[Editor’s Note: This post is now essentially moot because Twitter has rescinded the rule on which the post was based. But I’m leaving the post up, at least for now, since it prompted a lively discussion. — Paul]
Hello! Hope everyone had a good weekend, especially our Canadian readers — happy post-Canada Day!
Now then: As you may have heard and/or experienced, Twitter is no longer allowing people to view tweets unless they’re logged in. This is supposedly a temporary thing, but for now it means that if we link to a tweet in the Ticker — something we tend to do a lot of every day — you won’t be able to see the tweet unless you have a Twitter account. If you don’t have an account (or if you have one but aren’t signed in), you’ll just see a login page or an error message.
This development has occasioned some frustration on the part of Uni Watch readers who don’t have Twitter accounts, several of whom have said things like this (I’m paraphrasing here): “It’s really annoying that Twitter has done this, but they’re such jerks, so I’m not surprised. I refuse to get a Twitter account because I don’t want to support them, so could you maybe start embedding tweets instead of linking to them? Or maybe take a screen shot of the tweet and then link to that?”
Now, I can think of all sorts of very good reasons why people might not want to have a Twitter account. The dialogue on Twitter is often idiotic at best, toxic at worst. The platform’s expansive reach has given oxygen to some of the worst elements in our cultural discourse, its algorithm tends to create an outrage-driven feedback loop that’s not healthy for anyone, and its 240-character limit guarantees that complex ideas get boiled down to oversimplified sound bites — and all of those were already problems before the current owner took over and made things worse.
So yeah, I can understand why someone wouldn’t want to be on Twitter. I wouldn’t be on there myself if it weren’t essential for my work (Twitter long ago overtook email as the way most people submit tips and observations to Uni Watch), and I’ve said many times that the very first thing I will do when I eventually retire is get off of Twitter. Can’t wait!
That said, however, it seems to me that if you don’t want anything to do with Twitter, then you should, you know, not want anything to do with Twitter. Those readers who came to me and said, “I’m boycotting this thing, so could you please devise a workaround?” are basically trying to have it both ways: They want the content but they don’t want to be associated with the content; they want the benefits of the thing without any of the obligations of the thing; they want the righteousness of boycottng something without any of the accompanying hassles or sacrifices that a boycott sometimes entails.
As a media professional, I find that troubling, because it’s a microcosm of how people tend to view internet content in general. What Twitter’s doing here isn’t quite the same as a paywall, but it’s similar in the sense that they’re making access to their content conditional instead of universal. And just as I see nothing wrong with paywalls, I also see nothing wrong with Twitter’s sign-in requirement, which seems like a minor inconvenience at worst. (You could easily just sign up for a dummy account, right?) But people have become so accustomed to getting free, unrestricted internet content that they tend to interpret any friction point, whether it’s a paywall or just a registration requirement, as an affront.
That’s an unfortunate development, on several levels. Most obviously, it’s bad for the journalism industry, which continues to shed jobs at an alarming rate because the business model based on unpaid traffic doesn’t work. Beyond that, though, it seems pretty obvious at this point that if you insist on consuming only media content that you can get for free, you ultimately get what you pay for. Or to put it another way, maybe Twitter wouldn’t be such a race-to-the-bottom shitshow, filled with so many trolls and charlatans, if people had to pay for it. But whether on Twitter or anywhere else on the web, many people tend to think of free content as an entitlement.
Anyway: I’ll continue to embed tweets where it makes sense to do so (like at the top of this post). But embedding tweets instead of linking to them wouldn’t work within the format of the Ticker, and screen-shotting every tweet we link to and then uploading and linking to the screen shots would be too cumbersome, so we won’t be doing that either — sorry. We’ll keep linking to various tweets, just as we often link to paywalled content, and you folks can decide whether to subscribe, or register, or whatever — up to you. Since the Twitter folks say the registration requirement is just temporary, links to tweets will presumably be back to normal soon. In the meantime, this episode certainly demonstrates how spoiled we’ve all become by having free, unfettered access to social media content, which seems like something worth reflecting on.