Like millions of other Twitter users, I’ve made the choice to leave the platform.
My migration began earlier this year, actually, following Elon Musk’s initial interest in buying out the social media company. That’s when I began to explore the federated, decentralized social media platform known as Mastodon. I’m no fan of Musk’s, for a variety of reasons, and won’t be part of any of his experiments.
My drift away has been incremental… I didn’t want to leave birdland entirely until after the 2022 midterm elections, because it has taken years to build those accounts (some of them dating back to 2009).
This is perhaps the biggest challenge in using social media platforms of any kind: its management.
Let me ground that in something you can visualize: When you move from one city to another in real life, you lose some contacts along the way while gaining new ones. You must manage the transition in order to keep your networks and communities connected, whether you live there or not.
This also describes a move from Twitter to a comparable platform. It takes time, focus, and effort. But if you build a presence (in Twitter, Instagram, Mastodon, etc), “they will come.” They, of course, meaning followers and like-minded folks. The presence? It needs management, or you just become a ghost of yourself.
While I’ve never had tens of thousands of followers in Twitter, I did cluster around core groups who, at least in the early days, engaged with me with regularity. No ghosting!
Twitter has still, even under the command of a megalomaniac like Musk, reliably supplied information—not because Musk is reliable, but because the Twitter landscape still contains legitimate news outlets still working against the propaganda machine.
How long this will last is anybody’s guess.
Yep, things have become sketchy there. When Musk took over, I didn’t lose followers as much as I gained hundreds of new ones which were clearly fake accounts. No, thank you.
I also noticed changes in the quality of engagement and watched major players abandon ship. It was then that I began a list of my favorite accounts in Twitter and started looking for them in Mastodon. To my relief, most had already staked their claims there.
My migration away from birdland began in earnest then, unexpected and disruptive as it was, and took me a good chunk of November to settle in. I’m still finding my way.
Mind you, Mastodon is not the same as Twitter in design or function. Here’s a good explainer from TechCrunch. It’s not run by an autocracy, but by a federation of servers that are independently operated, without advertising or an algorithm to spy on its users in an effort to monetize itself. Instead, they rely on crowdfunding.
There’s a learning curve for the new user, but it’s not exceedingly hard, and the structure of each “instance” varies and may lack some favorite tools from Twitter. But it’s still a living, breathing network, albeit of a different stripe, and one that may democratize engagement in a way never seen before.
Still, it’s hard.
I miss especially the Trending feature from Twitter, which easily streamlines headline news in a way I’ve not been able to find anywhere else. For that, I’ve returned to Feedly to track my news outlets, and that is probably the best way to read the news, anyway… without the machinations of spin doctors.
Also, not all of my favorites in Twitter have joined the Mastodon migration, and I will miss them even as I question why they stay. Their answer? To fight against Musk’s disinformation efforts, because there is still this hope that Twitter will recover from his tyranny.
Me? I’m skeptical and don’t expect this to happen, given the dismal things I’m witnessing now in the platform. (On the other hand, here are some good arguments for staying.)
I’m pleased to report a different vibe in Mastodon (one blogger calls it the armada response to the Dunkirk invasion, which works for me). I now find myself seeing a new opportunity, to refine my social media usage—to do better and be better—and I’m here for that.
Why I stuck with Twitter all these years
I know many who’ve never ventured into birdland, so maybe this explanation will enlighten and inform some as to its appeal and value.
It wasn’t anything like Facebook, for one thing. I like Facebook for some things, but it’s not a great place for everything. It exists to bond together groups of people, sure. But this isn’t a harmless feature, but a veiled effort to sell and monetize.
The links between your own purchases and conversations and the ads that pop up on Facebook are far too eerie to be coincidental, am I right?
Let’s face it, Facebook revealed manipulations to its users early on, and investigations led to consequences for the platform (hello, Cambridge Analytica), making it hard to trust anything but the most personal posts appearing in Facebook. (And now we know Twitter sold us all out as well.)
