Farewell, Little Blue Bird

From a Washington Post editorial headlined “Farewell, feathered friend”:

Over the past few months, reports of Twitter’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Now, however, Elon Musk has made it official: Twitter — or, at least, “Twitter” — is no more. Let us mourn the cheery little blue bird.

The microblogging platform owner and Tesla CEO announced this weekend that Twitter would rebrand to “X.” The gambit is part of Mr. Musk’s long-standing desire to build what he has called an “everything app” — with communications, payments and any other functionality a consumer might desire all part of the package, much like Tencent’s WeChat in China or Grab in Southeast Asia. Or as Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino tweeted (if we may still refer to it as “tweeting”), “X is the future state of unlimited interactivity.”

We’ll see how Mr. Musk, having driven away many of the advertisers that bolstered Twitter’s value, gets along after annihilating another of the platform’s most valuable assets: its brand. In any case, the moment is somber.

Twitter today is already worse than Twitter a year ago. There is more hate and more harassment, and there was plenty of those to start with. There are more junk promotions for products that seem too niche — or too tacky — to justify their existence elsewhere: a horse’s head superimposed on a heartbeat line on a T-shirt designed “only for real Horse Lovers,” for instance. There are more algorithmically amplified tweets from Mr. Musk’s hand-selected VIP users, including, of course, himself. And that’s when the site is working at all.

But somehow, despite the greater practical importance of these accumulating shortfalls, the loss of the little blue bird pecks at the heartstrings. The image of the small, chirping creature lent an air of lightness to the platform. It reminded users, often under the impression that they and their online conversations represented the center of the universe, not to take themselves too seriously. They weren’t there to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or write the modern-day Gettysburg Address. They were there simply to express whatever thoughts might fit into 280 characters.

There was fighting on Twitter long before Mr. Musk. There were polarization and fake news and medical misinformation and all manner of other ills. But Twitter was also a place for people to talk to other people who otherwise would never have the chance to hear them — to share thoughts and make memes and turn what started as a bunch of unidentified egg avatars into a community. At worst, these users were creating a cacophony. At best, they were listening to each other sing.

“Soon we shall bid adieu to the twitter brand and, gradually, all the birds,” Mr. Musk tweeted on Sunday. We’d say rest in peace — but we can also hope they have flown away to a better place.

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