On the 21st of January, 2009, I sent my first tweet. I was gearing up to go travelling around the world, and Twitter had piqued my interest, both as a way to stay up-to-date with various news outlets and celebrities, but also as a mode of asynchronous communication. It's been years since I've used the feature, but the ability to tweet via both SMS and WiFi was an absolute lifeline for staying in touch as I crossed four continents and multiple cell carriers. Since then, I've had a few different accounts and tweeted about 1,000 times in total. As those stats show, I've never been a particularly active user, but it has remained a consistent source of entertainment and information for almost fourteen years. I've discovered countless artists, scientists, and all manner of other people through the platform. Twitter was even central to my first proper job in London, and it's how I discovered the IndieWeb movement which re-sparked my interest in front-end development, so it's least partially responsible for my current career. In short: I have historically had a lot of good things to say about a place that many refer as "the hell site".
On the 28th of October, 2022, Elon Musk officially became the owner, CEO, and ultimate arbiter of Twitter. The first couple of days were a train wreck that seemed to have the whole world (or certainly the spheres that I regularly interact with) rubbernecking in his direction, and I'll admit that I was amongst them. A few more days passed and it seemed increasingly unlikely that any form of common sense would prevail. Between mass resignations and lay-offs, advertisers running for the hills, the whole "pay to be verified" shit show, and a consistent stream of bad takes that only served to show how far the world's richest man had failed upwards, Twitter lost a lot of its appeal.
Within hours of Elno's takeover, several key tech-related folks that I follow closed their accounts or vanished from my timeline. In the following week, dozens more trod the same path. Surprisingly, people seemed more interested in seeking out new pastures, rather than simply walking away until the dust cloud settled, which resulted in a real groundswell of support for federated technologies. Even more surprisingly, this migration wasn't just happening within tech circles. The techies may have been the first to go, but I quickly saw artists, scientists, content creators, friends, and all manner of other folk begin to pack up and move out. New tools were created to help automate and simplify that process. Opinion pieces began appearing in major newspapers. Jokes were being made on late-night chat shows. The #TwitterExodus had hit its stride!
Amongst all of the hubbub, it felt like one term kept cropping up: Mastodon. I've dabbled with the Fediverse (and Mastodon in particular) in the past, but struggled to find a community that provided ongoing meaning. As more and more of the people that I followed on Twitter began opening accounts and posting regularly – or even setting up entirely new instances/servers – that old complaint felt increasingly redundant. At the same time, the fallout from the mass migration had resulted in a surge of interest and excitement in federated technologies in general. The IndieWeb and Fediverse communities seemed to come alive. Over in the IndieWeb chat, ideas and news were flying around at a rate far beyond anything I've seen in the two years I've been lurking there, and my social feeds across the web filled up with all manner of helpful guides and services to simplify moving away from the "bird site" and onto the Fediverse.
On the 9th of November – just over a week after Elno walked a sink into Twitter HQ – I created a new Mastodon account. I'll admit, this was simultaneously a simpler and yet clunkier experience than I had predicted. Unlike the last couple of times that I've dipped my toes into this particular brand of federated waters, I already knew of several instances where people I follow had already made camp; instances that aligned with my own interests and would likely become communities that I could gain value from. That's lucky, as I still think that Mastodon's node-like "instance" structure is both a great strength and terrible weakness, particularly combined with a community that generally shuns searchability (for extremely valid reasons). I know my first foray into the Fediverse was cut short years ago because I couldn't find any instances that seemed relevant for me. Still, this time I had some clear options, and I ended up creating an account at indieweb.social.
The next step was trying to relocate everyone. Some people were easy enough to search for – and tools like Fedifinder and Movetodon, along with a general trend of advertising Mastodon accounts on Twitter profiles and pinned tweets, definitely made things simpler. Still, this is not an "easy" task. I will say that the recent Mastodon 4.0 release has helped a little, but finding people is arguably just as hard as finding instances, so it took a little while to begin curating a meaningful feed that felt nicely busy. This process is also not helped by the fact that several people had multiple accounts (likely from prior experiments) whilst others turned out to be unofficial "mirrors" of Twitter timelines or Instagram feeds. Don't get me wrong, that's a useful way of keeping up with some folk who are unlikely to ever jump ship (or who will at least wait until the waves are lapping at their ankles), and they are nearly always clearly marked as bots, but it still feels a bit deflating having posts on a social platform where my interactions are less than meaningless.
That said, initial teething troubles aside, Mastodon has continued to delight and surprise me. From the carefully considered defaults to the web-first experience to the general community attitude, I have been consistently (and pleasantly) reminded that the social web can be a place of community, knowledge sharing, and general awesomeness.
On the 1st of December, I tweeted for what is likely the last time.
I'd recently started a new writing challenge to close out the year, and
wanted to share my progress on social media (as I normally do), but this
time it felt different. Amidst mass-bans of left-wing journalists, media outlets, and critics; the re-platforming of white nationalists, terrorists, hate groups, and self-identifying Nazis;
and corporate statements that consistently underscored a worrying swing towards the hard right, Twitter had begun to
feel less like a fun amusement, and more like an active danger.
laters, Elno would tweet out support for having Doctor Fauci
imprisoned (I guess he's still sore about having to respect his
workers' health in the limpest of ways possible during the pandemic),
whilst simultaneously attacking the trans community. Last
night, after being booed off stage at a Dave Chapelle gig – a crowd likely
sympathetic to at least some of his more extreme ideas, considering who
they'd paid money to go and see – Mr Free Speech began removing videos of the incident. It is becoming clearer by the day that Musk is embracing the worst aspects of humanity and openly abusing his power with the platform he has bought.
I've seen another dozen or so people close their accounts today as a result, inching me ever closer to shutting that door forever.
Ultimately, I'm not sure what the date will be when I last open up Twitter, but I feel like it's going to be much sooner than I would have expected at the start of October (not even two months ago). For now, I'm going to keep my account kicking around. I'm content to squat my username, just in case the site is ever sold to a more competent (and less problematic) owner. Plus, there are still people who I want to stay in touch with who are only posting to Twitter, for a variety of professional and personal reasons. Some of those reasons I understand; many I can sympathise with. I don't begrudge people sticking around or trying to defend a community that they have spent years helping to build. But I won't be amongst them.
As much as I dislike ignoring the smaller creatives and artists that I hope my likes and retweets once helped, I won't continue feeding this particular beast. Posting, liking, or engaging with Twitter in any meaningful way can be twisted by Musk and his supporters in some deeply problematic ways, and I don't want my actions to be used as anything other than evidence for the death throes of his company – and reputation.
I'd love to just close it completely, today, but I can't. Twitter still acts as an important source of news for me, and as much as I'm enjoying the community atmosphere over on Mastodon, there isn't (yet) the same breadth of information being shared. I think the tech world is now well catered for over there, but my other interests haven't been quite so fast to move. Still, with each day another account or two crops up, or becomes more active. And with each person that leaves, the few that remain become that little bit harder to continue making an effort for. I hope that, soon, everyone will depart to the greener pastures of the Mastodon tundra. They may not be perfect, but they're a far cry from what that fowl place has become.