Meanwhile, Twitter provided a quick and easy way to shout into the universe and get a response in a way that was nearly instantaneous and didn’t require all the polite niceties of Facebook. Sometimes that’s just the thing you need: a virtual wilderness to test-run your thoughts about the status quo honestly, without apology.
Only once did I have a tweet reported, and I lost privileges for three days, and then they came back to me and said, sorry, our bad for putting you in Twitter jail.
Facebook, on the other hand, has put me in its own “jail” for the dumbest things imaginable (something most of us consider a badge of honor, at this point).
Also, Twitter has become a huge campground for special interest groups, especially the disabled, feminist, and queer communities. It’s easy to find your “tribe” there and jump in, guns blazing, to fight the good fight.
These communities have literally used Twitter’s reach to influence policy at the national level. (That’s a subject for another blog post.) I don’t see this kind of change-making at the same level in Facebook.
Twitter was, up until now, a place where you could connect, learn, self-educate, and even celebrate personal wins, fearlessly. This is why I used it: for exploration, engagement, branding, and as a source for news and research.
By using hashtags, I explored and discovered ideas freely in Twitter. While that may have opened up rabbit holes I later regretted, it also led me to a richer understanding of an issue or situation—from multiple perspectives, including the brightest and the dankest.
I’ve said, since day one, that Twitter users need a thick skin and media literacy to navigate the platform (which made it a no-thank-you for many of my friends), and that was well before Musk took over.
Thankfully, having a journalist’s background and bullshit meter made Twitter a resource for investigation that no other social media platform could really offer with such immediacy.
Yes, engagement happened in Twitter, from Day One. It could be quite satisfying, especially in the early days.
But as politics overtook my feed, I found discussions quickly polarized, because there’s no way to get beyond the surface of opinions in 280 characters (which was half that, at the beginning). They called in microblogging for a reason!
Of course, the vitriol and histrionics only worsened with a mashup of foreign psy-ops hijinks, bitcoin spam, porn accounts, and other attempts to thwart, undermine, or break Twitter’s algorithms.
Whether folks wanted to believe it or not, Twitter’s platform for political and community organizing and messaging (some would say propaganda) was both powerful and empowering. And not just for the good guys.
This was an obvious reason to have a Twitter handle from the beginning, even if only to protect my identity from someone else who might co-opt it for more nefarious purposes.
But I was there to market a variety of things—from upcoming workshops to new editions of the magazines I published to literary and professional activities I was participating in and even the release of my own debut book.
Was the marketing effort worth all the time spent? Maybe? It depends.
But it certainly did help me populate my newsletter list with interested readers and connect me with others I shared cultural space with, and the brands I developed using Twitter became nicely established.
News and information
Believe it or not, Twitter was a great place to track breaking news.
I am a newspaper reader but Twitter offered headlines from all the newspapers, live, all the time. I prefer to litter my news junkie bandwidth with a variety of sources and voices, and I’m happy not to kill trees to do that.
My discovery of Twitter’s breaking news advantage occurred in 2013 when, while riding the ferry to Seattle, I noted a low-flying plane over the Puget Sound which appeared to be dumping large quantities of fuel over Bainbridge Island. Within 20 minutes, a tweet explained what had happened, hours before the local news outlets actually covered it.
Whenever there’s been an earthquake or a fireball or some other weird event, I’ve been able to find details within scant minutes of the occurrence on Twitter.
And when a loved one witnessed a traumatic scene while traveling through a major city, I was able to mine Twitter for details to answer their concerns, as they were unable to stick around to find out what happened after (which helped them find emotional closure).
It will still be that kind of space as long as legitimate news outlets tweet out their content.
But rumors suggest this will not be the color of the birdsite landscape going forward, as journalists, broadcasters, politicians, government agencies, and experts seek to abandon ship.
Advertisers, too. If Musk’s goal was to break Twitter, he’s achieved that. Twitter has devolved into this weird wasteland of propaganda.
But it didn’t start with Musk’s purchase. It happened, really, over several years.
