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The Machines

Linda Yaccarino Is The Last Funny Twitter Bit Left

4:24 PM EDT on September 13, 2023

Linda Yaccarino (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Variety/Penske Media via Getty Images)
Isaac Brekken/Variety/Penske Media via Getty Images

Bad news about Twitter arrives with the dull regularity of junk mail. The site is bad and getting worse, and if that was always at least kind of true even during what now qualifies as its heyday, it is now bad and worsening in exceptionally unappealing ways. What was good about Twitter, when it was good, always had a lot to do with its signature jostling chaos and the attendant sense of wild and worrying possibility; it was, in a way that every other thing in the free market strives not to be, a place where strange and unexpected things routinely happened. While the site is outwardly much uglier and more chaotic and demonstrably more arbitrary under its new ownership, it's also increasingly grim and airless and stupendously, implausibly wack.

"You can’t reach an audience on X," Dave Karpf wrote last week. "You can’t organize on X. You can’t follow breaking news on X. The people who made Twitter fun have all given up. There’s nothing worth sticking around for anymore."

Some of this may just be Twitter hewing closer to the deeply diseased personality and addled vision of owner Elon Musk, but it's also indistinguishable from the routine ways in which online spaces die, which is by collapsing into a cacophony of scams and hate speech and dim, windy monologues from the worst users. As it stands, Twitter does not work. In the ways in which it once worked, always despite itself and always as a result of the many people who made it something stranger and more vital than it had any right to be, it no longer does. In the ways in which it was once useful, it is now unusable. In the ways in which it was reliably surprising and often fun, it is now neither.

Also, just in a technical sense, it does not work—it breaks a lot, stuff moves around for no reason, weird new things happen and are subsequently justified in statements issued with an uncannily impenetrable, high-handed and transparently bullshit certitude from a management team that seems not to be getting nearly enough sleep. The tone is that of a parent, deliriously and very obviously high on a hallucinogen, somberly telling a child that she is a cactus. None of it is convincing, except to the extent the broader vibe of the place argues for logging off. In that sense, it is very convincing.

All of which is to say that, for all the other ways in which the site has spiraled in the time spent under his command, Twitter now works and feels very much like An Elon Musk Production. It mirrors all of his signature, load-bearing defects to such an extent that it feels not so much like something he owns or makes but like him, himself: futuristic in the tackiest and ugliest ways, janky and vicious, overtly criminal and predatory, but finally so luridly overbearing and tiresome that it beggars belief. There is a lot of this going around of late; all the Musk Discourse of this moment, which was kicked up by Walter Isaacson's new biography and the criticism of that book and its subject, is pegged, in a way that never gets any less astonishing, to this one exhausting and unpleasant man. At this point, this qualifies as not just his signal but his only success with Twitter: a place that once seemed full of millions of people, all talking about whatever was on their mind at that moment, now just seems like him. This is just another way of saying that it sucks real bad.

The legions of sycophants that surround Musk, in his inner circle of Silicon Valley remoras and on the distant frontlines of far-flung subreddits and comment sections and online replies in which orcs swarm to defend a man who is being talked about with insufficient deference, tend to fall back on how essential and irreplaceable Musk is. Everything about him, and most everything that Musk does, argues against that not just as a very bad social development but as the direst possible category error—if there's something abstract to the (correct) belief that no one man should have all that power, it gets a lot easier to believe when you see the guy who actually has it.

There are reasons that his sycophants will not and cannot see this. For the inner-circle types, it resolves to the same logic that the bank robber Willie Sutton used when asked why he robbed banks: "That's where the money is." For the people using their limited time on earth to post uncompensated arguments on behalf of the Cybertruck, it's a little more opaque, but not too much more. Musk is a sadist in the sort of offhand way that very rich and powerful people tend to be; servile attachment to that sort of authority tends to grow, perversely or not, in parallel with its subject's disdain. It's natural to wonder whether these people would be as devoted to Musk if the cars he sells were made in less hellish workplaces, or seemed less eager to harm the people driving them. But, again, it's not really very interesting, if only because the people involved are much more convincing as symptoms than as people.


This is all/also/especially true of Linda Yaccarino, the former NBC Universal executive that Musk hired to serve as Twitter's CEO. It was, very plainly, an impossible job: Yaccarino was tasked not just with making Musk's site seem normal and palatable to the businesses that had abandoned it, but with doing so while Musk elevated, exacerbated, and personally modeled some of the most abnormal and unpalatable behavior imaginable on the platform every day. There's nothing terribly sympathetic about Yaccarino herself, although nothing about her is as ominous or implicating as the fact that she took this terrible, stupid job in the first place. "Yaccarino has pushed Musk to agree to some changes," the Wall Street Journal reported last week, "including replacing the poop emoji that he had started using as a response to journalists with a new message: 'We’ll get back to you soon.'" I guess she's doing her best, and if you're inclined to hand it to her for that, then I guess you got to hand it to her.

But what is interesting about Yaccarino, who like most other high-level media executives presents as more humanesque than actively human, is how the demands of the job—not just the basic impossibility of it but the demeaning shit that the job is—has turned her Twitter feed into one of the last really funny places on the site. This was always what the job was going to be, but it is one thing to accept a job as the internet's best-compensated rodeo clown and another thing to perform it. And for all the vile uncanniness of terminal-stage Twitter, there is no bit of clowning better suited for the moment than Yaccarino blundering forward after Musk's latest flirtation with open fascism to deliver herself of some opaque factoid and !?–heavy syntax designed to distract from the shit that her boss, who bought the site in part to become its main character, keeps on doing.

As with the best of this kind of accidental corporate comedy, what is funny about this is how transparently it is not what it holds itself out to be. The tone, the style, the content itself to the extent that that can be said to exist—all of it, whatever it is, is notable only because of how stilted and desperate it is. These posts might be funny in the way that Magic Johnson's blithely enthusiastic posts about giving a speech to conventions of Jimmy John's franchisees are funny, just in their own right, but that isn't the context, here. They exist in a different context, the one in which the richest and most powerful man in the United States of America is awakening to his own disgusting and anti-human values in real time, post by post, which also happens to be the one that requires Yaccarino to rush up yelling "did someone say sports?!" immediately afterward.

A person could not describe these posts as "good," really. On the merits, they stink. In context, they are, as the multiply defective late-capitalist godhead Yaccarino serves might say, Concerning. But their negligible literary merit and sub-negligible factual value are part of what makes them the defining texts of this Twitter moment. It was inevitable that everyone that consented to stay on Twitter would have to humiliate themselves before Musk; it's the only sort of relationship he can tolerate with the rest of humanity. The sour and darkening feeling on the site is a testament to this, but the shape of that disgrace is never clearer than it is in Yaccarino's posts. The numbers don't mean anything; the noise that's rising as the space empties out is grating; it seems safe to say that no one is saying sports.

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