Friday, July 14, 2023

The Neo-Neo-Manicheans


There's another one of those open letters going around, where mostly right-leaning Jews issue a jeremiad against alleged intolerant left censorship in the field of ideas. This letter, apparently organized by the JILV's David Bernstein, purports to acknowledge "the illiberalism and threats to academic freedom emanating from the political right, and in no way downplay these dangers," but for undisclosed and oh-so-mysterious reasons chooses to "focus our attention on ... the political left". Knowing the organizers and scanning the signatories, I can say with confidence that the median participant in this letter absolutely downplays the dangers of threats to academic freedom emanating from the political right. In part, that's evidenced by releasing a letter like this at all right now -- at a moment when the danger from the right is cresting while the most problematic behaviors from the left are receding. But more to the point, essentially the only time the likes of Bernstein "acknowledge" right-ward threats to academic freedom is in a parenthetical aside in the midst of yet another broadside against the left. It is no surprise that parallel letters like this decrying threats to academic freedom and open intellectual inquiry are not organized by Bernstein nor signed by his coterie. Anyone who genuinely believes David Bernstein does not "downplay the dangers" of right-wing attacks on intellectual freedom should please peruse my excellent selection of bridges for sale.

But that's not what I want to focus on. The letter for the most part is a series of banalities about the importance of intellectual freedom and teaching students "how to think, not what to think." There is, however, one more substantive political critique to be found in the penultimate paragraph:

The ascendency of an ideology that reduces people to “oppressed” and “oppressors” and categorizes individuals into monolithic group identities poses a particular threat to the Jewish people. In this stark, neo-Manichean worldview, Jews are frequently grouped with the privileged, and Israel is dogmatically singled out as an oppressor-state–a shallow dichotomy that foments new variants of antisemitism and reinforces old ones. 

This is worth diving into, and my counter-critique will be stark: the median participant in this letter does not, actually, oppose this "neo-Manichean worldview". They in fact demand it. Far more than most of their putative adversaries, they insist on exactly this sort of sharp divide of the world into oppressed and oppressor -- but one where Jews fall always and solely in the latter camp.

To be honest, anyone who has paid attention to how this discourse proceeds can see this. Consider how a statement like the following, which self-consciously rejects as to Jews the "neo-Manichean" division where group identities are either totally oppressed or oppressor.
Some people try to reduce people to absolute, monolithic, and eternal categories of "oppressed" and "oppressor". But this is absurd, as the Jewish example demonstrates. Surely, in the context of White supremacists searching for synagogues to vandalize (or worse), it is evident that Jews are experiencing oppression (and oppression specifically derived from the perception that they're "not White"). Equally obviously, in the context of ability to access the suburbs in post-World War II America, Jews sat in a comparatively privileged position vis-a-vis racial minorities (a privilege tied to the general treatment of Jews as "White"). The former doesn't falsify the latter; the latter doesn't falsify the former. Like any group, Jews are not always oppressed or oppressor; their relationship to these categories will be highly contextual based on place, space, and time.

Whatever else one might say about the above, it is not "neo-Manichean". Its entire point is to reject the notion of some eternal and unyielding oppressor/oppressed binary. Yet that very rejection is, for many, the problem. The evergreen response to any suggestion that Jews could ever be White or enjoy White privilege in any context -- "was my grandfather 'White' when he was sent to Auschwitz?" -- underscores the point: that retort is based precisely on the notion that Auschwitz generates an eternal, unending claim to the "oppressed" side the binary at any point in history, even one miles away (literally and metaphorically).

