Shuffling Communities and Twitter Migration
Finding new footing in the social media world - plus evidence that caught my eye this week.
That’s my grandparents in the photo, with my sister and me. I’m the baby. It’s 1961, on the western outskirts of Sydney. It had taken years for my grandmother to get to the front of Europe’s massive post-World-War-II emigration queue. One of her sisters left for Australia, too, but she ended up near the top tip of the country, far, far away from us.
The breakup of families as some stay and others scatter to the global winds is the analogy Cory Doctorow starts with in “How to leave dying social media platforms”. “Arguably,” he wrote of his Jewish family in perilous European times, “they might have all done better if they could have relocated as a body to some safer, more prosperous place. But they didn’t. Frankly, they couldn’t…They had a collective action problem. Each of them could figure out what worked best for them, but getting together to decide what was best for all of them was literally impossible.”
A collective action problem is what we’ve got now with social media platforms, and the connections we’ve formed there, Doctorow wrote: “We don’t leave because we don’t want to lose them. They don’t leave because they don’t want to lose us. It’s a hostage situation.”
Brian Nosek called for the open science community to tackle this collective action problem with an experimental mass migration from Twitter to Mastodon. Hundreds apparently followed his lead quickly. His proposed action? New activity only on Mastodon, posting links to Mastodon activity on Twitter, and discussing nothing at Twitter except the #mastodonmigration.
So, is Twitter a dying social media platform, or is this all an over-reaction? Twitter’s been on a decline for a while, and to me, it sure feels like its best days are behind us. I used to love Twitter, and I can’t pinpoint when that changed. But I know for sure by the time the long, hectic doomscrolling phase of the pandemic and its warring factions subsided, I was over it. And from the looks of my Twitter feed, I was far from the only one feeling this way. I think many of us are restless, ready for some kind of re-set. I think people have been drifting into different habits. I certainly have been.
For one thing, regardless of what happens with content moderation at Twitter, troll culture has already won – and not just because the new “Chief Twit” has big troll energy. Jonathan Howard wrote about the phenomenon of audience capture, quoting Gurwinder Bhogal, who described it as a “gradual and unwitting replacement of a person’s identity with one custom-made for the audience”. People “find that their more outlandish behavior receives the most attention and approval,” Bhogal said, “which leads them to recalibrate their personalities...[T]hey exaggerate the more idiosyncratic facets of their personalities, becoming crude caricatures of themselves.”
That systemic drift in Twitter culture is what puts me off, not the full-on trolls, who are easy to block. And it’s the impact on society of all this that will be crunch point for me. If the new regime is “just” about ego and greed, that’s one thing – it could end up tolerable, or not. However, if it’s clear it’s transforming into a major anti-democratic force, whether unintentionally, or, as argued here, intentionally, then it quickly becomes a choice between conscience and community. Carl Bergstrom points to another possible intention: demolishing the influence of experts (see here and here). It wouldn’t be the first time that anti-intellectualism was a fellow traveler or authoritarianism!
For now, there are so many people I like to see, and interact with, on Twitter, so I’m still there. Months ago, though, I decided to invest less time in Twitter, and use it to develop ties at several other places. This newsletter at SubStack is my main “home”. I’ve started a Living With Evidence page at Facebook, too: That’s my family’s communication hub, so I’m there a lot. And I joined Mastodon, too. There’s a serious learning curve – I spent ages even on the decision of where and how to set it up. (It’s decentralized, so you have to pick a place to plonk down, though it’s easy to change.)
The absence of ads at both SubStack and Mastodon is a joy. Furthermore, Mastodon is non-profit and open source. And I quickly came to appreciate the critical importance of Mastodon features that are different to Twitter: An exact Twitter clone, after all, could well reproduce its culture, too.
This newsletter marks the start of the “how” in this journey. Way back in the before times, I used to tweet lots of stuff that caught my eye. Now, I’m collecting it, and along with whatever I’ve been writing, I’ll include a selection at the bottom of these newsletters, and see if you find it interesting. (To check it out, keep scrolling past my sign-off.)
I hope you have a good week!
I think ppl put way too much stock in social media as a whole something I could care less about. I fully deleted a FB profile after 14 years. Don’t care. If I do drop in it’s just that I’m there I’m gone. I’m too busy living, accomplishing a great deal or out in nature with my dog. I’m quite literally stunned by the amount of time and effort ppl put in to all things social media and I’m the one posting to put your phone down and go outside so now that I’m sitting with all of 150 friends on my new FB account, all of whom I know personally I don’t quite know how I’ll ever promote my publication on any social media platform and I’m like meh… do I care… no not really. Easy come easy go for me. I’m too busy catching my destiny 💫💫💫
Love this newsletter, and your PLoS blog too (which I often use for teaching puposes as assigned reading 😀). I deleted my old twitter account during the early pandemic (too much doom), and came back to it with a minimal presence subsequently some time later.
I think youv'e convinced me to try Mastodon out.