Watch the Bird Burn: A Twitter News Masterpost

I just Googled “when did Elon Musk buy Twitter?” because I couldn’t remember. The answer: fifteen days ago. What a long, strange trip it’s been.

Anyway, here’s a collection of Twitter-related news as we watch the birdsite burn down, fall over, then sink into the swamp. To submit any I’ve missed, find me on Counter.social.

First Things First

Oct. 28 Welcome to Hell, Elon (The Verge). If there will be one classic piece of writing on the entire Twitter fiasco – one anthologized in overpriced textbooks and assigned as mandatory reading for every first-year business class – this is it.

Oct. 28 Can We Count the Ways in Which Elon is Going to Regret Owning Twitter? (TechDirt). As the Magic 8 Ball told us repeatedly in our youth, signs point to no.

It’s About the Money

Nov 7. Musk discusses putting all of Twitter behind a paywall (Casey Newton, Platformer). Musk tossed around the idea of making people subscribe for the coveted blue check mark almost immediately. He’s also considered making the entire site pay to play.

Nov. 9 Elon Musk sells almost $4bn of Tesla shares (BBC). Musk sold 19.5 million shares of Tesla worth about $3.95 billion. Since initiating the whole Twitter think, Musk has sold about $20 billion worth of Tesla. Naturally, Tesla’s stock price is not responding well. (Oh, and Tesla is facing a recall of some 40,000 vehicles (NBC) for potential power steering problems after a software update.)

Nov. 11 Elon Musk learns the hard way that being a Twitter troll is way more fun than being a mod (The Verge). As one of my friends noted, “$44 billion of fucking around buys an awful lot of finding out.”

Life Inside the Bird

Nov. 6 Twitter: Musk defends deep cuts to company’s workforce (BBC). It only took a week for about half of Twitter’s worldwide staff to be pink-slipped (pink-emailed?).

Nov. 8 Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break in the coming weeks (MIT Technology Review). Cutting half of Twitter’s workforce left it without enough people to sustain the platform, according to an engineer.

Nov. 10 Twitter’s Security and Privacy Leaders Quit Amidst Musk’s Chaotic Takeover (Forbes). At least three of Twitter’s executives in charge of security and privacy quit, raising major – and majorly expensive – questions about federal compliance, among others.

Nov. 10 Inside Elon Musk’s first meeting with Twitter employees (The Verge). A complete transcript of the Chief Twit’s meeting with the remaining Twitter employees. Yikes.

Nov. 11 Twitter’s new leaders charged with helping Musk execute “dumb things” (Ars Technica). No, surely not! Doesn’t more money mean more genius, after all?

Nov. 11 Inside the Twitter meltdown (Casey Newton and Zoe Schiffer, Platformer). I can’t say it better than the authors: “Everything went from bad to worse at Twitter on Thursday.”

Here Comes the Law

Nov. 10 Musk’s Twitter loses key executives, triggers sharp FTC warning (Politico). The resignation of privacy and security leadership prompted the Federal Trade Commission to remind Musk that it can and will fine Twitter millions or billions of dollars per day for violations. Oof.

Nov. 10 Mass layoffs at Twitter, Meta and other companies spotlight a little-known US law that protects employees (CNBC). Elon, my poppet, my pignsnie, you can’t just go firing people on the spot. At least not this many people. At least not in California or New York. Anyway, brace yourself for WARN Act-related class actions, sir.

Nov. 11 Saudi Arabia is the Second-Largest Investor in Twitter. Sen. Chris Murphy Thinks the U.S. Should Look Into That. (Slate) That’s right – after Musk, the next largest Twitter investor is Saudi prince Al Waleed bin Talal. Insert “it’s fine” dog meme here.

How the Whole “User Verification” Thing is Going

Nov. 2 Hey Elon: Let Me Help You Speed Run the Content Moderation Learning Curve (TechDirt). A super-quick primer on why social media sites actually need content moderation (and why it’s so hard to get right). Reading the entire piece is guaranteed to make you 1500 percent more qualified to run Twitter than Elon Musk is.

