Two days after the DC insurrection, while the country was still processing the aftermath, MySpace co-founder Tom Anderson posted his second tweet in the past three years. Anderson attached the thinking emoji to a Photoshop render of a Donald Trump fan, sitting in one of his typically garish offices, with his browser open to Myspace. “’MYSPACE TOM’ A HOW TO GET A NEW FRIEND,” the caption reads, prominently predicting that with the entire Internet industry mobilizing to hastily remove the president, Trump’s only access to the public could come from a long-time social media company. Anderson must have found the meme funny enough to log back in, interrupting an offline streak unprecedented for the average tech mogul. He disappeared again shortly after, retreating into the ocean of enviable vacation photos that have been fossilized in the few remaining social feeds.
Anderson sold Myspace to News Corp in 2005 for $ 580 million. Six years later, Myspace was sold again for a hugely depreciated $ 35 million, prompting Rupert Murdoch to refer to the initial purchase as “A big mistake”. In hindsight, it’s clear that Anderson cashed at the perfect time. Myspace was quickly overtaken by other social media companies (Twitter and Facebook), and by the early 2010s the website had lost much of its user base and tangible identity. Visiting the URL today is downright surreal for millennials on the pilgrimage. All of your familiar ornaments – the Top 8, the colored bed bug designs, the sparkling custom cursors) have been erased. Instead, all you’ll find on modern Myspace is a meager trickle of music news, added directly from other corners of the internet.
Industry analysts have long regarded Myspace’s downfall as one of the biggest missed opportunities of the past decade, but frankly, I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that Anderson did well. It’s true that Twitter and Facebook are more influential and have richer executives than anything else in the Myspace Tom heritage. If you are an entrepreneur in the psychopathic Silicon Valley tradition, that is, you are able to perceive a functional difference in quality of life between a net worth of $ 100 million and $ 100 billion, then perhaps you also envy lives. by Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg. But just consider how those two weathered the events of January 6: panicking, agitated, looking at the chaos they helped create, considering some truly arcane and dystopian fictional solutions like permanently banning the president from their websites. What was Anderson doing while the great nets collapsed and burned? Jumping back online for a quick search, completely at peace, that these questions are firmly no longer your problem.
Go take a look at Anderson’s Instagram page. Like his Twitter, he is rarely updated and aggressively neutral. There are no bar charts, no product promotions, and no lengthy pontifications on how NFTs will “disrupt the investment economy.” Instead, Anderson uploads a constant stream of beautiful photos from around the world. Here is the over the crystal clear waters of the Maldives, standing in a bungalow by the dock with an anonymous woman. Here it is a few weeks later in Bhutan, immerse yourself in an alabaster monastery on a beautiful November day. A few weeks later, he gazing at a ray of sunshine in Antelope Canyon, prior to jumping to hawaii. For a long time, Anderson’s Twitter bio read: “Enjoying being retired.” Today it simply says: “Enjoying the good life.” In fact, one of the only the tweets that Anderson has made in recent years was a response to a hugely viral post from user @JackDMurphy, who praised Tom’s willingness to sink into the background without fanfare. “What a man. Myspace was too pure for this world,” Murphy wrote. (Anderson responded with two heart face emojis and a healthy hanging loose.)
If there was any professional jealousy towards his peers, any latent bitterness that Myspace did not grow as dominant and ubiquitous as Facebook, it seems to have passed from his mind. Anderson, instead, focuses on the reassuring impact of luxury. There is no instinct left for haste. He has nothing more to say.
Compare that to the architects of Twitter or Facebook, or literally any other social media company with influence in the 2020s. The rent is past due. It is now brutally evident that the necrotic and parasocial tics encouraged by those platforms have a hugely negative impact on society. Facebook is riddled with constant scandals and may have played a role in balancing the 2016 presidential election. Twitter is still one of the worst places on the internet, to the point where it could be giving its biggest chronic users lifelong anxiety disorders. Even a benign arena like Pinterest, a website aimed at moms who want to catalog different shades of wallpaper, is grappling with an uproar over its own internal toxic culture. No place is safe. If you are a social media executive in 2021, now you must dedicate a significant part of your work to demonstrating that your website is not actively destroying people’s lives.
Myspace, on the other hand, peaked in 2005, a time when the internet was young enough and small enough not to cause any lasting harm to humanity. Sure, the platform ruined a handful of high school friendships and elevated “Hey There Delilah” to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, but then it caught fire right away. That should be a lesson to all the other major players on social media: Institutional failure is the only escape. It is impossible to save the world by editing a code of conduct over and over again. You can’t reform Facebook.
I think this image of Dorsey and Zuckerberg most recent testimony before Congress summarizes the division. Dorsey has been growing his Rasputin beard for almost a year, Zuckerberg dressed as G-Man from Half life, and each of them is locked in a never-ending Zoom call where they are frequently lectured by pedants like Ted Cruz. on the tyranny of Section 230. This is what happens when you let social media grow beyond your reach. These men are no longer ministers of technology. Instead, they are the vanguard of an entirely new class in America: these quasi-public bureaucrats, always advocating on behalf of applications that, by all accounts, are slowly facilitating the annihilation of our political norms. Dorsey and Zuckerberg exist in a prison of their own making, and Silicon Valley’s mandate of corporate overreach, Negotiations on Capitol HillAnd the monolithic, never-ending growth guarantees that none of them will ever be able to leave Myspace.
Where do you think Anderson was during that hearing? Probably taking down his third mai tai, on an island so exclusive that neither you nor I have heard of it. Not for a moment do you have to worry about the ways your old company might be eroding civil order. Those days are over. Anderson simply enjoys being rich and firmly disconnected, knowing that, luckily or by foresight, he abandoned the monopoly of social media just as it was getting very, very dark. Let’s hope other CIOs start taking a page out of his book. Please, for the love of God, just enjoy being retired.