What would being a denizen of late 2022 be without having a take on El*n’s Twitter takeover? And having no Twitter account left to gripe on, I’ll expound on my long neglected blog.
I don’t need to recap the entire situation, and if I tried it would be out-of-date by the time I hit publish. It has been about a month and a half of constant headlines about every new, insane, laughable, disturbing, exasperating, and sad dictum from the site’s new spoiled brat-in-chief. But just to jog your memory of where we are at this point in time: cruel mass layoffs, silencing critics, readmitting banned alt-right bigots, plummeting valuation, and just as of last night, being mercilessly and deservedly booed off stage at a Dave Chappelle show.
I admit, in the first couple weeks after the acquisition, I was mostly amused. Not to diminish the suffering of those laid off, but here was this overconfident rich white asshole strolling in with so much bravado and just stepping on one rake after another like an absolute clown. The comeuppance and schadenfreude was delicious and addictive. Twitter users are some of the most viscous wits on the planet, and the ongoing roast was hilarious. Let him stick his finger in the outlet, I thought; he’ll learn real fast. It was the greatest show on earth.
But for me the fun subsided when I realized he would not scamper off with his tail between his legs. He would not be admitting defeat. He would not course correct. He would spin his failures into narratives of success. He might take a substantial financial hit for this stunt, but even if he drove the site into the ground he would still remain one of the richest people on earth.
My breaking point was Friday, November 18th. El*n posted a Twitter poll asking users to vote on whether former president Tr*mp should be reinstated on the platform. I was disgusted such a decision was being handled so trivially. And when I voted to see the results, I saw “yes” leading by a few percentage points. Yes ultimately won.
I was revolted. I was instantly transported back to living during the Tr*mp administration, feeling helpless while an uncaring idiot ran roughshod over our democracy. I was transported back to grade school, feeling helpless as bigger kids harassed and intimidated me. Here was yet another smirking bully beginning a new reign of terror I could do nothing about. I made up my mind in an instant. This site was done for me. I was not going to sign up to deal with that feeling again. I logged out, deleted my Twitter bookmarks, and deleted the app from my phone. I waited until Monday to delete my account permanently, just in case I had second thoughts over the weekend, but I didn’t. And I have felt validated about my decision in every daily headline that has come out since. If I had not deleted my account then, I would have deleted it at one of a dozen other times over the next weeks when the latest headlines disgusted me.
There was nothing quite like Twitter for me. It was a unique blend of humor and information and socializing.
Facebook wasn’t even in the running to replace it. In fact, I deleted my account earlier this year. I had logged out over a year ago and was content to let it lie dormant, but then a friend innocently tagged me in a screenshot of one of our text conversations she found funny but which hit people the wrong way out of context. Despite telling Facebook I wanted to approve anything I’m tagged in, it was showing up in the feeds of people I knew and they were asking me about it. Nope, nope, nope, I’m done. Goodbye forever, Facebook, you awful webshite.
Instagram is another Meta property, so strike 1. I don’t follow that many people on it, and I post maybe once a year. I don’t want to have to take a picture just to post a funny thought. Strike 2. And I find the whole “stories” feature an absolutely maddening experience to navigate, and it’s one people lean on more and more. Strike 3. And their inability to just relent and give me my unadulterated chronological feed. Strike 4. Did I mention it’s Meta? Strikes 5, 6, 7, and infinity. I went ahead and deleted that too just to tidy up my online world.
So I moved to Mastodon. I had created an account back in 2018 during some other Twitter fiasco (I believe it had to do with Alex Jones being allowed to stay on the platform). I never used it and had completely forgotten I even created it. Dusting it off, it was rough going at first. How do you find people to follow? How does anything work? Where are my friends? Where are the informative accounts I used to follow? Does it always load this slow? But I was committed to pushing through the growing pains.
While people were floating lots of ideas of where to migrate to — Tumblr, Hive, Post — they were all for-profit, walled garden social networks. And Hive was app-only and had sloppy security that they were forced to fix. If I was going to start from scratch, I didn’t want to compromise right from the start by hitching my wagon to yet another company.
The openness of Mastodon appealed to me. Open standards, open source, no ads, no algorithms. If I didn’t like how my server was being run, I could move, and all my followers would point to my new location. If I really got fed up I could host my own instance. (In fact, my hosting company recently added easy installers.) Hell, I could write my own Mastodon knockoff. It just needs to conform to the open ActivityPub standard.
