Political firebrand Ian Silverii jokingly branded himself the "First Gentleman of CO07" after his wife, Brittany Pettersen, was elected to represent Colorado's 7th Congressional District last month. But her win had a gruesome impact on his Twitter account.
"My timeline has been deluged by the worst things one can hear about their spouse, mother of their child and the best person I know," Silverii says of Pettersen, who gave birth to their son, Davis, in 2020 while a member of the state Senate. "It hurts, it sucks. It's fucked up to hear these things about this person I've been with a long time who's just achieved this incredible thing — to have that polluted and fucked up by anonymous cowards. And I didn't want to see that anymore."
Now he doesn't have to. On Sunday, December 11, he changed his Twitter handle to "Ian Silverii Doesn't Live Here Anymore" and shared the following message: "I have deleted all of my tweets and will no longer be posting here. It's a shame, because I really did love this website. It helped me grow organizations, learn things, influence elections and policy, and make amazing friends. But I just can't do it anymore. See you outside."
A second note added that Silverii had joined Post, one of several Twitter alternatives that have been trying to gain traction of late; he's also ventured onto Mastodon. He hasn't completely disconnected his Twitter account — he wants to use its direct-message function to correspond privately with assorted groups — but he has no plans to publicly share thoughts with his 5,626 followers on the app again.
In taking this step, Silverii is joining a noteworthy crowd. Since billionaire and controversy-lightning-rod Elon Musk officially acquired Twitter in late October, the list of celebrities who've left the service has grown to include Elton John, Whoopi Goldberg, Shonda Rhimes, Sara Bareilles, Jack White and many more. But the decision to ditch has been a difficult one for politicos who have used Twitter fruitfully for years.
That includes Silverii, the past executive director of the House Majority Project, former chief of staff for Democrats in the Colorado House of Representatives, onetime executive director for ProgressNow Colorado and regular Denver Post opinion columnist (he stopped writing for the paper earlier this year to avoid a conflict of interest with Pettersen's campaign). He also co-hosts the Get More Smarter podcast with Jason Bane and is the founder of the Bighorn Company, a communications outfit that helps run campaigns — the firm backed Proposition FF, a measure to provide free school lunches for Colorado students, which voters approved in November — and consults with candidates and organizations across the country.
Silverii joined Twitter during its earliest iteration. In 2007, he was part of a Boulder firm that "was basically trying to do Spotify before Spotify did, and we were in a boardroom with tech people and consultants when somebody said, 'Have you heard of this thing called Twitter?' That was the year the iPhone came out, and Twitter was a text-based app. You had a five-digit code number in your phone and 120 characters — the same length as one SMS [Short Message Service] text — and you would text this number your thoughts, and it would broadcast texts to everyone who followed you. You'd get a text message from Twitter telling you this is what the person said."
By the time Silverii joined the House Majority Project, the more familiar Twitter app had emerged. He helped launch an account for the project, and by the 2011 legislative session, the service was increasingly being used by reporters and legislative staffers "who were commenting in real time about what was happening on the floor of the House," he recalls. "And I thought, 'This is interesting. This is taking the conversation about who's doing what in the well and brings it into the public sphere.' There were some right-wing trolls, but not many legislators yet, and it became this half meta-commentary about what was happening on the floor and half schoolyard shit-talk rap session" — with "Yo JBC Raps!," a parody account related to the Joint Budget Committee, being one of the most memorable, and least politically correct, examples of the latter.
To Silverii, "This was the golden age, when I thought Twitter could be a force for good — where it was possible to make your point creatively, with a sense of humor and tongue in cheek."
When did things change? Silverii answers with a single word: "Trump. It was a hard line. It was almost like you're an innocent in the Garden of Eden and then the snake shows up. Like, oh, this can be weaponized really easily. An initial false claim or headline or statement would almost never get caught by the fact-checkers, the correction, the apology, the retraction. There were no gatekeepers, no referees and nobody throttling the lies or racism or hate speech. It was really awful."
Subsequent attempts to limit such abuses by, among other things, banning Trump and misinformation about COVID-19 weren't able to transform Twitter into a benign playground of ideas. But Silverii stuck around for years more before his dislike of Twitter's new owner pushed him over the edge.
"I think Elon Musk is a horrible person," he says. "I don't want to put any money in his pocket; I'll never buy a Tesla or a flamethrower or anything he makes or pretends to make. I think he's the most dangerous person to take over a major institution since Donald Trump became president."
This conclusion dovetailed with a change in Silverii's thinking that coincided with Pettersen's victory. "Our family has a much more important thing to do right now, and my hobby of dunking on fucking right-wingers and writing profanity on the internet isn't interesting, if it ever was. Brittany is a much better person than I am, but this is a family effort. It's going to take the whole team to help her accomplish everything she wants to accomplish, and that means putting my ego somewhere else and not letting people whack her for things I say or do. So I'm going to be stepping back from the spotlight generally, and I probably won't be as spiky as I've been in the past."
The response after Silverii locked his Twitter account was about what he expected. "Just on my farewell tweets, I had trolls accusing me of deleting my tweets to avoid prosecution," he says. Additionally, the conservative blog Colorado Peak Politics published a December 12 item headlined "Silverii Bails on Twitter Before His Mouth Gets Congresswoman Wife Into Trouble" that leads with this assertion: "Brittany Pettersen won’t be sworn in as Colorado’s new congresswoman representing the 7th congressional district until Jan. 3, but already the balls of her obnoxiously progressive husband have been neutered."
If Silverii is now a castrati, he'd love to sing about a certain app's demise. In his words, "I want Twitter to die, and this is the best thing I can do to help it die. My 5,000 followers aren't going to do it, but I'm not going to give Twitter one more molecule of energy — and if enough of us do this, it will turn into Parler or Gab and lose all of its advertising except for the MyPillow guy. And then it goes away."