The messages, in simple white text, flashed on the walls of Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco on Thursday evening.
“Going into bankruptcy.
Other messages called Elon Musk, who closed his Purchase of Twitter for $44 billion at the end of last month, a “Space Karen” and an “anarchic oligarch”. Another quoted a former Twitter engineer who quit and called on others to protest“If your personal circumstances permit, it is your moral duty to disobey. To strike. To protest.”
Like a mass exodus Twitter employees who rejected the “hardcore“The ultimatum was happening inside the building, the messages continued to be broadcast from a projector mounted on a tripod set up across the street. Crowds began to gather outside and the projections started going viral online.
The projections were the work of Alan Marling, a Bay Area activist who declined to give his age or comment on his profession. He stood nearby – donning a Captain America face mask and a sunrise movement beanie – as passers-by, many of them technicians coming off work from nearby offices, stopped to take videos and photos.
A man, out of breath, approached Marling and said he had run away from his home to catch a glimpse of the public display after seeing videos of the messages posted on social media.
After about an hour of screening the messages, Marling packed up his gear and headed home. As Twitter’s fate grew increasingly bleak on Friday, Marling told The Times why he protested the tech giant and its controversial new owner.
Was this the first time you projected your work on Twitter?
I projected on Twitter before and started there in 2017. I wanted the company to enforce its hate speech policies and stop amplifying its Donald Trump tweets. Twitter really gave him a platform and they amplified his hate speech. They gave him a way to spread his white supremacist conspiracy theories, dating back to his birther movement tweets.
Were you happy when Twitter banned Trump from its platform?
I would have argued that they should have done it five years ago. I’m not going to thank them for doing it so late.
Why did you show up to screen more messages on Thursday?
Over the past few months, as I started to pay more attention to it, it became clear that Elon Musk is a white supremacist himself.
In this case, I was particularly concerned that Elon Musk went above and below other companies in firing his human rights staffhis diversity and inclusion staff and many moderators.
I wanted to speak out against that and also his claim that he wanted to make Twitter a space for free speech. It’s not genuine because it’s a private company looking to profit from it freedom of speech.
We were considering screening next week, but were concerned that Twitter might declare bankruptcy by then.
Have you protested in other movements in the past?
I protested against the war in Iraq. But in 2017, I realized that the scale of extremism on social media was a problem in the United States. Social networks are pushing our society to become extreme because of how their algorithms work.
And why use a projector this time? Is it difficult to set it up?
I wanted a new way to protest. It is a non-violent, silent protest that allows people to interact with it as much or as little as they wish.
The difficulty of the projection is to feed it. I was dragging a lead acid battery that weighed 50 pounds in a suitcase. The suitcase was breaking and spilling acid everywhere. Now I use lithium batteries, but they tend to melt. But it doesn’t explode like Tesla batteries.
It is difficult to manage. That’s why you don’t see a lot of projection activists.
How do people normally interact with your work?
Some people just walk on the past. But some people respond positively to it. When I’m projecting, I’m trying to project something they’re thinking about but haven’t put into words yet. When I get there, I hear “good job”, “great job” and I get a thumbs up. The most common interaction is simply taking a photo.
Even if Twitter collapses, would you still return to its building to continue protesting?
I would be tempted, yes.
Whether Twitter implodes or not, we should on the whole be holding tech companies accountable for what they post and what they broadcast to the world. Specifically, extremism is getting the most engagement on Twitter and elsewhere, and they will continue to amplify it, even above truth and democracy, even above the interest of their own country, until we make it unprofitable for them.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.