Recently I came across a very interesting thread on Tw*tter about “the Trust Thermocline”
One of the things I occasionally get paid to do by companies/execs is to tell them why everything seemed to SUDDENLY go wrong, and subs/readers dropped like a stone.
So, with everything going on at Twitter rn, time for a thread about the Trust Thermocline
So: what’s a thermocline?
Well large bodies of water are made of layers of differing temperatures. Like a layer cake. The top bit is where all the the waves happen and has a gradually decreasing temperature. Then SUDDENLY there’s a point where it gets super-cold.
That suddenly is important. There’s reasons for it (Science!) but it’s just a good metaphor. Indeed you may also be interested in the “Thermocline of Truth” which a project management term for how things on a RAG board all suddenly go from amber to red.
But I digress.
The Trust Thermocline is something that, over (many) years of digital, I have seen both digital and regular content publishers hit time and time again. Despite warnings (at least when I’ve worked there). And it has a similar effect. You have lots of users then suddenly… nope.
And this does effect print publications as much as trendy digital media companies. They’ll be flying along making loads of money, with lots of users/readers, rolling out new products that get bought. Or events. Or Sub-brands.
And then SUDDENLY those people just abandon them.
The Trust Thermocline is indeed a magnificent metaphor. It explains many documented examples of organizations abusing customers (or employees or suppliers) and suddenly discovering that they people they took for granted and abused have decided that enough is enough so they stop doing business with the organization. It’s also another way of describing the preference cascade that leads to Romanian Christmas celebrations or other abrupt oustings of dictators.
The problem with the tw*tter thread though is that the author clearly thinks that Elon Musk is getting dangerously close to abusing current tw*tter users so much that they all quit and tw*tter becomes another MySpace. What he misses is that bluecheck political tw*tter is currently a relatively small, predominately globalist left-wing echo chamber. A lot of people who are not left-wing globalists like the idea of tw*tter but prior to it being bought by Musk were unwilling to use it because of its censorship of viewpoints and facts that went against the left-wing globalist agenda. David Cameron* once said that “your twitter feed is not your country” and the author has clearly forgotten that. Parler, gab and various other tw*tter competitors have been set up and attracted customers. In the case of Parler it seemed to me that it was attacked and nearly killed in part because it actually threatened the tw*tter hegemons.
So (and note Musk‘s retweets in the image above) the point about the Trust Thermocline is that it only kills companies if they can’t get new customers to replace those sick of the perceived abuse. It is clear that unlike that author, and apparently unlike tw*tter’s previous management, Must thinks tw*tter has a large unaddressed market to expand into and a more healthy revenue prospect from selling premium subscriptions rather than going for just advertising. It is not a semi-monopolist incumbent that can only grow revenue (and make profits) by milking its current customer base, so therefore so long as Musk is able to sign up enough new customers it doesn’t really matter if some of the current lot flounce off in a huff.
Now it is notable that (see prior mention of Parler, Gab etc.) it is not difficult to build a tw*tter clone. In fact mastodon is entirely open source and it would seem that half of tw*tter’s current employees are about to have to learn how to apply for jobs again. So in theory there are SMEs available for hire by some other platform. But the network effect means that it is unlikely that a new platform or any of existing ones are likely to gain critical mass unless Musk actually alienates a very large number of current users. Likewise the firing is almost certainly of the drones not the good coders and sysadmins so hiring those fired isn’t going to be a short cut to success. My observation from outside the US is that few people outside the wokest non-Americans care about the politics of tw*tter and therefore will stay.
However the Trust Thermocline doesn’t just apply to corporations.
It also applies to our trust in those monopolies of force we call governments and their ever-spreading bureaucracies. In the case of the US the DHS and FBI are definitely flirting with it (as are public health bodies world wide). In the DHS case the key thing is the collaboration with social media to censor things. The thing is this has morphed from a good idea.
The good idea is to stop scammers and other crooks fooling suckers into sending the money. You have no idea how many hundreds (thousands?) of scammers are blocked everyday by law enforcement and the large tech companies (and large financial institutions in some cases) collaborating to take down their phishing posts/domains etc. etc. The collaboration to take down as much of this crud as possible as quickly as possible is an unalloyed good that stops thousands (millions?) of Americans and others from being scammed every day. Obviously it doesn’t work 100% because the criminals adapt and try to evade but the collaborative process for this – coordinated by the DHS CISA – is one of the ways that your tax money is well spent.
The problem a classic slippery slope. The collaboration then moved on to foreign state actors – which again is a good thing in that foreign state actors do use social media to hook and infect dissidents, domestic government employees and so on. Again this is a good thing. Having defense secrets, industrial secrets etc. stolen by the Chicoms, the Norks, the Mullahs etc. is something we all want to stop and since the foreign state actors use social media to set their lures just like the criminals** using the same collaboration system to stop them is entirely logical. Again it doesn’t always work but anything that stop some of the attacks on the gaping holes in much of the US government/military IT is a good thing.
But then we’re going further down the slippery slope to stopping foreign state actors spreading disinformation (which they do – here is a very recent example https://twitter.com/christogrozev/status/1587372892286763009 ). While it’s clearly a gray area with a lot of blowhards making flat out incorrect claims about what may be foreign sponsored disinformation, there is however plenty of actual foreign disinformation put out by the Chicoms and the Russians (and so on). So putting labels on stuff that says “this comes from Russia Today so likely not 100% accurate” is not a bad thing. Nor is blocking posts by such parties that deliberately seek to inflame domestic civil discord and cause riots etc.
All of that is reasonable. Indeed the first 2 are absolutely praiseworthy and the third is just a common sense recognition that foreign countries have strong motivations to cause dissension in the US. But the step beyond where they go from foreign state entities spreading disinformation to anyone spreading “disinformation” is flat out bad and leads to justified outrage.And that’s exactly where we are today in the US. It isn’t helped by all the other Deep State shenanigans regarding “Orange man bad” and the way that people who should have known better jumped on claiming “Russian disinformation” in cases where there wasn’t any. For now, while a significant fraction of the US “Right” has lost their trust in the DHS (and FBI and so on) and the amber warning lights are flashing all over the place, the Trust Thermocline hasn’t been breached. If (when?) we learn that the censorship has been wider than it currently seems to be the thermocline is going to be breached for a large majority of Republican and independent voters and that’s going to be very messy. Presuming that the Republicans win control of both parts of congress then one thing that they will be able to do is stop funding these bureaucracies. The left and the (p)resident may scream but with the Supreme Court in its current state there seems no doubt that a budget resolution that explicitly removes funding for specific agencies/divisions and activities performed by agencies would be held constitutional by the court.
This is going to lead to OUTRAGE by the usual suspects but that’s likely to backfire IMHO and lead to further deeper investigations of the security state and, probably, wider defunding because a very large part of the federal bureaucracy is also close to the Trust Thermocline and none of it shows any sign that it is aware of this.
* Possibly some other UK pol
** Often the difference between state actor and criminal is whether it is 8-5, M-F in Beijing or Moscow or after hours