bye bye birdie

cartoon of a dead Twitter bird logoI left Twitter today. I can’t stay when it will be controlled by a billionaire reactionary who wants to restore “free speech” (meaning Trump and his fellow travelers). He’s popular on Twitter because he’s rich and he’s a mega-shitposter, and it will be his personal plaything, like Mars. I’ve had an emotional go-bag ready for years, but things seemed to be getting a little better. Today was the time to grab that bag and go.

I have left, or been left by, quite a few web platforms over the years. Sometimes it feels like the death of someone you didn’t know all that well but saw everyday. I felt that way when FriendFeed, bought by Facebook and neglected for several years, was finally shut down. I had two close communities of real friends there. Some folks in the library-oriented one, the Library Society of the World, made it to a reboot, having had practice being peripatetic (remember Meebo? A former home and another Google fatality). Others took their attention to platforms where they had more connections.

The lingering end to a long-running fan community I was involved with built on Yahoo Groups was like watching a close acquaintance die slowly of a progressive disease. First, it began to lose members because they were spending all their spare attention on that newfangled Facebook. Then Yahoo made “improvements” that were disastrously dysfunctional. The group has regathered itself on a different platform, but hasn’t regained its once near-manic levels of activity. It won’t, not with so many other distractions.

This moment feels like leaving Facebook, which I think I abandoned in 2011, when the Timeline revamp launched. I was already unhappy about the company and its policies and felt using it was unethical. Like most people, I weighed that concern against the benefit I got from it, the kind of ROI analysis that is often what keeps us using technology we disapprove of. For whatever reason, Timeline was the final straw. I missed some of the updates I got there, but it wasn’t that hard a habit to break, apart from the byzantine process Facebook requires to actually delete your account, designed for discouragement, so they will be able to keep all that data. Now they try to get my data through other means, because they want everyone‘s data.

If Twitter had such megalomaniac goals, it hasn’t got there. It’s a relatively small platform with outsized influence because it feels like you’re up to the minute with what’s going on while also being able to simply follow people you are interested in with a few commercial interruptions. It’s the immediacy that makes it so perversely attractive to journalists, always on the hunt for scoops, so it becomes the place to get news and to make it, something the former president milked until the insurrection he encouraged got him banned. I followed nerds, geeks, librarians (but I repeat myself) and a few journalists whose work I admired covering beats that interested me. I rarely posted, except to share a link, and the people I followed were not toxic. I will miss that loose community feel and the sources it helped me discover. People use Twitter in different ways, and are vulnerable in different ways (e.g. I’m a cis white non-argumentative non-celebrity, so not prey for coordinated trolling). For me, it really felt like a community, though I knew it enabled bad behavior elsewhere on the platform and failed to protect the positive speech of people who are not like me. I’ll have to break the habit of going there.

But I subscribe to three newspapers, and never have time to read them all. I have smaller networks I can tap into; the library group I’m part of has wider dimensions I haven’t explored. I’m checking out a Mastodon instance aimed at academics that may give me that interdisciplinary mix and will try to stumble around and figure it out. I won’t miss Twitter for long.

It’s a small thing. But right now, as we’re living with an authoritarian takeover of one of our major parties (which came close to pulling off a coup and will keep trying), as we watch Ukrainians valiantly fight for their freedom and dignity against a nation taken over by the kind of leader that party would like to emulate, ignoring even small things feels wrong. I’m not arguing others should do the same – it won’t matter to Elon, and the platform has real value for many uses – but for me, it feels like the right decision.

2 thoughts on “bye bye birdie

  1. I’ll enjoy your blog rather than your microblog, then. I’m staying in Twitter; I really love the words, the synchronicities, the opinions, the breaking news, and all the connections too much to consider leaving. Dorsey believes in Musk ( & I’m going to see where this goes.

    btw: I actually wondered what you thought of Len Gutkin’s piece in The Chronicle today?: — I still need to read the article “Cordelia’s Love” — on my reading list.

    1. I hadn’t seen it (busy trying to blunder around Mastodon so I can set up camp there, plus some bathroom plumbing adventures) but at first glance both look worth a read. Funny, I had just been talking with my daughter about the power of parasocial relationships that influencers have online which carry a kind of credibility for those who distrust the “elites” and experts but feel a personal connection with an online figure speaking to millions but as if he’s personally addressing each one of them. So this looks like a fascinating rabbit hole to pursue, thanks!

      I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing leaving Twitter, and will not judge anyone for their decisions about it. But like a lot of internet kerfuffles, I find a lot of company among folks just joining Mastodon and looking around, blinking, wondering how to meet people. Just like when I left Facebook and got seriously involved on Twitter!

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