He'll succeed or fail based on product improvements, not moderation decisions
> I’m not exactly sure why this happened, but roughly a year ago there was a substantial vibe shift in Silicon Valley which holds that most large technology companies are massively overstaffed.
Many, if not most, tech companies are extremely reluctant to fire engineers for performance reasons until they run into a cash flow issue and have to do layoffs. You’ll find this general consensus across tech forums (e.g., Hackers News). I believe this is the case for a multitude of reasons.
First, engineers are among the most expensive employees to hire and onboard. A lot of resources go into recruiting, including numerous interviews with existing engineers and managers. And many candidates get rejected or reject the company. This adds up to a lot of time and money (guessing high 5 figures) just to hire one engineer.
Further, it can take months for an engineer to get up to speed at an established company due to all of the proprietary tech and knowledge. And engineers grow in value for years as they pick up more tribal knowledge of the firm’s codebase and systems.
Second, engineers on the same team become non-fungible due to working on different projects. We certainly try to minimize this by rotating people on to different projects so that they can gain more tribal knowledge. Yet every team member becomes the canonical expert on different systems since they simply have worked on different projects.
Third, there rarely is any short term value to firing a low performing engineer. Yes, some of us are an actual net negative by worsening the codebase quality or breaking things that require other people’s help to fix. Yet that is rare. More likely is a “quiet quitter” that makes some minimal, yet positive contribution. You’ll find numerous self-reporting on Hacker News of engineers only working 10 hours a week at FAANG firms.
Fourth, engineers have short tenures, commonly jumping to another firm in two years. It’s an open secret that an internal promotion at almost all tech companies is harder than simply getting hired at that higher level at a comparable firm. There’s a lot of debate among engineers about whether that is due to a failure of internal promotion processes or a failure of the hiring processes. And of course the most ambitious and highest performers are jumping firms more frequently.
So in summary, engineers are expensive to hire, possess valuable differential tribal knowledge, are almost always a positive contribution to the team, and constantly leaving anyways. So there’s just no reason to manage out low performers unless the firm runs into cash flow issues.
I think there is a fundamental difference between left-wing and right-wing speech norms.
Left-wing norms are about the sentiment; what a ban on "misgendering" amounts to is a ban on expressing the position that trans women are men; it doesn't matter what language that you use to express that sentiment, you are not allowed to say it.
Right-wing norms are about specific words. The question right-wing people ask, often, is "what words can I use?". Their mental model is that you can say that a trans woman is a man, but you can't use (list of slurs) to say so.
To pick an issue where the badness of the sentiment is less controversial:
Right-wing norms on race are that you can say that black people are intrinsically less intelligent than white people (they mostly think that this is incorrect as to fact, but it's acceptable to say it), but you can't call them by a slur.
Left-wing norms are that the sentiment that black people are intrinsically less intelligent than white people is, in itself, outside of the norms.
I should add that this is consistent: if an atheist says "there is no God", then right-wingers do not take offence (they disagree, often vehemently, but they don't take offence); if they use what is intended as disparaging language, like talking about "invisible sky fairies", then right-wingers do take offence at that.
You'll often hear right-wing people asking what words they can use to say what they want to say - and they rarely hear the truthful answer, which is that there are no words through which it is acceptable to the left to express that sentiment.
You can hear this culture clash all the time: right-wingers objecting to people using George Carlin's seven words; left-wingers happily using all of them and objecting to The Bell Curve, which never once uses a racial slur, but expresses a view of black people that is utterly abhorrent to the left-wing mindset.
The only word I can think of where left-wing people object to the word itself rather than the sentiment is the N-word. I'm aware that there is some discussion about two versions of this word, but as a speaker of a non-rhotic dialect, I can't actually hear the difference. Other slurs you can usually quote directly or talk about (the use/mention distinction).
“left-of-center people…need to get used to the honestly quite banal idea that many successful and capable businesspeople have right-wing political views.”
Failing to understand this has made a lot of liberals total marks for corporations faking progressive values. It’s embarrassing. They don’t ACTUALLY care about bisexuality day, guys.
I like the distinction between "stepping in at the vanguard of a controversial social dispute and enforcing widely agreed-upon social boundaries."
This sort of gets to the heart of what I see as the problem with "cancel culture." It's comes across as an effort to not just police the outer limits of agreed upon socially acceptable behavior, but try to win arguments by altering what is considered socially acceptable.
There is a strong push on the left to exclude the GOP, and even much of the center-left from polite society. This isn't just about banishing NAZIs, but excluding mainstream members of the GOP. The idea that a sitting SCOTUS judge shouldn't be able to publish a book is kinda nuts. As is the idea that anyone who deviates from the Lefts position on trans rights - an issue that remains very unsettled - should be banned from public forums.
While I don't want to say that this is the only reason, or even the main reason the Right is becoming/has become awful, I think it is a significant factor. Democracy only works if everyone feels like they get a fair shake (or if you can successfully repress those who don't) If the Right feels like they are not welcome to participate in polite society and the public discourse, they have no reason to think that their views are getting a fair shake in society and they no longer have reason to rely upon democracy or public institutions.. Moreover, the left does not have the power or will to actually repress the GOP.
