Burning down the house
It’s strange to watch a platform with worldwide reach and influence visibly decay with a speed unmatched since MySpace flamed out, but I guess Move Fast and Break Things is one of the perks of being a narcissistic billionaire. We’ve seen these Twitter out-migrations a few times over the years, and there are any number of aspirants which have attempted to replace it. I still get weekly updates from WT Social even though I’ve never used it. I don’t post anywhere anymore, for the reasons I discussed here a few years ago. Except for Mastodon. I don’t go there often (before this week I hadn’t posted in a year), but I’ve returned to it on the rare occasions I’ve felt the need to say something online. Mostly, though, I don’t. I read Reddit and a few other message boards, and I have a private Twitter account where I follow no one but have a list of about 50 people and read that. I’ve found that limiting my active participation to the offline world has been good for many aspects of my health.
But I do like having windows into the online world, so when it started to look like Twitter was melting down in record time (just over a week! it’s been barely ten days!), I went back to Mastodon to see what the influx looked like this time. And boy howdy, it’s different from the 2017, 2019, 2021 waves. For one thing, there are a ton of journalists and even more academics. There are people who have acquired thousands of followers in a couple of days, which is like having ten times that many (at least) on Twitter. For a second thing, people aren’t just showing up and looking around. They’re hitting the ground running in terms of posts (so many posts and boosts and favoriting by some of the really active people) and they’re loudly asking why they can’t have their preferred Twitter features. It’s noisy and a bit disconcerting for those of us who like Mastodon for its non-Twitter aspects, especially the pace and the type of engagement.
I get that losing a critical source of online engagement, expression, and information is traumatic. I’ve experienced that several times in the 30+ years I’ve been online. It hurts, and it’s disorienting, and you just want to fix it with something else. But that’s not how internet platforms and communities work. The internet moves and changes so fast, and platforms are replaced by new variations, not reproductions of the previous iteration. Think about the social media sites that have risen to the top over the last 15 years. They didn’t copy what was already there, they provided something new: Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok all brought something to the table that hadn’t been there before, or at least not in the same way. Mastodon isn’t going to become Replacement Twitter, or not altogether. Some Twitter-like features may be introduced (or gain prominence if they’re already there but little-used), but the structure of the system won’t allow it to become Twitter.
The very thing that seems to be creating the most confusion, i.e., the federated structure that requires new people to choose an “instance,” is the aspect of Mastodon that should make it possible for people who want to avoid the toxic virality of Twitter to keep doing so even if some instances become more Twitter-like. You have to actively seek out people to follow (just like Twitter), and if you don’t follow a lot of people, you can augment your personal feed (your and your followers’ posts/boosts/favorites) with the local and federated timelines. If you’re in a big instance like mastodon.social, the local and federated timelines will be absolute firehoses, but if you’re in a small instance they’ll be manageable and I find them fun to browse.
People are getting hung up on which instance to join, and I agree it’s not that intuitive. It’s also harder right now because a lot of instances have (mostly temporarily) closed to new users because they’re overwhelmed. This is normal for Mastodon! When I first joined, back in the Trump-Twitter exodus of 2017, the big instances were closed and I wound up at a decent-sized general-interest instance based in Germany. It was fine. I got the hang of things, joined some other, smaller, instances, and eventually got an account on the big general-interest one that I’m still on. Three or four of the instances I joined in my first couple of years went away after a year or two, for various reasons. Which is also fine (although I still miss witches.town). But instances are run by individuals, and if their circumstances change, then the instance can too. I was on a book-related instance started by a bookstore, for example. It was probably a half-personal, half-commercial enterprise, and it was never very active. One of the early instances I joined was weirdly aggressive feeling for Mastodon; maybe it was full of people who wanted it to be Twitter. I don’t know, but I left it pretty quickly. It’s still around, so it clearly works for some people. I’ve mostly settled on two accounts, with Mastodon.social being the noisy, public instance.
If you’re stuck as to where to join, see where your friends are, or pick one that says it’s about things you are interested in. Scholar.social is a popular instance for academics, but it’s closed at the moment. But someone started zirk.us for academics, so if you want to have an academic focus as your default local timeline, join that. From there you can follow anyone no matter which instance they’re on, and if your local timeline isn’t that interesting, set up a column with hashtags you want to follow. I have a column with #books, #bujo, and #amreading, for example. The main thing is, don’t expect to understand immediately, or even in a few days, how everything works and what all the possibilities are. You didn’t get that with any other platform, right?