That’s important to me. I’m tired of corporate overreach. I’m tired of license agreements changing and media we previously had access to disappearing out from under us. I’m tired of everything being turned into a monthly subscription, even colors. I’m tired of the ongoing, abusive relationship one must enter into for what should be one-time transactions. I’m tired of the empty promises of taking your privacy and security seriously only to read headlines revealing the opposite. I want control of my digital life back. I want to see Mastodon succeed, and if it doesn’t, I want to see something like it succeed.
On Staying on Twitter
My choice was to leave Twitter. Admittedly, it was easier for me than for many other people. Some have their livelihoods tied almost inextricably to the visibility they have there and their hard-earned follower lists. It might be the only place they have an online presence. I cut my follower list down to less than 100, most of whom posted rarely. Still, it was a loss. I could get almost any kind of information delivered, from world news to whether the restaurant on my corner is open on a holiday. It’s the universal medium. Your flight got canceled? Tweet the airline. You’ll get a faster response than over the phone. And I realized after deleting my account there were acquaintances I will have no other way to contact now. Deleting my account is a loss I haven’t even fully reckoned yet.
But I did leave. The alternative was unacceptable. El*n is turning Twitter into a locus for alt-right bigots, misinformation, and harassment. My constant frustration with news about hate groups gaining ground is how little I can directly do to fight it. But this is one situation where I absolutely can. Twitter survives through engagement. Its valuation and its appeal to advertisers is inextricably linked to its Daily Active Users. It doesn’t matter if you only lurk or if you’ve successfully shielded your timeline from the nasty folks. If you click that link or open that app, you’re a Daily Active User. You are casting a vote for that day that you are still onboard with this. A detached, reluctant page view is still a page view. And that increases Twitter’s value. And that keeps it appealing to advertisers. And that keeps it running. And that encourages El*n to double down.
Some want to “stay and fight,” and that’s a noble thought, but it’s misguided. How — concretely, practically, realistically — do you propose to “fight”? This fight is taking place on a battlefield El*n owns outright. You simply being on that battlefield in the first place makes the battlefield more valuable to him. He can and does change the rules at any time. He’s not beholden to moderation guidelines. He regularly bans people capriciously, quite often just for speaking truth to his power. Craft the most eloquent, powerful, scathing rebuke of his practices on Twitter and it can just be buried by his algorithm, marked as misinformation by his moderators, or deleted from his database. You can’t digitally chain yourself to the door to hold your ground; he owns the ground, and the ground obeys him. Just leave.
Listen, I get it’s not easy, but we all need to walk away. There isn’t anything to salvage. You may feel that your hands are tied, that you have no option but to use the site for social or professional reasons. But absorb what I’ve said, question whether there is really no way you can leave. Question whether the value it has to you is even still applicable when so many of your follows and followers have already fled. There are so many things we have no control over; this is one we can have a direct effect on.
Further, if you can stomach it, consider deleting your data or even your whole account. Given the complete lack of ethics on display, the less data retained the better. And with the severe cuts in staff, data breaches are going to be more likely. In addition to your own safety and privacy, deleting your tweets keeps them from showing up in search engines and other places that could drive traffic to Twitter. Search for “mass delete tweets” and you’ll find several tools that will automate the deletion of your past tweets. Deleting DMs may be even more important from a privacy perspective. There is no guarantee the data will 100% disappear, but it may at least make it less readily available.
So that’s my brain dump on the topic. The situation will surely evolve, and surely for the worse long before it gets better. We aren’t powerless in all this. We have options to move on and make something better. And honestly that makes me kind of excited.
Edit: Reasons to Leave, A Quick List
I keep thinking of arguments for leaving Twitter, either because I think about it in a new way or because of new developments in the news. I will leave this last section as an ongoing collection of those reasons in quick list form. Feel free to share with someone you think would be receptive to listening.
- Every visit to the site counts towards Daily and Monthly Active Users, a primary metric for whether the site is successful. Even lurking and not posting scores a point for the site’s continued relevance and value.
- Posting adds more incentive for your followers to stay for your content.
- Reading/liking/retweeting someone’s tweet counts towards their engagement. High engagement/views encourages them to stay on the site.
- Insufficient staffing and loss of domain knowledge leaves the site more vulnerable to external attack. Your data will be more vulnerable, such as email, phone number, and content of private DMs.
- Your data is vulnerable to internal exploitation by a leader who has shown no regard for privacy. Use of their mobile app may be even more of a problem as it may have access to a great deal of personal information.
- You content may be shown next to hate speech.
- Misinformation will become harder to identify.
- The rules change suddenly and capriciously. You may find yourself running afoul of an absurd rule that could get your posts flagged or your account banned.