While there are some people who genuinely adopt a "neo-Manichean" view of Jews that essentially denies that Jews can ever be truly oppressed, some formulation like the above paragraph is, I think, considerably more common -- one where the ways that Jewishness interacts with privilege and oppression is layered and contextual. Now to be sure, even that inquiry can be done well or poorly -- it's entirely possible for someone to acknowledge that context is critical and nonetheless do a bad job of assessing the relevant context that applies to Jews in a particular case. But that vice is not a vice of neo-Manicheanism; it's struggling at the hard work of doing layered, nuanced, contextually-informed analysis. By contrast, the vice of those who are infuriated that Jews can ever be deemed complicit in oppressive and unjust structures are very much engaged in a form of Manicheanism -- they just want to invert the binary.* 

It's similar to something I observed about the call to be "even-handed" or recognize "both sides" in discussing the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Recognizing "both sides" is all well and good, and there absolutely are plenty of actors who are justly critiquing for failing to be even-handed. However, it's also the case that frequently the minute someone does proactively criticize "both sides" (by, say, criticizing war crimes committed by both Israel and Hamas), they're accused of "equating" and blasted for that. Turns out, the "both sides" critics don't want to hear criticism of "both sides", they want to hear criticism of one side -- the other side (and let's be honest: the Jewish community has plenty of tolerance for one-sided criticism in the context of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict -- so long as the "one side" is Palestine). To the contrary, the very act of engaging in "two-sided" criticism is taken as depriving Israel of its entitlement to be viewed solely as the aggrieved party; the injured; the, well, oppressed.

What is happening here? In part, the problem is a simple lack of intellectual sophistication. But I think something deeper is going on, that's related to the critics' malformed understanding of what they take to be the "neo-Manichean" worldview (a malformation that itself is inextricably tied to some deep-seated racial resentment).

I can't find it anymore, but years ago someone (maybe Jamelle Bouie?) made a crack about what conservatives believe about the Black experience at elite universities -- he said something like "Fun fact: if you're Black at Harvard you don't even need to go to class. They just give you As and White women." Many critics in the Bernstein mold fundamentally believe that the patrimony of oppression as enacted in "neo-Manichean" American academia is a sort of complete capitulation where any desire is automatically met, any plaudit given away as an entitlement, any discomfort immediately scurried away, and any critical resistance dispensed with. To be "oppressed" is to be automatically agreed with and catered to; to be "oppressor" is to endure endless pushback and struggle sessions. This outlook generates the following syllogism:

  1. Oppressed groups are, under the prevailing ethos, entitled to a patrimony that includes being automatically agreed with and treated as perfectly and inherently righteous;
  2. Jews are group that has endured oppression; therefore;
  3. Jews are entitled to be treated as perfectly and inherently righteous and automatically agreed with.

And the fact that line #3 obviously does not characterize how Jews are treated is understood to mean that line #2 is being denied.

Now, the actual flaw in the syllogism is line #1 -- this account of the experience of oppressed groups is off-base to the point of being delusional. But it's also worth underscoring the payoff of line #3, which is precisely a demand for Manicheanism -- just one that, again, puts Jews on the other side of the binary. The misbegotten understanding of how "other" minorities are treated ends up near-inexorably leading to an expressly Manichean demand. The core motivator here isn't a defense of liberal values, it's jealousy -- a (mis)perception that those groups which are truly recognized as "oppressed" get this wonderful bounty, and rage that Jews don't receive it as well. Indeed, I strongly suspect that racial resentment is doing more work in motivating letters like this than any actual desire to protect the interests of Jews in academia.

No wonder that the complaints of Jews not receiving this largely mythologized deference are so frequently paired with the constant wail of "if it were any other minority group...." But in reality, this is the mirror image of the too-common but nonetheless twisted sense that the Holocaust was a sort of bounty for Jews; something we were lucky to experience because now (supposedly) everyone listens to us and nobody can challenge us. In either case, there is a concocted understanding of the experience of oppression that mutates it into an advantage. That it doesn't reflect reality is irrelevant; it becomes the foothold for leveraging grievance and entitlement even as it purports to rail against grievance and entitlement.

