Twitter Was Once A Lifeline For Those With Disabilities, Musk’s Reign Is Changing Everything Of That

Elon Musk took over Twitter and started making adjustments on October 28. Twitter’s instability heightened disability-related anxiety. Twitter had a world-class team that made it user-friendly for people with varied needs. For epidemic victims who primarily stayed indoors, it was a megaphone and lifeline to the outside world. All was uncertain.

Author, lecturer, and disability advocate Stephanie Tait has several chronic Lyme disease-related health difficulties. She thinks that many jokes that Twitter’s demise would be good since everyone would touch the grass. “Our community struggles to explain that for some of us, that’s not an option.”

Many users announced their departure. #TwitterMigration trended. However, others had bigger stakes. Twitter is about more than jokes, memes, and news for Tait and other disabled users. Tait has approximately 37,000 Twitter followers from years of using the platform to promote her writing and disability awareness.

Karli Drew, a writer, creator, and activist with nearly 20,000 followers and spinal muscular atrophy, has found many professional prospects on Twitter. She argues Musk’s $8-a-month verification fee threatened disabled users’ livelihoods.

“Verified disabled public personalities on Twitter have credibility and jobs,” she argues. “That $8 price wouldn’t last.”

Musk warned on Thursday that his ownership of Twitter might lead to a mass exodus or bankruptcy, which would deprive many of vital social networks, expertise, and financial resources. Even if Twitter thrives, those things are lost if disinformation prevails and the disabled community leaves.

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Twitter For Disabled Users

Abi Oyewole joined Twitter in 2019 to find answers. Having fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, she looked out for “disabled Twitter.” Over 25,000 people follow her.

“Finding community and others like myself, who were battling with their health, really helped me come to terms with my own health issues,” she adds. I received vital information, which saved my life. It was vital to have support and know others going through the same.”

Twitter’s “world’s largest focus group” allows users to broadcast and access information from all corners of the platform.

Ethan Zuckerman, an associate professor of public policy, communication, and information at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, believes Twitter’s public and asymmetric nature allows someone talking about living with a disability to reach a big and broad audience.

Tait thinks that has allowed people with disabilities and other marginalized groups to develop a community in a manner that other platforms cannot.

“When you have certain infirmities, especially when you have diagnoses that are not as common, you need sheer numbers to even have the odds of perhaps discovering somebody with the same disease as you,” she says.

“Twitter’s made it a lot simpler to discover individuals that you have no relationship to and say, ‘Hey, we have similar symptoms or similar diagnoses, or you’ve reached a diagnosis and I haven’t, or you have research that you’ve already done and that study is going to be incredibly essential to me now.’”

Tait claims Twitter’s megaphone effect has helped organize disability community care, fundraising, and mutual aid. “Asking the same people in your close circle for aid only goes so far,” she explains. “Without Twitter, medical procedures won’t happen.”

Economically, too. Twitter’s reach and amplification have impacted the business models of the unemployed.

Twitter helped Oyewole build her self-sustaining online business. She says Twitter helps her advertise her business because she’s disabled and can’t work most jobs. “Other platforms charge to display your work. But with Twitter, your followers can help it spread.”

Factors That Made Twitter Special

Zuckerman argues Twitter is essential for vulnerable communities because it amplifies underrepresented perspectives.

“For years, people have found a community on social networks when they have problems finding community in the physical world,” he says. “That may be people who are in small minorities in their communities or those who have difficulty accessing the physical world.”

Musk fired Twitter’s accessibility team a week after taking over. That implies those employees’ efforts to make the platform accessible to everyone have halted. For instance, adding image captions to tweets for visually challenged users and adjusting Twitter’s noises for sensory-sensitive users.

Many experts have remarked that Musk’s “free speech” aims seem to contradict with embracing easy targets for trolls and other undesirable actors.

Zuckerman writes, “Musk’s professed devotion to free speech is meaningless if Twitter becomes a platform that lets harassers and trolls operate with impunity. “Harassing people into silence is as successful as banning users.”

Musk eliminated staff in Twitter’s human rights, product trust and safety, and ethical AI units, and platform safety appears to be deteriorating.

Musk explained on Twitter on Wednesday how the site wouldn’t become a free-for-all for imposters and trolls. The next day, bogus “confirmed” accounts flooded the site, and privacy and security executives resigned.

Cost Of Leaving Twitter

Some users leave quickly. After Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion, Bot Sentinel estimated that Twitter lost over a million subscribers. Between October 27 and November 1, Bot Sentinel detected 877,000 accounts terminated and 497,000 suspended. MIT Technology Review reports that’s twice the average account loss.

Data analytics firm data shows Mastodon downloads have increased since then.

It said that U.S. Mastodon downloads climbed approximately 5000% from October 27 to November 5.

Many disabled people cannot switch platforms. Zuckerman claims Twitter networks support many. “Having that area go away or shift to another platform where folks have to figure out how to rebuild all the tools and infrastructure that they need to use that platform is a significant cost.”

Drew would miss Twitter, her most used social media network. Drew’s spinal muscular atrophy weakens muscles. She believes Instagram, TikTok, and other platforms are harder for her because she can’t take images or text quickly. “With Twitter, I can express anything I want without paying somebody or wasting time and energy.”

Drew argues losing Twitter as a gateway to the world would be disastrous for many disabled individuals due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m already seeing my following decline significantly,” she says. Disabled individuals feel lost because we’re losing community. We’re a few years into the epidemic and many of us are still quarantined, so that’s kind of all we have left.”

Mastodon and Reddit, which divide people into communities, are isolated by topic and interest. That might make it impossible for the same community to reassemble on a new platform, and if, for example, persons with a certain disability clustered around a particular online area, their contributions would have a narrower reach.

“Even if you could somehow magically convince all of disability Twitter to shift to the same alternative social media platform, we would be segregated in a way that the rest of the world wouldn’t have to see us,” she adds.

“If you push us to a site where we can find one other, but other people don’t have to see us anymore, it’s incredibly hazardous for us because it becomes so much simpler to marginalize and leave us behind.”

Drew worries that too many people will leave Twitter, leaving underprivileged individuals alone. “I don’t blame marginalized people who are leaving because the website could become unsafe without moderation and verification based on actual merits,” she says. “But if allies don’t stay, we’ll have nothing.”

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