I see your point about maybe it is a good thing for orgs, like the 1947 Dodgers, to be at the vanguard of a social issue, but I tend to think that neutral-ish speech platforms, such as Twitter or the publishing industry, as well as public institutions such as public schools and universities, really should not be, especiallybwhen they are all on the same side. I think that that really gives the impression that the other side is not being invited to participate in democracy, and that is corrosive to society.
I think Matt left out a "not" in the second paragraph, which caused me to laugh out loud in very inappropriate circumstances
I think Ben Thompson described an interesting plan for addressing Twitter’s content moderation and financial model on Apr 18 in his article, “Back to the Future of Twitter”.  His basic idea is to separate Twitter into a backend service that hosts content and a front end client that provides moderation and algorithmic curation. Twitter would then open the backend up so that anyone can develop their own client by paying for access.
The backend would do the minimal amount of moderation necessary to conform with the law in each jurisdiction and then provide optional services to the clients for more sophisticated moderation and algorithmic filtering and ranking. Twitter would continue to host their existing front end and possibly create more over time.
The idea is that the plethora of clients would allow for experimentation and meeting the diverse user preferences. You could have heavily moderated clients as well as wild west anything goes. While all clients would reference the same social graph and tweets/replies, each client could use whatever methods they want for filtering and ranking.
Some possible clients I’ve considered.
1. A client geared towards journalists and other prominent people that provides them with a layer that filters out harassment. This could include manual curation of their DMs, replies and retweets. The service would also have a team of lawyers for reporting credible threats of violence to law enforcement and sending cease-and-desist letters for proper libel. (Note this works well with Elon’s plan to require human identity verification, even for anonymous accounts.) This service would be expensive and geared towards people that value this layer of protection for professional reasons.
2. A client geared towards techies like myself that want to experiment with their own algorithms. While we’re a niche group, many of us would gladly pay quite a bit of money to support such a nerdy hobby. There’d be sharing and critique of each other's work as we toil to optimize our own Twitter experience. Over time some of the ideas might filter into other mainstream clients.
3. Partisan clients. Fox news could provide a client as could CNN. Even the DNC, RNC, and other parties could provide their preferred view of the social graph. They’d be openly filtering and ranking the social feed in a way that corresponds to the user's political preference.
> This should be a feature of Twitter where you can either mass delete your tweets or else schedule tweets for automatic deletion.
Everything posted to the internet should be considered permanent due to trusted archive services and even screenshots. On the margin, deleting older tweets will make it harder for people to find; and that may be valuable to reducing controversy around what someone said in the past. Yet I think we should all act as if everything we add to the internet is permanent.
And famous people with a history of deleting tweets generally get auto archived. E.g., Michael Burry (investor of Big Short fame) auto deletes his tweets. So people created other Twitter accounts that simply mirror everything he posts to provide a permanent archive. E.g., https://twitter.com/BurryArchive
"Nobody in the Republican Party... is in a rush to get Donald Trump back on Twitter because his account is embarrassing to the GOP."
Oh Matt Y., you sweet child of summer.
You sound like a Soviet official in 1989, proclaiming that surely Comrade Gorbachev will crack down on this silly dissent in Poland any day now, and the Warsaw Pact will endure for a thousand years!
The world has changed. Yes, back in the innocent days of the early 2010s, Trump's tweets would have been embarrassing both to the GOP and to any decent person. Now? Yes, they're embarrassing and infuriating to the Tim Millers and Jonathan V. Lasts of the world, but those guys aren't even in the GOP anymore. The GOP elected officials and candidates have, to a (wo)man, bent over and kissed Trump's... ring, let's be polite about it, and they're tripping all over themselves to proclaim their fealty to him.
What happened to Congresswoman Cheney? Why was she pulverized in her primary? Did she suddenly change her mind on trans rights and gun control? No! She was defenestrated for publicly accusing the Orange God King of lying and trying to subvert our democracy. And you say that it's *Trump's tweets* that are embarrassing to the GOP?
Yes, in private some GOP politicians are probably embarrassed and disgusted with themselves for bending the knee before the Orange One, but they will never admit it publicly, because they can't afford to.
Matt has fun on Twitter. I used to have a certain amount of fun on Twitter, and miss a few of the good accounts and the occasional good joke.
On the whole though, it seems straightforwardly clear that a decent number of people have gotten badly ill from using Twitter. I hope Musk runs it into the ground. It’ll probably get replaced by something worse, but at least a few people will look away from their phones for a bit longer than usual and not look back.
As someone that owns a company that writes reorg software...
... yes, many companies are overstaffed. Who created the system that hired these people? Not a single silicon valley engineer, product manager, or other person interviewed for the job hoping that they could be the 5th product manager of the LinkedIn help menu.
The problem was (and is) we judge people by the population of the org they control. Widely known: getting the VP promo means you need an org size of 75+ engineers. SVP? About 250. When interest rates are zero and budgets are infinite, nobody should be surprised this happens.