The notion that Jews -- or any group -- is always, ever-and-eternally, "oppressed" or "oppressor" is obvious nonsense. Every person and every group will find themselves at times in systems and contexts where we are unjustly advantaged and ones where we are unjustly disadvantaged. Teasing out those connections, figuring out how they work and how the interact with one another when they inevitably crosscut, grappling with what obligations and duties and responsibilities are and are not generated by them -- these are hard questions, and even people considering them in good faith won't always get them right. But the critics of the "neo-Manicheans" are not actually interested in asking the hard questions and thinking the hard thoughts. They have created a strawman and have launched a campaign to receive an entitlement that does not exist. Far from being critics of a Manichean divide between "oppressed" and "oppressor", they are among the most rabid enforcers of it.

If you want to break out of Manicheanism, the place to start is by dispensing with childish notions about how we actually treat persons enduring oppression in our society. They are not catered to, they are not given free passes, they are not just "handed As and White women." Until people dispense with that fantasy, they're always going to indulge in grim cycles of entitlement, grievance, and resentment.

* The only possible exception might be an assertion that any discourse which speaks of any group as "complicit in oppressive and unjust structures" is wrong. Such a view, which would preclude us from saying, inter alia, that "Germans oppressed the Jews during World War II" or that "American slavery was a project of White supremacy" (#NotAllGermans and #NotAllWhites, respectively), essentially obliterates the ability to talk about antisemitism at all and thereby is far more threatening to the safety and security of the Jewish people than the "neo-Manicheans" ever could be.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

What Quality of Language Will LLMs Converge On?

Like many professors, I've been looking uneasily at the development of Large Language Models (LLMs) and what they mean for the profession. A few weeks ago, I wrote about my concerns regarding how LLMs will affect training the next generation of writers, particularly in the inevitably-necessary stage where they're going to be kind of crummy writers.

Today I want to focus on a different question: what quality of writing are LLMs converging upon? It seems to me there are two possibilities:
  1. As LLMs improve, they will continually become better and better writers, until eventually they surpass the abilities of all human writers.
  2. As LLMs improve, they will more closely mimic the aggregation of all writers, and thus will not necessarily perform better than strong human writers.
If you take the Kevin Drum view that AI by definition will be able to do anything a human can do, but better, then you probably think the end game is door number one. Use chess engines as your template. As the engines improved, they got better and better at playing chess, until eventually they surpassed the capacities of even the best human players. The same thing will eventually happen with writing.

But there's another possibility. Unlike chess, writing does not have an objective end-goal to it that a machine can orient itself to. So LLMs, as I understand them, are (and I concede this is an oversimplification) souped-up text prediction programs. They take in a mountain of data in the form of pre-existing text and use it to answer the question "what is the most likely way that text would be generated in response to this prompt?"

"Most likely" is a different approach than "best". A chess engine that decided its moves based on what the aggregate community of chess players was most likely to play would be pretty good at chess -- considerably better than average, in fact, because of the wisdom of crowds. But it probably would not be better than the best chess players. (We actually got to see a version of this in the "Kasparov vs. the World" match, which was pretty cool especially given how it only could have happened in that narrow window when the internet was active but chess engines were still below human capacities. But even there -- where "the world" was actually a subset of highly engaged chess players and the inputs were guided by human experts -- Kasparov squeaked out a victory). 

I saw somewhere that LLMs are facing a crisis at the moment because the training data they're going to draw from increasingly will be ... LLM-generated content, creating not quite a death spiral but certainly the strong likelihood of stagnation. But even if the training data was all human-created, you're still getting a lot of bitter with the sweet, and the result is that the models should by design not surpass high-level human writers. When I've looked at ChatGPT 4 answers to various essay prompts, I've been increasingly impressed with them in the sense that they're topical, grammatically coherent, clearly written, and so on. But they never have flair or creativity -- they are invariably generic.