Nov. 10 For $8, Twitter Blue users create a wave of checkmarked impostor accounts (Ars Technica). Imagine being the pharma giant who has to tell everyone that no, insulin is still outrageously expensive.

Nov. 11 Twitter brings back ‘official’ account tag; $8 blue-tick option disappears (Reuters). Who would have guessed that letting people pay to present themselves as official brand and individual accounts would have ended badly?

Nov. 11 15 Fake Verified Twitter Accounts Causing Absolute Chaos Right Now (Gizmodo). Turns out a lot of people have $8 and no reason not to pretend to be celebrities, politicians, or major corporations.


When Twitter stops letting you impersonate Tesla for the good of the nation, consider sending $8 my way for less lolz but more competence.

I Have So Many Questions About This L.L. Bean Catalog Cover

I love L.L. Bean fall catalogs. There’s something cozy about them.

The fall catalog I received this week, however, gets worse the longer I look at it:

The L.L. Bean catalog cover I'm analyzing.
A truck is parked on a dirt road next to a field. The field is bordered by woods. A man stands in the back of the truck, holding an armload of firewood. A woman stands on the ground beside the truck, holding a crate of apples. Both people are smiling.

I have SO MANY QUESTIONS.

First: Why is everything so CLEAN??

I’m not talking about the clothes. It’s a clothing ad. I expect the clothes to be clean. I’m talking about everything else.

The truck bed is spotless. That split wood looks like it’s been run through some kind of industrial wood dishwasher. And there is no way in Jonathan Chapman’s personal hell those apples just came straight off a tree.

I mean, let’s talk about these logs.

One of my major fall chores is splitting, hauling, and stacking firewood. I do a lot of splitting, hauling, and stacking firewood this time of year. Between my house, my parents’, and my in-laws’, it is not unusual for me to handle ten to twelve cords a year.

(A cord is 128 cubic feet of wood, or a pile four feet high, four feet wide, and eight feet long. A rick or “face cord” is one third of a cord, or the amount of wood that fits in the back of a 1984 Chevy S-10 pickup (no cap). The More You Know.)

In other words, I know split firewood. And I do not trust this firewood.

Real firewood – something this dude had actually split and needed to haul home – would be dirty. That stuff is covered with bugs and half-shredded bark and actual dirt. Hence, the truck tailgate and bed would also be full of dirt – not to mention dents from all the times you just threw your wood in there instead of placing it in a gentle, geometrically pleasing pile like this one.

Also, there is no way anyone would load up an entire truck to haul three armfuls of firewood. This is enough wood for nothing. You can’t even roast a good marshmallow on this wood. This is three hours, tops, and that’s only if he soaks it with the garden hose before putting it in the wood stove.

This isn’t firewood. This is “rustic decor” from a Williams-Sonoma catalog. Each of those logs was personally hummed into existence by Gwyneth Paltrow herself and costs $200. This wood is-

Wait.

What the hell is that?

Is that…a hatchet?

Am I supposed to believe that L.L. Bean Man split all this firewood with a hatchet??

Hatchets are not for splitting wood. They’re for felling small trees (large ones if you are poor or desperate) and breaking down kindling so it’ll actually fit in your stove. To split wood by hand, you need a splitting maul.

A splitting maul has a longer handle and a heavier head. It’s a two-handed instrument. This thing? Not a two-handed instrument.

Nobody in the history of humankind split firewood that prettily with a goddamned hand axe.

(In fact, I’d bet an L.L. Bean catalog that firewood – if it is firewood – was split by machine. I have split firewood that prettily by hand, but I usually don’t.)

While we’re talking about things on this way too clean truck tailgate, let’s talk about these apples:

That is not an apple crate.

That is a wine crate.

I’m sure you’re wondering now “Why does it matter? What’s the difference? It’s a rustic crate. Big cottagecore vibes. Just seeing it is turning me into a pumpkin spice latte.”

Apple crates don’t have full sides. They have slats with rather large gaps between.

The purpose of the gaps is to allow air flow among the apples, which reduces your chances of rot. The slat-and-gap design also reduces the number of places in which the sides of your crate touch the apples – locations rot begins (especially since apple crates are almost always damp for some reason).