I maintain that Twitter took its first turn for the worst prior to the 2016 election (maybe following the 2014 midterms and the launch of the 2016 presidential campaign), as it became clear there were efforts being made by foreign interests to manipulate election messaging on the platform.
But why multiple accounts?
What you likely don’t know is that I kept multiple Twitter handles.
In fact, I learned quickly the value of keeping multiple accounts there. By setting up separate handles, I was able to shape my timelines in each of them in a way that made it easier to find, follow, and interact with others with these same special interests.
Remember, in Twitter, the platform is/was always about “the algorithm.” Populating a single account with retweets, hashtags, and posts that focused on a specific topic (such as cooking) informed what would continue to show up in my feed—foodie topics—while showing fewer other topics (such as sports) in my feed.
So I had accounts for politics and news, writing, food, regional interests, and more. Yes, it meant I would have to hop from one account to the next to check engagements, but that actually worked for me.
With each visit to each different account, I envisioned myself wearing a different “hat” while inside, and that helped me focus my tweets, retweets, and replies. This helped me cement the nature of my “brand” and manage other distractions.
For instance, if a political post I wanted to retweet showed up in my food account timeline, I wouldn’t do it in the food account. I would log into the political/news junkie account and retweet it there.
Some of my Twitter spaces hummed. For instance, I would visit my anonymous political/news junkie account daily to seek out breaking news and to touch base with social justice warriors, esteemed news correspondents, legal eagles, and reliable investigative/interpretive journalism.
There was daily interaction in my writer’s life account during the launch of Intention Tremor, as well.
But interaction elsewhere was often less robust, such as in my MS account. There, I usually posted updates on relapses, symptoms, or healthcare encounters, but only when they happened.
I also used my gardening account mostly to post photos showing the progression of my raised beds over time, which made my behaviors there more seasonal or situational. And my regional account I used mostly for pictures from my vacations.
If all these interests had been batched under one handle, I don’t think I would have been able to manage the firehose.
It’s no surprise that I now have separate homes in the Mastodon fediverse; it just makes sense.
Au revoir and que sera sera, birdland
As of yesterday November 30, 2022, I am now officially Twitter-free… or as free as I can be, since I can no longer access some of my older accounts, which linger, like digital dust bunnies I cannot sweep away.
However, you can now find me in several different “instances” in Mastodon, based on my interests, via these four addresses:
- My general writing/journalism account:
(to replace my @SellmanWriter account in Twitter)
- My creative writing/speculative fiction/art account:
(to replace my @margin_2 and @MR_Maven accounts in Twitter)
- My small press/writing life/indie publishing/business of writing account:
- My Pacific Northwest/environment/agriculture/gardening space:
(to replace my @NWFogcutter account in Twitter)
- My disability/chronic illness account (brand new):
(to replace my @CraterBrain account in Twitter)
- My foodie account (still under construction):
(to replace my @ChezTamara and @BuzzFood accounts in Twitter)
I’ve started a news/politics account in Mastodon as well, which remains anonymous. I find that it’s safer and better to shield oneself with an avatar when stepping into that very deep, very turbulent pond, no matter what virtual continent you find yourself on.
Still, I’m finding less acrimony in the fediverse’s timelines (home, local, and federated) and it’s super easy to just block and report and know something will actually be done about the haters, something Twitter could never—and Facebook obviously cannot—guarantee.
(To be fair, many of my reports in Twitter actually led to the removal of fake or harmful accounts… in the days before Musk.)
Other accounts that have come and gone: @WritersRainbow and @SleepyHeadCtrl (both because these occupations have been retired).
A couple of others still exist whose names I can’t recall, handles that I abandoned a long time ago, probably because they were more “sandbox” in purpose and design. I think of them as ghosts I’ve left behind in Twitter, with little to hack, as I don’t use their attached email addresses anymore, either. Kinda like “Kilroy Was Here” well before the Internet connected us all.
It feels like a strange new world out there, but I suppose that’s always been true. Using Twitter just confirmed it.
Goodbye, Twitter. Hello, Mastodon. I hope I’ll see you there!