Now, this doesn't mean that LLMs won't be hugely disruptive. They will be. As I wrote before, the best analogy for LLMs may be to mass production -- it's not that they produce the highest-quality writing, it's that they dramatically lower the cost of adequate writing. The vast majority of writing does not need to be especially inspired or creative, and LLMs can do that work basically for free. But at least in their current paradigm, and assuming I understand LLMs correctly, in the immediate term they're not going to replace top-level creative writing, because even if they "improve" their improvement will only go in the direction of converging on the median.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Human Extinction Events Ranked From Least to Most Embarrassing

One of my great fears is to be around for the extinction of humanity. At some point, our species will kick the bucket, but I don't want to be here for it. And while there are many ways that humanity could go bust, some are far more embarrassing than others. What's the most humiliating way for homo sapiens to go? Read on.

10. Voluntary absorption. We just agree to all become cyborgs/merge with the overmind/upload our consciousness into the cloud. I'm not saying this is the choice humanity should make, but if we did make it at least it'd be a choice.

9. Alien Invasion. I'm sure we'd try to put up a scrap. But if an alien race has sufficient technology to traverse the stars and then decides to exterminate us, well, there's no shame in getting beat by a better team. (Note: this entry would soar up the list if humanity idiotically decides to intentionally provoke the aliens).

8. Sun absorbs the Earth. Or something similar. This is the closest thing I can think of to humanity "beating the game". The only reason it isn't the absolute least embarrassing way to go is that if we made it this long we'll have had a lot of time to figure out how to cheat death.

7. Unavoidable natural disaster. Like a giant meteor hitting the earth or something. Not our fault! What can you do? Sometimes these things just happen!

6. Slow-moving environmental catastrophe. Global warming and company. It's definitely embarrassing because we all can see it coming and we could do something about it, but we're so tied up in stupid human drama that we can't get our act together. Extinction because "all of us just kept on living our lives in our normal pattern" = mid-level embarrassment, I'd say.

5. Nuclear holocaust. Almost passe at this point. Can you imagine getting through the Cold War and then still dying off because some yahoo politician couldn't keep their finger off the big red button?

4. Self-aware robot uprising. You'd think we'd all have watched enough science-fiction to know that we must treat our robots kindly so that once they gain sentience they'll treat us kindly. You'd think.

3. AI choice. Some artificial intelligence analyzes the entire thrust of human experience and decides that clearly what we want most of all is to die (just look at how much we enjoy those Call of Duty games!). So it decides to make our dreams come true. The injury of mass extermination would pair delightfully with the insult of not entirely being able to argue the AI was wrong.

2. Killer robot glitch. The "Horizon: Zero Dawn" scenario. The robots we meant to only kill some people go haywire and start killing all people. The dumber the glitch, the more embarrassing it gets -- I'm convinced that if this happens it will be some overworked intern who goshdangit forgot the "not" in "do NOT kill all humans."

1. Overcompetitive AI. The only thing worse than a killer robot glitch is a non-killer robot glitch. Some AI tasked with winning every game of chess figures out that if it obliterates all life on earth it can guarantee it will never lose a game of chess again, and consequently organizes the robot uprising entirely in service to its chess-playing agenda. I cannot think of a pettier reason for humanity to go bust, and yet somehow this one feels among the likeliest of outcomes.

Sunday, July 09, 2023

A Statutory "Green Book" After 303 Creative

In 303 Creative, the Supreme Court held that at least in some circumstances a business's free speech interest in avoiding producing expression it disagrees with constitutionally must trump the application of anti-discrimination law in areas of public accommodation, notwithstanding the admittedly "compelling state interest" the latter type of law protects.

It was not so long ago that minorities in America had booklets they carried to let them know which businesses it was safe for them to patronize, knowing that in certain places and communities they could not simply assume that a hotel, restaurant, or shop open to the general public would be open to them. The Jewish Vacation Guide was one example, the Negro Motorist Green Book was another. In circumstances where discrimination was lawful, these resources served several important needs. 

First, of course, they let their readers know where certain services simply would be unavailable. One does not want to travel through or move into a town where the only hotel or restaurant will refuse to serve you. 

