Wandering the Digital Diaspora

On social media silos, and fear of the unknown.

The first time we thought Twitter was dead, we scrambled to sign up for Mastodon accounts and get on the coveted Post waiting list, hoping one of the two would be our lifeboat.

While some were bold enough to actually jump, many of us straddled two ships, hoping Twitter would somehow figure it’s shit out or one of these new enterprises would prove buoyant enough to sustain into the future. But as we realized Twitter wasn’t going to simply explode one day, but rather sink inch by inch, we had a choice in front of us: do we give another network a shot, or keep sinking and hope something better comes along?

Anecdotally, it appears a majority of us chose to remain, even though we knew we were electing to help rebuild a civilization in decline. We’d check Mastodon every other day, then once a week, and then finally not at all, until the app blended into the background with Apple Music and OpenTable. Even though we finally had the honor of making it off the Post waiting list and onto the network, it was glitchy and frankly, a little dull. It was closer in style and format to Twitter, but nevertheless, a sleek imposter. In the end, we went back to the devil we knew.

With each injury came a fresh insult: Elon Musk trying to back out of acquiring Twitter only to be forced into buying it; His near-immediate unleashing of accounts banned by the old guard for hate speech; The great verification removal that never happened; the actual verification removal that resulted in the site’s most feeble minds getting the most visibility (but still no respect); not allowing public utilities to use their API unless they cough up $50,000 per month.

And a few weeks back, Twitter was suddenly at war with Substack—the very platform on which I’m publishing this, and which many independent writers use to monetize their work. Links from Substack were unshareable, or slapped with a content warning. And soon we found out why: Musk knew Substack was about to launch its Notes feature, a shorter-form venue for content sharing that posed an existential threat to his plummeting brand. 

Many of us were psyched to try Notes because it seemed to be everything Twitter was not: polite; civilized; thoughtful; mature. Even still, we kept one foot on home base, saving our baser instincts for the original. Maybe we’re just not ready to grow up. Or maybe the internet isn’t the place to be grown up, when real life hands you enough of that. Unlike in the physical world, the digital world allows you to test the boundaries and try on different hats. Don’t get me wrong: we could all use more self-editing wherever we’re posting, but if you want to be professional online, LinkedIn is right there.

And now all the cool kids (who, again, are able to get exclusive access) are flocking to Bluesky, the new venture of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey currently still in beta. By most accounts, Bluesky users are having a ball: Fewer bigots! Piling on the notorious main characters who made the mistake of crossing over! AOC! Shitposting with abandon! And perhaps above all, no Elon and his army of sentient protein shakes. But still, these semi-converts feel the need to post on Twitter about how much fun they’re having over in utopia with an air of desperation—desperation to find a new digital home when the one they know and love is getting slowly lowered into boiling water.

And to caveat all of the above, these new players are still very much in their infancy, and in six months or a year, who knows where we’ll be congregating? In 2007, we were tweeting about our breakfasts. Four years later, we found out in the very same space that Bin Laden was killed.

We can and will learn a new platform eventually, but it’s a question of wanting to. After the years of relative stagnancy with Twitter, Facebook and Instagram being the big three, with Zuckberg tanking the last two and Musk ruining the first, we’ve been forced to scatter, and remain in the in-between phase where we don’t know where and when we’ll find our online friends again.

When it comes down to it, all of the Twitter faithful are really just trying to turn back the clock. Better days aren’t necessarily ahead, but we can acutely remember the ones behind us. We don’t want something new: We want Twitter when Twitter was good, which in theory should be achievable. But really, it isn’t so simple. The worst personalities who were always present on Twitter but kept mostly at bay under the old structure have been emboldened by a maniacal new owner with nothing but billions to lose. Much like a Tesla, once something is on fire, it’s usefulness rapidly declines.

So, wherever you wander next, I hope you enjoy it. And I hope you’ll say hello.

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