It's People Watching
Many people compare Twitter to a "town square" when they describe the platform or philosophize about how it should be operated. But the town square model is the incorrect way to frame the platform, especially if you're the hypothetical CEO. It's an easy analogy, but it's not refined thinking. So let's break out of this sand trap, shall we?
The better way to understand Twitter is to think of it as a people-watching platform. Twitter is the digital equivalent of outdoor seating at a downtown restaurant; you comment on the people passing by amongst your friends in between discussions of current events or the group's interests.
When you see a post from Biden, Aella, or BAP you might hit it with a quote-tweet to share your joke or quip about it with the people sitting at your table (your mutuals and followers). Maybe you DM it to the group chat and drop a really spicy take. One should identify here that to the end user, the fun of Twitter comes from it being a commentary platform just as much as it's a content platform. The commentary is both a specific type of content and the content in and of itself in a meta sense.
No other social media platform enjoys this advantage to this degree. It's Twitter's meal ticket.
Your understanding of this will be important further down the page where I talk about video and long-form writing. Commentary is the core of the Twitter experience for many people, especially among Twitter's most active users and contributors.
It is in this strategic vision that I would implement the below tactical policies:
Twitter users should be able to post whatever they want within legal limits. There would be no ToS relating to "hate speech," "inclusive language," or similar abstractions. Insults, crude jokes, and offensive memes would all be fine to post.
The concept that words qualify as violence is leftist nonsense and should be disavowed in practice wherever possible.
But for every person that loves extremist content and shitposting, plenty of people don't. Not everyone is here to fight and carry on; these people deserve consideration too. It's foundational that users get a quality experience, an experience they want; users who don't love their time on one app will occupy their time with another.
I love Twitter fights, but not everyone is an idiot like me. Some people actually use Twitter to act like civilized human beings in a friendly and productive manner. (Weird, I know.)
So people should have the option to come on Twitter and essentially opt out of seeing things they don't like or don't want to engage with. Users can't control what other people can say, but users should be able to narrowly tailor both what they see and what others can see from them. Here's how I'd approach this.
I would keep Twitter's current tools of Circles, the padlock account feature, the muted words list, and the ability to control and limit replies.
But I think Twitter could better facilitate a quality user experience by creating a set of global variables and allowing users to more precisely decide what they see – and more importantly – what they don't see. Also, Twitter could implement more comprehensive tools than the simple mute and block functions.
There could be any number of global variables, but here are a few that I think would be useful in facilitating the siloing of content:
Elected politicians should never be banned from Twitter. The same goes for political candidates and general officers in the military. Politicians should be verified and also assigned a party affiliation.
For example, Donald Trump would be verified and listed as a member of the GOP. Twitter users should be able to select "Hide tweets containing: Politicians => GOP" and then not see tweets from members of the Republican party. This feature would extend to members of the Democratic Party, third parties, or just a blanket mute of politicians.
If I were the CEO, I would ban nudity on the platform. Further, I'd require users who post non-nude sexual content to self-declare their tweets as containing non-nude sexual content. Users could then select "Hide tweets containing: sexual content" and have a timeline free of such material.
Posts containing images and videos of death, violence, and serious injury – gang shootings, combat footage from Ukraine, dash cams, cartel gore – would need to self-declare themselves as containing violence. Users could then select "Hide tweets containing: death or serious injury" and skip this material.
Flag and Emoji Bans
Users should be able to hide tweets from usernames containing specific flags and emojis, too. Imagine being able to select "Hide tweets from usernames containing: 🏳️⚧️, 🌹, or 🇺🇦"
This would be wonderful.
Better Block and Mute Tools
It would be nice to be able to click on someone's tweet or account and choose to mute or block them (and, optionally, their entire follow list) for 30 days, 90 days, or permanently. There's already an app named Secateur that does this as a third-party service, but it would be a great feature to include natively.
To recap, people should be free to say whatever they want – even if it's rude or offensive – but they should also easily block and mute whatever types of people or content they wish.
The Law Enforcement Problem
We've seen from the Twitter files that the White House, FBI, and Pentagon have been actively involved in controlling what content appears or does not appear on the platform. This would need to be curbed to the full extent of what's permissible by law.