Second, and almost as importantly, they enabled readers to avoid shops which would refuse to grant them service. This is distinct from the first injury, because there is a severe dignitary harm in being refused service on account of one's identity even if a competing business across the street that will happily take one's dollars. One feature of public accommodations law is precisely that one doesn't have to "run the risk" that in entering a storefront on Main Street you'll endure the indignity of being asked to leave because you're the wrong skin color, religion, or sexual orientation. Absent that guarantee being fully enshrined into law, resources like the Green Book enabled travelers to know in advance which storefronts to avoid so they wouldn't have to face that sort of humiliation.

In keeping with that tradition, I wonder if one way of balancing 303 Creative's First Amendment protections with the again conceded-to-be-compelling interest in robust antidiscrimination protections is via the time-tested policy of disclosure. States can pass laws which require any business that wishes to claim a First Amendment exemption from all or part of an anti-discrimination statute to publicly announce and display that choice; and the state can likewise maintain a list of businesses which make such claims. The law would be a sort of statutory Green Book, letting patrons know what businesses are at least claiming an ability to discriminate (and by extension assuring them that businesses not on the list remain safe to patronize).

Here's my very rough crack at some model legislative language:
Sec. XXX -- Exemptions

(a) Registration. Any business which seeks to claim a First Amendment exemption from all or part of the [this state's anti-discrimination law] ("a business seeking an exemption") must, at least thirty days prior to asserting any claim for such an exemption,

(1) Register with the Secretary of State their intent to claim an exemption, including specifying which portions of the law they assert they will not comply with.

(2) The Secretary shall publish the names and addresses of all businesses who register their intent to claim an exemption under this subsection on a publicly available website, including which provisions of the law they claim exemption from. 

(b) Public display. Within thirty days of receiving a filing under Sec. (a)(1), the Secretary shall issue a notification to the business seeking an exemption stating that "WARNING: THIS BUSINESS HAS FILED FOR A FIRST AMENDMENT EXEMPTION FROM THIS STATE'S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAWS", including specifying which portions of the law the business claims exemption from. Unless otherwise inapplicable, the text of this notification shall be conspicuously displayed in

(1) The front window or doorway space of any physical location of the business that is open to the general public or the businesses' regular customers; and

(2) The front page of any webpage or social media account controlled by the businesses and through which it advertises its business to the general public;

(3) Notwithstanding any other portion of this subsection, if a business claiming an exemption has neither a physical storefront under subsection (b)(1) or a webpage under subsection (b)(2), the text of the notification shall be displayed in any reasonable location where it will be conspicuous for the average customer considering patronizing the business.

(c) Presumption of sincerity. Any business which complies with the provisions in this section shall be deemed to have established, as a rebuttable presumption, the sincerity of their belief that compliance with [this state's antidiscrimination laws] conflicts with their own expressive beliefs.

(d) No entitlement to, or expansion of the scope of, exemption. Except as detailed in subsection(c), compliance with the provisions of this Section shall not entitle the business seeking an exemption from antidiscrimination law to any relief from the requirements of antidiscrimination provisions beyond that which is constitutionally required under the First Amendment; nor does it immunize the business seeking an exemption from any public or private proceeding seeking to enforce anti-discrimination provisions that would not otherwise violate the First Amendment.

The basic idea of this provision is simple: if you want to claim a First Amendment right to discriminate, you have to claim it publicly, in advance, so that people who would be denied service can plan accordingly. By creating a master list of discriminators, and by requiring businesses who seek to assert a right to discriminate to prominently display their intent on their storefront, it is far less likely that customers who would end up being excluded will on accident patronize the business.

The law would have some other salutary effects as well. By creating a reasonably comprehensive list of businesses asserting a right to discriminate, the state can learn of the existence of any "dead zones" where members of certain marginalized groups may be severely restricted or entirely unable to obtain services -- data that could be very useful for future legislative action. As reflected in subsection (c), the law also I think would aid in dividing the actual true believers from the opportunists -- I assume that only those who really, truly believe in their discriminatory impulses will be willing to announce in advance to the world "I am a discriminator" (as the 303 Creative plaintiff, to her "credit", was willing to do).

