So Bitcoin tipping on Twitter is now live. This brings a wider audience to cryptocurrency, which is good, but is it completely good? To answer that question we have to pull back and look at the larger picture.
On Twitter, 80% of the tweets come from 10% of the most active accounts. This means that all the people we know who spend their life on Twitter -- unless they're part of that 10% -- are just blips in the data. It also means that the effective user base of Twitter is even smaller still. Let's assume that the effective user base consists of those hyperactive 10% generating 80% of the tweets, with the other 20% of the accounts generating 20%. That leaves us with an effective user base of 30% of Twitter's total.
Here's how it stacks up in audience size versus other social media platforms:
Tiktok - 100 million
Twitter - 187 million (effective user base: 56.1 million)
Snapchat - 265 million
Pinterest - 400 million
Linked In - 738 million
Instagram - 1 billion
Youtube - 2 billion
FB - 2.7 billion
When Tiktok has half the users, Snapchat has more, and Facebook has ten times as much, that does put this into perspective. If you use the effective user base, that lowers its position even more, placing Twitter dead last among established social media platforms. Am I saying that this isn't important? No. I'm saying, "Don't believe the hype."
What else do we know about Twitter? Its demographics are interesting. According to Pew, Twitter users are:
- more likely to identify as Democrats
- more highly educated
- have higher incomes than U.S. adults overall
- somewhat more likely to say that immigrants strengthen rather than weaken the country
- somewhat more likely to see evidence of racial and gender-based inequalities in society
Also, over half of its users say they get their news from Twitter. Given that Pew is a research (survey) firm, the reality is probably more in that direction than these numbers indicate. All things considered, Twitter seems like an echo chamber for the liberal-to-Stalinist left.
Who would create such a place? Let's take a closer look at Jack Dorsey, founder and CEO of Twitter. Leadership comes from the top, so we know that he permits people to be shadowbanned (a sneaky way of reducing influence without telling the person involved), and absolute bans. Worse, he doesn't follow his own terms of service document, and thus, does not provide a knowable standard as to what the platform allows or disallows. To sum, he promotes viewpoint discrimination (at best), lying (claiming to follow his TOS when he does not), and hiding information.
You might say, "It's his playground. He can do what he wants." I myself subscribe to this position, but that position is losing ground in the face of thinking of social media as a kind of public neutral platform. The jist is if Twitter is a platform, not a publisher, then they can't be held liable for what they allow on it. However, Twitter is not a neutral platform; they don't follow their own TOS, and definitively pick and choose who and what they allow based on Jack's ever-shifting scale. This is quite in contrast to the open standards that most internet users expect from a service. The evidence suggests that you can't trust Jack Dorsey.
The same man who wants to control speech on Twitter according to his whim also founded Square and Cash.app. I've used Square and I find it to be pretty useful. However I don't rely upon it to process my business payments. Square is also about controlling people. Here's a short non-exhaustive list of things they refuse to process:
- gun manufacturers
- steamships (lol)
- internet alcohol
- harmful products
Note that the "hate" category is a mile wide and can mean anything that Jack says it means, just like it does on Twitter.
Also, because of pandemic protocols, Square has held on to the payments of small businesses for 3-4 months. This tactic is very similar to how regulations operate. When new regulations come into effect, only larger businesses have the capital and the manpower to handle the associated costs and reporting. Smaller businesses often collapse. Who does this benefit? Big businesses. They can pick up the customers and maximize their own profits, because their competition has been eliminated. Of course, their contributions go to the politicians who promoted the regulations in the first place!
This is how the game is played, folks. Regulation makes it hard for the little guys to compete, so only the big guys can do it; regulation is pushed by people of a certain political perspective, and surprise, big business then funds these regulators so they can stay in office. This is why competition in any space is crucial.
Twitter has faced increased scrutiny for acting like a publisher instead of a platform. Although Mr. Dorsey could either amend or choose to follow his TOS or allow free speech at any time, he hasn't done any of these. Square has invested $50 million in Bitcoin, and now the drums of regulation are beating for crypto. How does he handle this confluence of speech and crypto?
Introduce Bitcoin tipping and NFT verification, which allows Twitter to piggyback on crypto's popularity, and helps insulate it from free-speech punishments.
It's quite clever, really. Twitter gets to pretend to be about free speech, but if it is regulated as a platform, guess what? That means crypto will probably be swept up in that regulation. Crypto on Twitter is a poison pill; it holds Bitcoin hostage and says to the feds, "Either allow crypto to keep funding this free speech gulag or regulate Twitter as a platform and regulate crypto as well!" It's a childish, melodramatic, Snidely Whiplash sort of move. We all know that crypto as an non-fundamental addition to the platform could legally be severed from it, but the gauntlet has been thrown down nonetheless. (How much do you want to bet this code would be deeply integrated into the platform to make severability difficult, like IE was integrated into Windows?)
Twitter wants to regulate what you say.
Square wants to regulate what you buy.
Cash.app wants to regulate whom you can send money to.
One man is behind all three.
I don't want to live in those fetters, but as of today, I still have options. Crypto on Twitter looks good only in the short term; in the long term, it is a roach motel.
Lastly, some people would claim that Jack Dorsey is not this intelligent; he just created three tech companies that ended up being about controlling money and speech. If he isn't, isn't it interesting that evidence flows only one way, in the way of greater and greater restrictions upon more and more people?
(Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash.)