Just before I went to bed last night, the news broke that notoriously obnoxious billionaire Elon Musk had clinched a deal to buy Twitter.1 He trotted out those trite lines about Twitter being a “public square” that needs to accept “free speech” (by which presumably he means bigoted incitement and harassment, like when he used doxxed info to harass a blogger critical of Tesla ). Of course, this deal means Twitter actually ceases to be a publicly-traded company and becomes a private one (for all that’s worth, which admittedly is not very much), but I don’t think we can expect Mr “I Reinvented Subways Except With Single-Occupancy Subway Cars And It’s Shit” to understand the distinction between public and private space 😃
For me personally, I guess the deal doesn’t change very much. Since I took a break from Twitter last July, I’ve been on a dramatically curtailed Twitter diet: I use my RSS reader, NetNewsWire, to follow a scant handful of accounts that I really missed during the break, and that’s it. The rare occasions I get bored enough to actually check out my full Twitter timeline, it firms up my sense that I made a good decision to mostly quit. I guess I could delete my Twitter account, or at least make it private, but I don’t see any particular benefit to doing so. The option remains there if I change my mind in the future.
But there are a lot of active Twitter users who are very concerned about what the change might mean for them. It seems likely, for example, that a Musk-led Twitter will take a much lighter hand to moderation and the prevention of harassment – which are already big problems for Twitter as it is – making the platform extremely unappealing. I’ve also seen the suggestion that Twitter might now curtail pseudonymous accounts, and even potentially introduce ID verification . These are some favourite demands of wealthy right-wingers and journos who can’t handle criticism, but I’ve blogged before about the right to anonymity online and why it’s so important.
Understandably, then, there’s been a bit of an influx of newcomers to alternative platforms, as well as others resurrecting long-dormant accounts. I’ve seen a ton of introduction posts on Mastodon today, and Micro.blog also seems to have had a few unfamiliar-to-me faces pop up, which is cool. I think it’s common for more, uh, exciteable people on Mastodon to think that each new wave of newcomers represents “the” breakthrough where open, small-scale (preferably non-commercial), federated alternatives to social media will hit the mainstream… and while I think that’d be great, I’ve seen enough of these waves peter out into the old equilibrium that I’m not getting my hopes up 😅 But within each wave there is some proportion of people who stick around, and slowly expand the reach of this “better”, independent web.
The Fediverse seems like more of a drop-in replacement for Twitter, in the sense that ordinary users can just make an account on someone else’s server and use it very similarly to how they used Twitter. (I mean, there are Fediverse-specific features and social norms like content warnings, but in general.) It’s harder to get started with than Twitter, because before you can even sign up you need to find/choose a suitable server to sign up to, and then I think it’s still harder to find interesting accounts to follow (although discoverability has got better since I first joined Mastodon in 2018 or something). I think it’s probably easiest to switch to it if you have a whole group of friends switching to it at the same time, especially if one of you has the technical nous to host an instance for you all, with a cozy local timeline. But plenty of people pull off the move even without this 🙂 Compared to mainstream social media, the big selling point of Fediverse instances (IMO) is that the good ones at least are smaller and tightly moderated to stamp out harassment and bigoted garbage, and the good instances refuse to federate with the shit (right-wing/“free speech”) ones, making the kind of drive-by antagonism that’s so common on Twitter much, much harder. It’s certainly not foolproof against dedicated harassers, but compared to Twitter I encounter a lot less low-effort trolls.
For the last 18 months or so, my own preferred approach has been the IndieWeb , which is fundamentally about posting your stuff primarily on your own website, under your own control, and syndicating out to other platforms (be they open ones like Mastodon or closed ones like Twitter) if you want to reach people there. There are a couple of reasons why I like this approach: if you don’t want to depend on someone else’s server then hosting your own website is easier for a non-tech expert than hosting a whole instance of some Fediverse software, it helps avoid link rot (because with the Fediverse, of course, instances regularly close down, old photos/videos can get purged from servers, etc.), and it also means I never make a social media thread out of something that “should’ve been a blog post” 😉 The basic technologies we all used to use to keep up with people’s blogs – RSS feeds and readers – still exist, and work just as well as they always did. “IndieWeb technologies” can definitely get more complicated than this, and can in fact function as social media themselves, but I don’t want to go on too much of a tangent in this post. A really easy way to get started with the IndieWeb is Micro.blog, which I mentioned earlier, and even offers a(n optional) feature where you can interoperate directly with the Fediverse if you want (or, you can set up automated crossposting to a Mastodon account, if you already have one). But if you don’t really want your own site, and don’t really care about the permanence of your posts, then joining a Fediverse server is probably easier.
I think the Fediverse and the IndieWeb are both good approaches for slightly different sets of priorities, and appreciate that they’re not incompatible with each other. I use Mastodon, mostly at @firstname.lastname@example.org , in addition to having this site. I also feed the posts on this site into my profile on Micro.blog , where there’s also a lot of good social interaction. So overall, I’m happy with this multiheaded strategy 😊 Happier than I’d been for years on Twitter, for sure.
Technically, as per this short Twitter thread , it’s only that Twitter’s board has recommended shareholders to accept Musk’s offer; they could refuse 🤷🏻♀️ And Musk’s offer is also conditional on “due diligence”, so he could back out if he doesn’t like what that turns up. But I’m somewhat doubtful about those possibilities transpiring. ↩︎