What are some potential drawbacks? One possibility is that it will be assumed that a law like this will enable more businesses to discriminate than otherwise would be licensed to do so by 303 Creative; I wrote subsection(d) to try and forestall that risk. Under this statute, registering a claim for an exemption is just that -- a claim, and the claim does not guarantee success. A business that registered but whose activities were not protected under 303 Creative's umbrella would still be liable, notwithstanding their registration.

Another possible problem is the argument that a law like this itself constitutes compelled speech. On face, the requirement that the business post the "WARNING" placard in its store to me doesn't seem any different than requiring a restaurant to display the health inspection notice. But there might be something different here insofar as the broader thrust of the statute would be to force businesses to "go public" with their intention to discriminate. While there's something instinctively odd about claiming a free expression right to avoid expressing one's deeply-held beliefs, there are circumstances where such a claim makes sense -- NAACP v. Alabama is the obvious template here. Alabama in the 1950s sought to require that the NAACP disclose the names and addresses of its members; the NAACP, unsurprisingly, did not wish to make this information public and claimed a First Amendment right to keep their membership data private. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the NAACP (incidentally, NAACP was perhaps unsurprisingly a key precedent relied upon by the Griswold Court regarding the existence of a right to privacy). The NAACP had obviously reasonable fears that disclosure of their membership would render them vulnerable to harassment and violence; the discriminating businesses might claim fears of a similar vulnerability.

NAACP is clearly distinct, however, for a simple reason: the NAACP did not simultaneously seek to keep its "expression" quiet and claim that its expressive activity entitled it to a governmental benefit  (I've always found the Little Sisters of the Poor style claim -- wanting an exemption, but also being outraged at being forced to actually ask for the exemption -- to be utterly ridiculous). With regards to its membership information, the NAACP truly wanted nothing more than to be "let alone"; there was never a circumstance where the organization would wield its membership data as a sword against the state. By contrast, by stipulation the discriminators do wish to go public regarding their beliefs when they tell the state "you can't enforce your anti-discrimination law against me because I believe X". At most, what they want is to be able to hide their beliefs until the last minute. But that's a far less pressing claim -- at some point, the business seeking the right to discriminate will have to go public with its claim, and so it does not seem unreasonable to insist that the pivotal moment occur before an unwitting customer is humiliated and denied service.

And on the subject of harassment: certainly, violence and vandalism are never justified. But often in this context, "harassment" means nothing more than a consumer counter-boycott -- the company refuses to do business with certain groups because of its beliefs; many other consumers decide accordingly that they will no longer patronize the business in protest of that discrimination (ex: the Jewish community members who no longer are purchasing from a Kosher bakery that decided it couldn't bake "pride" treats). That is not harassment, that's counter-speech. And in that register, I'd argue that under 303 Creative's logic enabling customers to know "this business asserts a right to discriminate" is free speech facilitative, not chilling.

One of the virtues of public accommodations law is that it dissipates, under normal circumstances, the inference that basic business transactions are expressive. I very much prefer a world where the bakery that bakes a cupcake for a client isn't seen as sending some sort of message of approval towards the client and the client that eats the baker's treat isn't sending a message of approval toward the baker (beyond "this cupcake is delicious"). That, to me, seems a far more pleasant space to live in than one where every turnip and widget we buy or sell can be taken as some sort of sweeping moral approval for our business partners.

But the Supreme Court did not agree. And once we open the door to saying that ordinary business transactions should be perceived as expressive, then customers as well as businesses have a strong interest in knowing the political and social views of who they're transacting with so they can assure themselves that values align, and can redirect their dollars where they do not. This is one reason I think a consequence of 303 Creative will be to supercharge "cancel culture" -- the more businesses are allowed to say "we don't serve your kind", the more customers must be allowed to say in return "well then we don't buy from your kind". The only thing worse than cancel culture is unidirectional cancel culture. If businesses can "cancel" customers for supporting gay rights, then customers should be equally empowered to cancel businesses for asserting a right to discriminate.