This crate is stifling those apples. She’ll be lucky to get them home.

Also, it weighs twice as much as an ordinary apple crate, and an ordinary apple crate when full weighs about 30 pounds.

It gets worse, though. Of course it does.

I’m really not sure which disturbs me more here: That she’s hauling sixty pounds of apples in a wine case, or that I have no idea where she got them.

There’s not an apple tree in sight. I mean, look at this. Do you see an apple tree?

No, you don’t. Because there isn’t one.

Apple trees have a distinctive shape and color, especially in fall. Not one of these trees is an apple tree. The tree right above her head isn’t even deciduous!

And even if one of these trees were an apple tree, it wouldn’t produce apples like the ones in that crate. An apple tree growing at the edge of a clearing, at the height of these trees, has gone feral. It’s not producing fruit at all – or if it is, it’s small and sour, not obviously hybrid like whatever is in that crate.

This means that not only did this woman just haul 60 pounds of apple and crate to this truck, she did it from quite a distance away, while L.L. Bean Man here hung out in his truck and played with sticks.

No wonder she’s smiling. It’s that or kill him.

I’m still buying that hoodie, though.


Buy me a pumpkin spice latte so I can go split real wood with real tools.

I’m Obsessed With Tascha’s Destroyed Diamond

But not for the reasons you think.

About a year ago, this tweet happened:

An embedded tweet from @TaschaLabs, reading “If you make a NFT of a real diamond, and the diamond itself gets destroyed in a fire tomorrow, you still have the same asset. Because the token still exists and is in limited supply just as before. Nothing has changed. What NFT is doing to the concept of asset, few understand.”

This tweet got parodied 11 months later:

An embedded tweet from @JUN|PER with a screenshot of the original @TachaLabs tweet and the comment “if you buy a donut and get a receipt, and the donut itself gets stolen and eaten, you still have the same asset because the receipt still exists, nothing has changed.”

The parody version got traction by being funny, but it’s not a perfect analogy. And the ways in which the analogy doesn’t line up with the original fascinate me.

First: An NFT isn’t (always) a receipt.

A non-fungible token or NFT is a unique digital identifier. Think of it like a VIN, but existing solely as digital information (i.e. it’s not etched into anything – although I suppose it could be).

Early successes in making money from NFTs usually connected the digital identifier to some type of artwork, whether physical (paint on canvas) or digital (JPEGs of anthropomorphized monkeys). These connections make it easier for ordinary folks to think of NFT ownership as akin to art ownership, or at least to receipt ownership. Maybe I can’t take apart a 50-foot mural painted on the side of City Hall and move it to my own apartment, but I can own a digital identifier that indicates I am connected to that artwork.

It is possible to use NFTs as receipts. For instance, if you were really into my bad MS Paint drawings of 90s cartoon characters, you could purchase one from me, and I could send you an NFT connected to that artwork as proof that you gave me money in exchange for the artwork.

The fact that NFTs can be used as receipts is why the donut analogy makes sense.

Yet – here’s where it gets weird – NFT ownership is not automatically the same thing as item ownership.

To put it in donut terms, NFTs create a world where it’s possible to buy a donut receipt, but never actually own a donut. What you own is a donut receipt. The receipt doesn’t prove you exchanged money for a donut; the receipt is what you received in exchange for your money.

(This conjures up an Inception-like universe of receipt receipts, and receipt receipt receipts, and so on, but we’ll let that eldritch horror lie.)

And Then There Was IP Law

To make this ownership problem more complex, NFTs are commonly attached to creative works: Visual artworks, music, and so on. Put another way, NFTs are commonly attached to items that fall under copyright law.

And in the copyright world, owning the item is not the same thing as owning the underlying rights.

A group of crypto types calling themselves the Spice DAO presumably learned this the hard way when they pooled their funds to purchase a rare copy of a book created for a never-produced screen version of Dune. The Spice DAO then started discussing what they’d do with the book, floating the idea of actually making the version of Dune sketched out in it.

