- Dagmar der Weduwen’s joke about moving Twitter to a Google Doc went viral, so she decided to try it.
- Weduwen said the experiment was fun at first but was quickly derailed by hateful content.
- Here’s the story of how Weduwen’s “joke” rose and fell in just 35 hours, as told to Michele Theil.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Dagmar der Weduwen, and it has been edited for length and clarity.
As a PhD student, I use Twitter a lot for professional contacts and science outreach work, but when Elon Musk officially took control of the platform, a lot of people in my circle began talking about moving elsewhere, saying they don’t want to support Musk or they think he’s going to ruin it.
In response, I tweeted out a suggestion: “What if we all just migrate to the same Google Doc?”
—Dagmar, Archerfishionado (@DJWeduwen) October 31, 2022
Initially I meant it as a joke, but as the tweet gained traction, my friends and followers seemed to like the idea, so I thought it would be interesting to try it out.
It was really fun at first but it wasn’t long before it went horribly wrong.
The document was quite wholesome for the first 24 hours
I don’t have a massive Twitter following, so when I first tweeted the Google Doc link, called “NEW TWITTER,” the majority of participants were people I knew.
Then the tweet started blowing up — suddenly people were posting pictures of their cats, asking for advice on assignments, and joking about which animal Google had randomly assigned them as an anonymous avatar. Someone posted the script from “The Bee Movie,” another posted The New York Times’ crossword of the day, and people were just having fun.
Along with a friend, I jokingly decided to rename the document to “NEWT WITTER,” and another friend even made a logo for us. We were all having a good time — but I had a feeling something might go wrong.
I left the document open in the background and checked in occasionally. Around the 24-hour mark, I did a quick search for curse words or slurs and I couldn’t find anything. But I did wonder how long it would last.
It turns out, the sweet spot was 35 and a half hours.
—chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) November 2, 2022
I felt forced to shut down the document less than two days after I created it
As the day went on, my tweet continued to gain traction, receiving over 10,000 likes within the first 24 hours — even model Chrissy Teigen retweeted the link.
Still, I was feeling quite anxious about the attention it was receiving because I had a feeling that the bigger it got the more likely it was that someone would come in and ruin it for everyone. I considered shutting it down but decided to leave it for a while, thinking maybe I would be surprised.
I didn’t have a regular schedule for checking the document, I would just dip in and out around my work and social commitments. Around 35 hours after I created it, I checked in and saw that there were slurs right at the top written by anonymous users, targeting Black people and trans people.
It was awful to see and I immediately realized there was no way to moderate it or keep it controlled, so I made the decision to switch the document to read-only, kicked everyone out of it, and reverted it to the previous version.
This is where it stayed — around 300 pages long, and uneditable.
—Dagmar, Archerfishionado (@DJWeduwen) November 1, 2022
Despite locking down the document, my tweet about it had taken on a life of its own. Five days after posting it, it’s received over 35,000 likes, and is still getting retweeted, which has led to requests to edit the document which I have to reject.
The whole debacle feels emblematic of the broader issues with social media today
I find it disturbing to think that so many people just wanted to join in on the fun, and were instead greeted with such hateful language.
I never expected the idea for a Google Doc Twitter alternative to blow up — it was funny but also quite weird that so many people were following along with it. I even had people getting excited when I entered the Google Doc. I didn’t know they were, but it didn’t matter, it was a nice feeling.
The turn of events made me think of the Google Doc as a speed-run of any social media site that has ever existed: it’s fun for a while but then people show up to ruin it for others, usually with hateful language and comments. To me, this experiment really shows the need for moderation and clear oversight to protect more vulnerable groups.
I find it worrying to see the direction Twitter is going in under Musk, because his idea of free speech doesn’t entirely mesh with mine — I don’t believe you should be able to spout racist or anti-queer rhetoric without consequence.
I was actually surprised by how long my alternative Twitter lasted before it had to be shut down, and it was interesting to see what kinds of things people were posting in the document.
Overall, I’m glad my experiment happened, but I wouldn’t do it again.
For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider’s Digital Culture team here.