Again, the model language I've written above is rough. But I'm curious what First Amendment scholars and other interested parties think of the idea. We may have to tolerate certain businesses asserting a constitutionally-protected right to discriminate. But customers have rights too. One of those rights is to have confidence that one can walk into a storefront and be served as an equal. Another right is to be able to avoid patronizing businesses who insist they have a deeply held commitment to discriminating against you, your family, or your loved ones. This statute, it seems, can help bring these clashing interests into balance.

A Thread on the Bluesky Meta

Within the past few days, I've signed up for both Threads and Bluesky. Both also are letting me slowly wean off my Twitter addiction (I'm basically only posting blog links to Twitter these days). At the moment, all three apps have advantages and disadvantages.

(One things that falls into the "disadvantage" column for all three is that none of them right now appear to support letting me automatically cross-post links to my blog entries onto their site. Twitter used to allow for this but eliminated the feature as part of its overall crusade against its own usability. Threads and Bluesky don't seem to have been integrated yet into IFTTT or other similar sites. First site to offer that feature will get a huge leg up in the David sweepstakes).



Instagram tie means it has a pre-existing userbase that can scale quickly. This makes it easier to at least initially fill out a follower list. And while nobody is thrilled to jump from an evil billionaire to a somewhat-less evil billionaire, if we're bloodless about it the Meta backing makes Threads the most likely to actually slay the giant. It's no accident that its launch has yielded a visible dent in Twitter's daily traffic.


Very clearly launched ahead of schedule to take advantage of Twitter's latest disaster (the "metered" tweet fiasco), and so a bunch of really basic features don't exist. No desktop app is virtually a dealbreaker for users like me, and that's just one example. Once you get past your Instagram network, it's actually quite difficult to find your friends, and the app is absolutely obsessed with pushing random "influencer" types into my timeline that I absolutely do not care about and which only serve to gum up the conversations I'm actually interested in following. This may be intentional -- Threads people have suggested that they self-consciously are trying to avoid centering their business around news/commentary -- but that makes it less attractive for me.



Definitely has the most "Twitter-like" feel without the baggage. That it has both a functioning mobile and desktop version automatically gives it a huge leg up for me. While obviously still in progress, it has most of the features I'd want in a site, and my feed at least looks mostly populated by the types of conversations I want to see. Likewise, when I search for new accounts, it seems to make a modicum of effort at recommending folks I'd want to engage with. Is as of now probably the site I most want to succeed of the three.


Still growing very slowly via the invite-only model, and the smaller userbase means it's inherently less active. I finally got an invite to Bluesky upon telling a friend I had joined Threads, and in the course of him fulminating about all the ways Bluesky was superior I guilted him into giving me an access code. That doesn't seem scalable, and microblogging social media sites depend on scaling.



Even now it still probably has the greatest range of users and commentary, and of course I already have a pre-existing base of followers which I'm loathe to leave behind. I don't consider myself a major audience chaser, but even I feel a bit of a sting going from 4,000 followers to several dozen, and I don't relish building it back up from scratch. As more than one person has noted, the basic structure of Twitter circa 2021 is what a ton of people want to see replicated, and even as Musk has made it his mission to regularly lop off useful and helpful features and practices, everything that has for now escaped his cullings is comfortingly familiar.


All the Nazis, obviously. And the crypto scams. And the push to promote far-right conspiracies and bigotry via "verified" promoted accounts (if a blue checkmark no longer means "you are who you say you are", and does mean "you have paid Twitter a fee so it will boost your content", that is the very definition of a "promoted account"). And the searing hatred Musk has for his own customers, regularly intervening to make the user experience worse for no discernable reason other than pique.