Of course, it is the rank and file who will "suffer". And by suffer, I mean take a job loss, find another company, and now that sanity is returning, have a more fulfilling job than somehow making enough work to spend 5 hours debating and poring over usage data to decide the order of menu items on the help menu. There are a lot of startups that could use the help, far more wealth will be created, and the industry will be better for it.
I'm an engineer working in software, and while I wouldn't say that we are overstaffed, there is definitely widespread skills-mismatch/poorly-staffing.
Especially in the last few years as demand seemed to bloom and supply seemed to wither.
Companies resorted to scooping up anyone that had the credentials to fill these roles...and a significant % (and notably higher % than previous) of these people are of very minimal or negative net value. But they are (properly-credentialed) butts in seats, so HR and management consider it a win.
To the point that I think that my organization could drop ~25-30% of our engineering staff and still be about as productive.
I don't know if this is unique to my particular industry or widespread, though. I'm not at a FAANG or even the Bay Area, so we may be irrelevant.
“an even blunter 2021 poll asks whether greater acceptance of transgender people has been good or bad for society. In that poll, “good” won with 38 percent, but 32 percent said it was bad with a hefty 29 percent saying it’s neither good nor bad.”
This implies that significantly less than 38% of the population buy the liberal position on gender dysphoria. I’m certainly in the 38% of Americans who think greater acceptance of the gender dysphoric is good. I’m for acceptance and tolerance, just as we should be accepting of people with bipolar disorder or speech impediments or mobility issues. This does not mean that a man can become a woman, or that I will pay verbal obeisance to that conceit. I can accept a person with bipolar disorder by being their friend, employer or colleague while thinking they should take drugs to reduce manic behaviors. Gender dysphoria is generally less disruptive than mania, so it might sometimes be better to lean into it than fight it. In any event, acceptance does imply that gender dysphoria is anything other than a fraught and unfortunate condition. I’m grateful that I’m happy being a man just like I’m grateful that I’m tall and physically healthy.
- It strikes me that the culture war around trans people has become much hotter since even last year. Hard to know what a new poll would show. Further intensification of partisan differences or a weakening from one side?
- Silicon Valley is probably entering into a bit of a trough, much like after the dotcom bust. The years of explosive growth are over and they can't have too many people fooling around. Facebook are pissing away billions on nonsense.
- If Facebook and Twitter crumble to pieces through incompetence, it will be the feel good story of the year.
This is all well and good until we decompartmentalize it from the big elephant in the room which you've discussed elsewhere:
Musk has massive personal exposure in China--and indeed, in other authoritarian regimes. One of his biggest funders is Saudi.
He will take all of that into account when overhauling the fourth-largest media company in the world. Anonymous dissidents the world over will feel the impact.
It seems useless to discuss this situation as if it's just another example of a new boss with new ideas to improve a product. Musk is a geopolitical actor--and as we've seen lately, a narcissist with a deep grudge against the US media writ large, yourself included.
He will be seen by history as such, and we will all look silly for treating his Twitter takeover like just another business story.
I find the overstaffing SV thesis very interesting and I’m sure it’s only like 50-75% trying to avoid giving out a bunch of stock options.
One very very interesting element of it, to me, is product improvement. Twitter has always seemed to make very few changes. If it were a similarly staffed video game I would expect many many changes all the time—not just improvements but simply bc the audience craves novelty. This is not the prevailing view of the socials, which rise and fall on acquiring some pretty marginal tech users like famous actors or sports stars. It’s important to be able to onboard some folks like this and make them ‘power users’ even if they actually would feel overwhelmed by a product worthy of power use. Especially one that is rapidly iterating.
The problem may be solvable, different version of the platform or something else creative—hiding features away so they can be found and accessed but don’t present themselves as an overwhelming array of knobs, dials, and levers.
But certainly there seems to me a tension between tech company staffing and a general sense that their products need to be quite simple and changes need to be subtle and infrequent. And it’s interesting to me that Twitter seems to be on the verge of testing both theories at once even though they kind of point in different directions. For me, it’s sort of either get rid of the extra people and view your product as a mature thing to squeeze remaining value out of or rapidly innovate with a large staff of developers.
I like Matt's idea of archiving tweets, except for the part where they'd be removed from public view. As several others have already pointed out in parallel, deleting tweets are bad because everything on the internet is capable of being archived, and it's really frustrating when you're trying to figure out what's going on, or trying to read a really good conversation of the past when one of the participants has deleted a bunch of tweets. The archiving should allow for tweets to not be replied to/RTed/QTed, and any linking to them should not show up in the author's timeline, but they shouldn't be gone for good.
I also think Twitter needs a retract button, where any people who feel they screwed up on a tweet can flag it to prominently display a message that the authors no longer stand by the tweets they made. This would end a lot of the silly drama of people pointing out "Didn't you say this bad or inaccurate thing?", and the authors can instead let the "This tweet has been retracted by the author" message do the work for them.
And related to this, Twitter really needs to get cracking on that clarification button, so people don't have to be chained to a bad typo or very slight mistake when their tweets go viral.