A second key factor that should keep Mastodon from morphing into 2nd Twitter is that Mastodon doesn’t reward performativity, and it’s very very hard to go viral. Even if you do get a lot of support through boosts and favoriting, there’s no public metric to alert people to that. You have to click on someone’s profile and have it open in a separate column to see how many follows and followers they have. There’s no Quote Post function, which a bunch of new people are asking for and which I hope is never deployed across the platform. QTs can have useful functions, but they’re also a great source of point-and-laugh or point-and-sneer engagement, and no one needs more of that.
I can imagine a situation where a particular instance becomes more Twitter-like, with lots of performativity and verbal conflict. But the benefit of Mastodon is that people who don’t want that can block the entire instance and hang out in less promotional and conflictual spaces. Right now mastodon.social is overrun with Twitter people who are mourning their loss, and many of them are trying to deal with that by complaining about what’s not there or hard to figure out and trying to make the Mastodon experience as Twitter-like as possible. I get it! I jumped to Mastodon; they feel pushed out of Twitter. Denial, anger, and grief are inevitable when communities fracture. It’s not fun, but we’ve done it before and we’ll undoubtedly do it again, as long as narcissistic, impulsive billionaires get to run our worlds.
Hello Sunita! It’s always good to hear from you. This is a very helpful overview of Mastodon and reminder of the fleeting nature of Internet platforms and communities.
I was never on Twitter – I knew it would be bad for my mental health. So once again my “strategy” of ignoring a new technology until it becomes obsolete has worked for me.
I’ve been wondering what my next social media platform will be – Facebook was really the only one I used and while I still have an account I stopped posting and paying attention a couple years ago. I do still occasionally participate in a couple local FB groups. I miss hearing from a few people and I miss sharing photos. But I don’t miss the memes or the fake news or the time suck.
Hi Cleo! waves I feel badly for the people who are suffering through Twitter’s demise. I loved what it was a decade ago, but at this point it’s only useful to me for some news and sports stuff. And I can get that elsewhere mostly.
I’ve always come and gone on Mastodon and I expect that will continue. Social media is generally not good for me in the long run. But it’s nice being back and catching up with people.
The Twitter implosion has made me feel relieved once again that I’ve been 97% or so out of Twitter for around two years. I tweet out a batch of my posts every couple of months out of my personal account and the DA account is automated. Every once in a while I check in there and like things people have said to @dearauthor and that’s about it–maybe half an hour a month tops.
Like both of you, my reasons have to do with my own well-being. I think social media is good for very few people and I miss the old internet from the 1990s and early 2000s. Of course, there are good things that have come along since then but it’s a moot point to me since the platforms themselves aren’t good for my mental health.
However, DA does have to do something about the official DA account (it has close to 24K followers) and I have no idea what that will be. Probably only a few places can be updated via WordPress automation, like Facebook which I avoid like the plague. Still we’ll probably move there. Sigh.
Hi Janine, it’s great to see you! That is the bad thing about not being on social media; I don’t make enough of an effort to talk to friends I don’t see in the course of everyday life.
I didn’t even think about the DA account, but gosh yes. Horrible as it is to admit, Facebook does seem to be the place where there’s a lot of book talk that isn’t on BookTok, if you know what I mean.
Thanks, Sunita! I miss you too. And your book reviews! Please post some if you are so inclined.
You’re right, that is the downside of not being on social media. I’m still on a couple of private Goodreads groups and that helps, and of course there’s DA, but I’ve lost touch with a lot of people. Still, I think I am better off away from Twitter.
Someone recommended Instagram also and said she doesn’t know many people who are still on Facebook. I am so out of it on such things…
LikeLiked by 1 person
My understanding is that a lot of the authors and readers who pulled away from Twitter wound up on Instagram, but I don’t know if they’re still there or how TikTok has changed the equation. Facebook has a bunch of groups, but I don’t know much beyond that.
I have not been reading much, sadly, but if I get back into blogging I will definitely talk about them!
Hi Sunita – lovely to see you online again! 🙂 I joined Mastodon in April this year but never did anything with it. I’ve started to be more active there this last week or so. I’m still looking around and trying to get familiar.
