Twitter users in Japan have remained fairly nonplussed by Elon Musk’s private takeover of the once-public service. But a recent spate of account freezes this past week have led some to wonder whether it’s the end days. Others, however, vow they’ll keep rearranging deck chairs until the vessel sinks.
A hesitation to jump
Back in October, when Elon Musk’s deal to buy Twitter completed, part of English language Twitter engaged in a collective freak-out. Some users (this site included) explored other options in case Twitter became inhospitable or, more likely, simply stopped working.
Japanese users also debated where they’d jump if the time came. The most obvious solution was Mixi, a service whose star dimmed when Twitter’s rose. Mixi’s parent company has kept the site working, where it serves more of a diary of past user’s darker days – their so called “black history” (黒歴史; kuro-rekishi) than a living service.
Some users in both English and Japanese experimented with solutions like Mastodon, which saw a brief surge in usage.
In the end, however, most Japanese users stayed put on Twitter. It’s still where the Japanese online world discusses the day’s current events. Inertia is a powerful force. And, like so many English language users, Japanese users found no other service quite matched the “public square” feel of Twitter.
The Freezing Festival
But then came the “freezing festival” (凍結祭り; touketsu matsuri). Without warning, Twitter permanently shuttered a crop of Japanese accounts. This didn’t go unnoticed by JP Twitter users, who trended several terms such as 凍結祭り and アカウント凍結 (akaunto touketsu, account freeze).
One victim was the popular account Marshmallow (@marshmallow_qa), a system for receiving anonymous messages that uses AI to filter out hate and vitriol. Some popular VTubers (Virtual YouTubers) also found themselves locked out.
The apparent cause was Twitter pushing out new automated bot detection rules. Musk has vowed to clear Twitter of malicious spam bots. (As part of this policy, Twitter announced this week it’ll start charging for API access.) However, the rules appear to squash an unknown number of valid, human-run accounts as well.
Willing sacrifices to the Twitter ice age
Twitter appears to have unfrozen several accounts, such as Marshmallow, and returned them to their former glory. However, the damage was done. Twitter users dubbed it the service’s “Ice Age” and once again mused where they’d flee should the service continue to degrade.
However, many users vowed that they’d elect to freeze to death. One waxed poetically, “After 12 years on Twitter, when I’m told ‘the site’s done for, time to move elsewhere,’ I feel like I enter the headspace of an elder binding their fate to a village bound for extinction. ‘I was born an’ raised in this village. Can’t live anywhere else.'”
Many users seemed to agree. “If I’m forced to move to Instagram,” one said, “it’ll kill me.” Another simply said, “This is home now.”
Others responded by posting advice on how to survive in Twitter’s new post-festival apocalyptic hellscape. User @raul10580422 advised humans on how not to appear bot-like – e.g., don’t use more than three hashtags in posts, don’t retweet your main account on your sub-account, don’t post URLs that link offsite, etc.
Time will tell if Twitter remains the Internet’s public square. One thing’s for sure: if it goes down, it’s taking online Japan with it.
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