Franz Reichelt, the Flying Taylor, leapt from the Eiffel Tower on February 4, 1912, expecting his homemade parachute to do its job. Nobody actually thought he would jump. To secure deck access, Reichelt had assured Parisian police that he would be sending a dummy over the edge. When the chute failed to fill, it was very much a real person who hit the ground. The French press immediately seized upon Reichelt as a morality tale—the foolish Icarian inventor who disregarded warnings and became the broken embodiment of the cost of moving too fast.
The modern-day Reichelt is not a man, but a corporation: Twitter. The social media platform is, as everyone has said innumerable times, deeply flawed, yet it blithely persists and routinely plummets to Earth. Tallying up and moralizing Twitter’s failings is a reliable, near-mandatory media exercise, along with a widespread schadenfreude-tinged public joke. Today, the target is @Twitter itself, the platform’s official sockpuppet, and the quip goes like this: Twitter doesn’t even know how to tweet.
Emma Grey Ellis covers memes, trolls, and other elements of internet culture for WIRED.
To be fair, the cringiness of its own tweets might be the one problem Twitter is taking steps to fix. Earlier this week, the company announced that it’s accepting applicants for a new position at the company, a Tweeter in Chief, a “master in the art of Twitter,” to take ownership of the official account. Whoever is at the helm currently is no such 280-character Ben Franklin. Tweets like “Where you?” and “DM in the PM” (the latter complete with a joyless reply from Crunch, the candy bar) aren’t the worst things on Twitter, but they are store-brand frozen yogurt when they should be unctuous gelato. @Twitter has over 50 million followers, but its tweets rarely get more than 50,000 impressions. It’s like getting ratioed, but honestly? It’s worse, and lonelier.
Yesterday, @Twitter made a bold statement on a subject people have been tweeting passionately about for years. Since Twitter’s inception, really: the edit button. @Twitter—and maybe the company too?—doesn’t care about your feelings or your clumsy Twitter fingers. “FYI: there IS an edit button,” @Twitter tweeted. “(In your brain)”
Oh, did the people have thoughts. Mostly negative ones—and accusations that the account handler was high, hacked, heartless, or just plain unfunny. Reception here at WIRED was mixed. Editor Nicholas Thompson has instructed @Twitter to delete its account. Others appreciated the sass. Me, I don’t care enough about edit buttons to get worked up. Then came a plausible theory: “I wonder if that tweet was someone auditioning for the new job,” offered senior writer Emily Dreyfuss . “Doesn’t it seem like a trial balloon?”
No matter who is running the account, @Twitter will face perpetual trial, error, and public roasting—as all corporate Twitter accounts do. Whether you’re Crunch or Netflix or Merriam-Webster or Starbucks, it’s close to impossible to keep up with the relentless and bizarre churn of Twitter culture. One day you’re cool, the next day you’re stool. The modern-day corporation’s best hope is to hash out which version of their corporate selves plays well (enough) on the platform. The weird and depressing irony of @Twitter is that it’s unfashionably late to its own office party. And it missed the dress-code memo.
What’s more, the Tweeter in Chief position reveals just how vaguely Twitter sees itself. It pronounces itself “not like other brands” and then defines itself as “what’s happening in the world, and what people are talking about right now.” The applicant must be versed in, well, everything: “Twitter culture, stan culture, and culture in general.” Ha! They must “set the tone of who we are and how we act.” Twitter is searching for a person to play its soul, and if that person is anything less than the wittiest, pithiest, savviest user in the world, they’re doomed. Prepare the parachute.
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