Personally I think it’s kind of rude to go into a new space and immediately demand changes but maybe that’s just me. It’s not the same and it won’t be the same but hopefully with time it will mimic the things I liked best about Twitter. If not Mastodon then something else I guess. For now I think Mastodon is the most likely candidate.
I’m on mastodon.social at present but may switch to romancelandia.club at some point. For now I’m just settling in and I don’t want to make big changes yet. I’ve worked out how to follow the romance people I can find and there’s a tool I can use to identify folks from Twitter who I want to follow and who have joined Mastodon so that’s enough for now.
I’m at @firstname.lastname@example.org if anyone is looking for me!
Hi Kaetrin! I think you’ll enjoy Mastodon. And from what I’ve seen, Willa has done a great job with the romancelandia instance. It’s much slower-paced and less intense, at least it has been, but there is good conversation. The lack of an algorithm pushing content into people’s feeds means it’s slower, but the boosts put a fair amount of new and unexpected material in my home feed.
I was thinking of you because of the Twitter bonfire, and here you are! I had finally gotten my Twitter use to a good place where I wasn’t obsessed and had lots of pleasant interactions and not much politics, and now look! I may move to Mastodon because I would miss some people but I am not rushing. I am thinking, once again, about blogging more, for the sake of writing and thinking more.
My personal Twitter experience has gotten appreciably less rewarding since the sale because “everyone” is talking about a) moving to Mastodon, if/how/when (I mean it is mostly helpful, but taking over my timeline!) and b) Musk. If I wanted to know what he was tweeting, I would follow him. I am pretty persuaded by the arguments that he will deeply, deeply regret his purchase and I am here for the schadenfreude, but I do not need a minute by minute account of every manbaby tweet to enjoy that.
Good to see you!
Liz!!!!! So good to see you. Like you, although in a different way, I’d finally found a way to engage with Twitter that was useful without being bad for me. And then it ended.
Twitter has become kind of strange, hasn’t it? There are the people who aren’t leaving because they want to watch it burn; the people who feel that they can’t leave because of what they use it for; the people who don’t see how it’s much different (and for them it may not be yet), and undoubtedly other groups. In my tiny list I’ve noticed that while a few people have left or are posting less, where I see the biggest difference is in the replies. There’s a lot more cruft and it’s harder to find rewarding exchanges.
If you do decide to join Mastodon, I strongly recommend picking one of the smaller, topical instances. I haven’t spent much time on zirk.us but it seems like it has a good vibe, and romancelandia.club almost feels like Twitter 2010-2012. I’m not a member but I follow a bunch of people and my guess is that the local and federated timelines are pretty rewarding. The mistake people make starting out (and I say this as one who made it) is thinking that you need to be on a general-interest or big instance to get the most out of the platform. If you’re trying to replicate the fast-paced, free-for-all aspect of Twitter, then sure. But if you want to talk to people you can do that from anywhere. I just hope my small instance’s admin decides he wants to keep his going because I really like the people.
Good to see you! It’s interesting to see what topic inspired you to write an essay. This is all very educational.
I never joined Twitter, so I don’t feel the loss. I am very happy in my little corner on GoodReads. I have a small group of friends that I can talk books with, and the few groups I belong to are very convivial.
As with Liz above (hi, Liz!), I am indulging in a fair bit of schadenfreude as I follow the story.
Inorite???? I’ve thought of blogging before, but I never pulled the trigger. This time I just sat down and wrote what kept going around in my head. And I have a feeling I’m not done. 😉
Mastodon is to Twitter what LibraryThing is to Goodreads. You can find a quiet corner on Goodreads or Twitter, and quite a few people have. But it’s hard to find a noisy corner on Mastodon/LT. That said, the current influx may prove me wrong. Between the accounts that just mirror Twitter feeds and the journalists (and others) arguing about the Content Warning norms, Mastodon is getting to sound more like Twitter than I’ve ever seen. But, luckily, it’s avoidable.
Hey Sunita, I have a book rec for you. Have you read All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews yet?
I don’t usually read lit fic but I read this for an online book group and it is REMARKABLE!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Cleo, sorry it took me so long to respond! End of semester craziness combined with travel hell. I had not seen this book but it sounds really interesting, thanks! Will give it a read and report back.