If I were the CEO, my blanket policy would be that Twitter would not take any action for or against a user's account unless compelled by warrant or legal mandate. Further, users would be notified of any law enforcement actions relating to their accounts unless Twitter was prohibited from disclosing such information by law. Twitter would also release a detailed law enforcement transparency report (more than the current offering) and include a 'warrant canary' style notification system.
CSAM (Child Sexually Abusive Material)
If I were the CEO, it would be a ToS violation to post videos/images of persons under 18 unless they're celebrities, in public (think little league games, graduations, etc.), or your own children. Any post containing images of minors would need to self-declare as such and be subject to human review. Posting a picture of a minor without self-declaring would lead to a warning, and a second offense would lead to a suspension.
Users who post CSAM would be suspended and reported to law enforcement. Users who like, share, bookmark or DM CSAM material (or who follow CSAM accounts) would also be suspended. Same for sharing sources of CSAM.
"Support groups" for minors who are "transitioning" or need "advice" about their sexuality would also be group banned.
Okay, so Twitter now has free speech, global variables, and expanded user curation tools. So, where does it evolve from here?
I've seen smart people suggesting that Twitter get involved in video or long-form content. I think recognizing the need to evolve is the right intuition, but evolving into video – a segment full of highly competent and extremely competitive rivals with better financials and more experience – is the wrong analysis.
No one has ever said, "wow, this NYT crossword is so amusing, but it would be even better if one had to solve for complete sentences rather than just words or short phrases." This is how people sound to me when they say Twitter should have 4,000-character tweets and 45-minute videos.
Further, saying "everyone else has video, so Twitter should too!" is missing a very important point: no one else has tweets. Twitter already has its niche, and there is no close second competitor. It would be foolish to leave a niche you dominate to try and siphon engagement from a niche you do not.
To be clear– I'm not saying people shouldn't be able to post videos as they do now. I'm saying that altering the Twitter platform to foster a video-first experience would not create a better Twitter but a worse YouTube. The same goes for long-form writing. A 2,000-word tweet isn't a tweet – it's a blog post. Post it on a blog.
Rather than chasing video or long-form writing, the CEO of Twitter should make the correct assessment that I think is obvious: despite its flaws, Twitter is the undisputed champion of its niche and has a loyal fanbase.
Twitter's specific niche is microblogging. The character limit should not be increased, the app should not be repurposed for video-first UX, and everything should basically stay looking and acting the same.
"Alright, Lee, you've made your point. But what should Twitter do then?"
The Natural Evolution
It seems obvious to me that the natural evolution of Twitter is to become the place for podcasts.
Open your Twitter app right now and swipe right. What happens? Nothing. But what if you swiped right and it was your favorite podcast player? One where you could directly comment on episodes without logging into Patreon? One where your monthly $8 for Twitter Blue also gave you a free hour or two of listening credits for premium podcasts? Wouldn't that feel natural?
The natural evolution of the Google search was YouTube videos; the only thing more useful than a Google search that feeds you a how-to article is a Google search that feeds you a how-to video. Well, Google owns YouTube because they correctly identified this when the time was right.
The natural evolution of the Instagram feed was TikTok; the only thing better than a curated feed of heavily-edited photos is a curated feed of heavily-edited short videos. Facebook/Meta does not own TikTok because they failed to identify this in time.
Twitter's natural evolution is to integrate with Podcasts seamlessly. Curtis Yarvin and Elon Musk have both correctly identified that Twitter must position itself as the universal news source, the universal source of fact and truth.
I agree with this sentiment, and here's the thing: not only is this a good idea, but legacy news is a loser compared to podcasts. Joe Rogan gets more of an audience than Tucker or Maddow several times over. If the CEO of Twitter can seamlessly integrate the tweet economy with the podcast economy, the synthesis will, I predict, posture Twitter as the global news source.
Accomplishing this integration also positions Twitter to wean itself off being mostly supported by corporate advertisers. The podcast integration would mean Twitter could generate a higher share of its revenue from end users and content creators while diversifying its ad space offerings to brands and corporations. I won't deep-dive this because I think the possibilities are self-evident.
To sum up: any executive concerned with getting the right things done should see the opportunity to natively pair Twitter's commentary-as-content advantage with podcast hosting as the most obvious course of action to pursue. Twitter is uniquely positioned for first-mover advantage on this. If I were the CEO of Twitter, I would spend most of my time making this happen.