example, since I'm a nerd, I run my own).

You follow users both from your own server and other servers. It's a bit like email; no matter your email provider, you can send and receive messages from other email providers. It can feel a bit confusing before you get the hang of it, but the main point with this setup is that no single company (or individual) should have power over the platform we use to communicate online.

You can learn more here and follow me here.

The call for a TikTok ban is getting louder in the United States


This summer, United States FBI Director Christopher Wray said, "if you are an American adult, it is more likely than not that China has stolen your personal data". Moreover, he called Chinese espionage the "greatest long-term threat to [United States]… economic vitality".

With more than 200 million downloads in the United States alone, TikTok is becoming a critical information infrastructure. This makes the app's ownership by a Chinese parent company a target of growing national security concerns. "The FBI is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 hours," Wray said.

And it's not only the FBI that is concerned. Brendan Carr, one of five commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission, is calling for the US government to ban TikTok rather than come to a national security agreement with the social media app that might allow it to continue operating in the United States.

For European users, an incoming privacy policy change announced by TikTok this week names China as one of several third countries where user data can be remotely accessed by "certain" company employees to perform what it claims are "important" functions. While it is still very vague in what countries and for what purposes the data might be used, this is still a notable development since TikTok has claimed for months that its Chinese entities cannot access user data from the platform.

Why is this important?

You might not see Chinese espionage as a significant risk to you personally. But the fact that your data, and that of a billion other people, end up in the hands of a non-democratic power like China is something to think twice about. For example, China can analyse data they collect in an attempt to breach critical systems, stalk targeted individuals, design targeted misinformation campaigns against selected demographics, and much more.

Furthermore, if you work for a brand investing a lot of money in media or content creation for TikTok, you should be aware of and plan for the risk that the platform could be banned in the United States and the EU.

After several break-ups, Russia is dating new potential partners


The Pakistani Flag

Russia lost many essential trade connections and previous strategic allies when invading Ukraine. Trying to circumvent the sanctions put in place by the EU and United States and in need of other buyers for its gas, Russia is trying to make new friends.

Firstly, to round western sanctions, Moscow is trying to promote the development of a north-south trade corridor through the Caucasus. Iran – eager to distract attention from domestic problems, including mounting domestic protests – has rushed to action on this opportunity. As a result, their impact would increase substantially in the region. But with ongoing military exercises on the borders of Azerbaijan and Armenia – Iran is also sending the message that it has its own agenda.

So, Vladimir Putin is making sure he has options. Meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in September, he said, "I would like to note that we see Pakistan as a priority partner in South Asia as well as the continent as a whole". The two countries have a troubling past – Pakistan was an ally of the United States during the Cold War – but the relationship has steadily improved, and in 2016 the countries held joint military exercises.

Today, strategically connecting Russia with Pakistan is the plan for an energy pipeline supplying Russian gas to Islamabad. However, most pipelines from Central to South Asia must cross Afghanistan before entering Pakistan. And the increasing political instability in Afghanistan raises security concerns in both Moscow and Islamabad. In addition, United Nations report warned that transnational terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State, are growing in strength in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal.

Why does this matter? The relationships among these three countries – and we can add China to the mix, so four – are not defined by deep bonds or shared values but by specific interests and the mutual desire to destabilise western powers. Iranian leaders have repeatedly mentioned a "new world order" in different interviews. However, the world gets exponentially uncertain for every non-democratic government you add to these new partnerships forming. When a common enemy is the main reason for collaboration, turning on each other doesn't require much disagreement.

Double-check the headlines

Just making sure you didn't miss any major world events this week.

One long

The Washington Post

Attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband follows years of GOP demonizing her

In 2010, United States Republicans launched a “Fire Pelosi” project with a bus tour, a #FIREPELOSI hashtag, and images of Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi swallowed in Hades-style flames. Then, 12 years later, a man with right-wing views who broke into the House speaker’s home yelled, “Where is Nancy?” before assaulting her husband, Paul Pelosi, with a hammer.

The Washington Post has outlined the vitriol hate campaign towards the US Speaker of the House – including the millions of dollars Republicans have spent on ads to attack her. However, one thing is clear: Violence does not breed in isolation.

Five short

1. Read

Last Sunday, more than 150 people were crushed to death. Many things related to the event could have been done differently to avoid the devastating outcome. But what should you do if you end up in a crowd crush? This article from the New York Times has practical guidance on how to behave.

2. Listen

Love + Work by Marcus Buckingham is a book where listening clearly beats reading. Marcus narrates the book himself and talks (in his charming British accent) about the importance of optimising our lives for what we love. For example, doing something we love at work every day will dramatically reduce the risk of burnout. It is a must-read for everyone managing others and anyone feeling a bit stuck at work.

3. Remember

Next week, world leaders and climate organisations are meeting in Egypt for COP27. This means climate narratives will hopefully take up a lot of space in your social media channels. Instead of just scrolling through quickly, help the planet by sharing the content further. Many small actions can have an enormous impact.

4. Change

Cleaning products are 90% water and 10% chemicals. Since it doesn't make sense to ship water around – and the chemicals being used are not always the best for the planet – innovative brands with beautiful, sustainable products have been popping up for years in the United States and Great Britain. However, none of the pretty ones has been shipping to the EU. But finally, there's one that does: Kinfill.

The idea is that you have nice glass bottles, use water from the tap, and add refillable chemicals they send you via mail. So, finish your current cleaning products and switch to a better brand.

5. Try

Keeping a gratitude journal is a scientifically proven way to become happier. Yes, it is as simple as mindfully writing down three things you are grateful for. This daily task has one of the best returns on investment I've ever experienced, and I can truly recommend it. I alternate between the app Day One and a physical journal, depending on what is convenient for the day.