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Why I’m not quitting Twitter—yet

Day by day, Elon Musk is damaging Twitter. But he’s still outnumbered by the users who are responsible for everything that’s good about the social network.

Why I’m not quitting Twitter—yet
[Source photo: FC]

For me, the possibility that Twitter might be falling apart didn’t hit home until last Wednesday afternoon. My Fast Company colleague Max Ufberg and I were hosting a Twitter Spaces session—inspired by an issue of my Plugged In newsletter—and an audience had assembled. But our conversation competed with weird, melancholy elevator music we hadn’t asked for and couldn’t figure out how to turn off. We tried shouting over it until listeners complained, at which point we started over again in a new Twitter Space.

As far as I can tell, the unsolicited musical accompaniment was just a random glitch, one I acknowledge wasn’t necessarily tied to any decision made by Elon Musk in the wake of his takeover. Still, it felt like a haunting, emblematic of Twitter’s increasingly rickety state. That put me in a mind to contemplate why I’m still there at all.

When Musk set out to buy Twitter last spring, I was open-minded about the implications. So far, his chief contribution has been creating a case study in mismanagement that may be studied for decades. It’s painful to watch, and yet unavoidable if you’re still on the platform.

Let’s see: Musk is a terrible boss and one of the biggest trolls on his own network. He is letting awful people back on the platform and may even see monetizing their awfulness as a business opportunity. He revels in working past the point of exhaustion even though the results at Twitter provide endless proof that he’d be better off pushing responsibility down to capable, non-exhausted people. His self-indulgence and capriciousness leave you (or at least me) wondering if being on Twitter amounts to willingly participating in an abusive relationship.

Musk also let Donald Trump back on Twitter, based on the results of a Twitter poll, abandoning his earlier stance that such a move would come only after the formation of a new moderation council. The ex-president isn’t tweeting again, but the prospect of him doing so after using the platform to egg on a violent attack on our democracy is a Sword of Damocles hovering over the entire Twitter experience.

I have nothing but respect for those who quit Twitter on principle, as long as they actually follow through. For now, however, I‘m sticking it out. Ultimately, what makes Twitter Twitter is the people, and they’re what’s keeping me there.

Now, I’m well aware that people are responsible for all the major problems on Twitter: They’re who fill it with hate, abuse, and misinformation. Here’s Fast Company cover story I cowrote five years ago on that subject, when Jack Dorsey’s version of Twitter was making only haphazard progress in tamping down the platform’s ugly side. There are new examples of Twitter at its worst every day, and it’s rarely clear whether Musk sympathizes more with the harassers or the harassed.

But the Twitter community can be wonderful, too—not just the people you know, but also random strangers who turn out to be smart, funny, and kind. And countless users make my Twitter better even though I’ve never interacted with them beyond passively enjoying their tweets.

A few examples that pop to mind:

One other thing about Twitter: It remains the best way to stay on top of fast-breaking news developments. Musk and his predecessors get zero credit for that. It’s the newsmakers, reporters, pundits, and just plain insightful laypeople who have turned it into an essential news medium.

If Twitter’s solid citizens departed en masse, there would be no reason to hang around. So far, I haven’t noticed a sweeping exodus, but my timeline does show fraying around the edges. A few of my favorites have announced they’re exiting Twitter and have stuck to that pledge. A larger group has quiet-quit the platform: They’re still there, but tweeting less. I suspect I will notice others who have departed or scaled back their participation when I wasn’t paying attention.

Which brings me to Mastodon, the decentralized social network that’s currently the most obvious refuge for anyone who once loved Twitter but doesn’t want to be part of the Musk version. I’m spending a fair amount of time there (as harrymccracken@sfba.social—join me!), especially since the arrival of Tapbots’ Ivory, the first Mastodon client with all the polish of a good Twitter app. So far, however, my experience lacks the bustling serendipity of Twitter at its best. Instead, it reminds me more of the quieter, smaller-scale online communities I participated in long ago, such as Byte magazine’s BIX service. That’s good! But it scratches a different social itch.

No matter how inviting Mastodon (or Post, or T2, or Nostr) might be, I can’t hastily recreate the Twitter experience I’ve known for 16 years on a new, kinda similar platform. But if the people I follow start to leave in droves, I won’t have anything to lose. As long as I find a critical mass of kindred spirits somewhere, I’ll be fine—and it’ll sure beat spending time at a Twitter that no longer feels like Twitter.

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Harry McCracken is the technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World. More More

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