In 2006 I signed up to a website called Twitter which had been mentioned by Kottke or Waxy or someone like that as being an interesting thing that had come out of Odeo, the podcasting platform that Ev, the guy who sold Blogger to Google, had started. Because I admired the messengers, and because a lot of cool things were launching after Flickr had been a hit, I signed up without really thinking about it. No-one else I knew was on there and I kinda forgot about it until the following spring when suddenly we all figured out what it was for and then everyone was using it.
It’s fair to say that the last 12 years I’ve been a pretty active Twitter user. With a few breaks I’ve read it every day and posted nearly every day. But as of now, I’m done.
I’ve flirted with quitting Twitter a fair amount of the years, wanting to reclaim autonomy over my online activity and get away from a silo’ed commercial space, but I kept getting dragged back in. Twitter is an incredibly powerful thing and has definitely served me well over the years. I have made good friends and found out about good things through the service, and that always meant it would win out over my blog or my newsletter.
But recently the rewards have been shrinking and the costs increasing. It’s no longer fun. Everyone’s in a bad mood. The conversations are toxic. The power of Twitter is leading somewhere dark and horrid and I don’t want to be part of that anymore.
There was an interesting piece of news (on Twitter, of course) that Milo, a far-right provocateur, was struggling to build an audience on Telegram, a messaging service, after being banned from Twitter, Facebook et al. I observed how interesting it was how audiences can disappear when not supported by algorithmic business models that use outrage and conflict to drive user engagement. The world we build on social media platforms is not the real world, not because it’s “virtual” but because it’s programmed for the needs of the company running it. Those needs make it addictive and sociopathic, trading on outrage and fury. And funny dog videos. But mainly outrage and fury. And despite the good things Twitter et all can bring, it is very hard to resist the bad.
Brexit and Trump have obviously brought this into sharp relief, leading to the rule that any popular thread on a social media platform will, given time, attract a racist or otherwise bigoted comment. The sewer that was YouTube’s comments has overflowed and is now everywhere. And we are all complicit.
I genuinely think the best thing for our society/ies is for commercial social media platforms to be shut down. They are a dangerous public health menace and are turning perfectly nice people into monsters. Of course I can’t shut them down, but I can do my part, by denying them my outrage, my fury, my attention.
I deleted my Facebook a few years ago, but that wasn’t a big deal because I hardly used Facebook. Last year I deleted Instagram but I’d stopped using it after they fucked the timeline and introduced really irritating features. I tried to cut back on Twitter, removing the app from my phone, but just used it in the browser instead. When that got annoying I reinstalled Tweetbot which, counterproductively, made the experience more bearable, so I spent more time checking it.
But today, as I found myself reading the bigotted responses to a tweet from the RNLI defending their overseas programmes from an attack by the right-wing press, followed by a tweet from someone I knew to be a good person but whose outraged tone and chiding manner made me want to reply “shut the fuck up, you fucking idiot”, I decided enough was enough.
I have left Twitter. My account is still there because I have understandably built up a small audience over this decade, some of whom may wish to continue to follow my words there, so it will automatically post links to this blog and to my newsletter when new stuff is published. But I have unfollowed everyone and will not be checking in for replies.
I would encourage you to do something similar.
Social media platforms, as they are currently programmed by the corporations that own them, are bad. They need to not be an important thing.
There are plenty of other ways of communicating without feeding the outrage machine. Set up a blog and link to other people. Start a newsletter and promote other newsletters you like. Keep it small but networked, and maybe we can change the world on our own terms.
But get the hell off Twitter and the rest.