Apparently, no one had ever told them that owning a physical copy of a book doesn’t mean you own the rights to the intellectual property it contains. (Otherwise, everyone who ever bought a copy of Harry Potter would be a multimillionaire.)

So: Owning an NFT doesn’t mean you own any physical referent object in the real world. It doesn’t mean you own any rights at all vis a vis any physical referent object or its intellectual property contents. It only means you own a unique digital identifier.

Enter the Destroyed Diamond

@TaschaLabs does, at least, appear to grasp that when you own an NFT, what you own is a unique digital identifier, not the underlying object.

In fact, that’s the entire point behind Tascha’s Destroyed Diamond.

Tascha’s Destroyed Diamond is an NFT that signifies pretty much exactly what the title implies. It is a diamond, belonging to Tascha, which Tascha intended to destroy – and apparently succeeded in powdering, if not actually vaporizing.

If I’m reading the tweets correctly, the goal of Tascha’s Destroyed Diamond was to demonstrate that the value of the diamond can be ported, or transferred, or symbolized, by the NFT – the digital identifier. The underlying theory is that because the digital tag is unique, it retains value even if the physical referent (the diamond) doesn’t even exist.

Here’s Why I’m Obsessed

My obsession with Tascha’s Destroyed Diamond boils down to three points:

It verified in obvious terms that buying an NFT is not the same thing as buying its referent.

As I noted above, it could be the same thing. You could buy a diamond and its NFT together, for instance. But buying an NFT doesn’t automatically confer ownership rights in its referent. Buying a donut receipt doesn’t guarantee you get a donut.

After all, it’s still Tascha’s Destroyed Diamond.

If buying an NFT isn’t the same thing as buying its referent, NFT bros are sleeping on major untapped sources of revenue.

For example: If I can buy the NFT of Tascha’s Destroyed Diamond (I can), and if that NFT doesn’t lose value whether or not Tascha’s Destroyed Diamond actually exists in any meaningful sense (suspend your disbelief for a second), then what is stopping me from creating or buying NFTs of other items that also do not currently exist?

There’s no reason time should be a limiting factor. An NFT of the Library of Alexandria – another valuable thing that once existed but has since been destroyed (in an actual fire this time) – should be not only feasible, but staggeringly valuable.

Yet I doubt it will be, because:

NFTs depend on buyers not understanding the first two points.

The original tweet claims that “What NFT is doing to the concept of asset, few understand.” So let me clear it up a bit:

NFTs are a market for unique digital identifiers. That’s it. NFTs are like if your friend sent you a list of randomly-generated numbers via Google Docs, and you sold each of those numbers. “They’re valuable because each number is unique!” you tell all your friends. “Buy one now! Nobody will ever have your exact same number!”

“What can I do with these numbers?” your friends ask. “Should I turn them in to the lottery commission to claim a prize? Do they prove I own a car? Can I use them for identity theft? If I put them all in my auto-dialer, can I run a telemarketing scam getting people to donate $1 to me today so they feel happier?”

“No,” you explain. “You just own a string of numbers in this Google Doc. But they are unique!”

…It’s pretty clear why NFTs started having real-world referents fairly quickly.

By the way, the existence of a market for unique digital identifiers doesn’t fundamentally change the concept of an asset. Tascha’s Destroyed Diamond seeks to make clear that NFTs have value separately from any real-world referent. But scarcity or real-world referents are not where value comes from.

Like every other item in commerce, NFTs derive their value from demand. Demand is driven by a sense of utility. We exchange money for things because we believe the thing will provide us proportional utility. (I use “utility” broadly to include any sense of being better off, including aesthetic or emotional.)

Book collectors understand this. While book scouts and dealers in rare books do swap price estimates, when pressed they will admit that the actual value of a book is only what someone is willing to pay for it. In other words, the value of used and rare books depends on demand.

For some people, bragging rights and a sense of being “in” on something are high-utility items. NFTs appeal to this crowd, and they’ll continue to do so for some time.

But buying a receipt and buying a donut are not the same thing. If you want to own a real-world referent, buy the referent. If you want to own a digital identifier whose existence depends on technology that already eats more energy than the annual expenditures of Denmark, buy an NFT.