I’ve decided to extend my one-month Twitter hiatus permanently. If you’d like to keep in touch with me, please use one of the following:
- You can follow me on Mastodon, an open-source social network.
- You can follow my blog posts via RSS, or comment on posts using the comment form I’ve added.
- You can email me using my address in the footer of this site.
Below, you can find info on why I’m leaving Twitter, and how I’ve found alternatives for what I used it for.
What’s Wrong With Twitter
It’s not mainly about personally feeling addicted by Twitter, or saddened using it, or the idea that that long-form content is better, or that Twitter reply and quote-tweet dynamics are toxic, or that open platforms are better from a theoretical sense. I may or may not believe those, and if I do, they may play a factor to a bigger or lesser degree. But none of them was enough to make me consider stopping using Twitter.
It’s been proposed/noted/acknowledged that social networks played a significant role in the spread of misinformation that affected the 2016 US presidential election. The same thing has happened in 2020, possibly more intensely. Misinformation about the Coronavirus pandemic has led to 400,000 US deaths, one of the largest death rates in the world if not the largest, and far more than if reasonable science-based precautions had been taken more broadly. Trump and other elected Republicans promoted this misinformation, but it spread virulently online and especially on social networks.
It happened again after Joe Biden won the US presidential election by 74 electoral votes, 81 million votes to 74 million. Trump, supporters, and other elected Republicans spread misinformation that the election had been stolen. Despite almost every court rejecting the claims and confirming that there was no evidence of widespread fraud that would affect the outcome, Republican leaders continued to insist the election was stolen. This led to an insurrectionist mob storming the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, attempting to stop the process of certifying electoral votes, as well as to kidnap, harm, or murder elected officials.
Hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths and the first violation of the US Capitol in over 100 years are reasons to look extremely closely at the causes. Now, certainly there are many factors responsible for contributing to these problems that all need to be addressed. But here are some of the roles it’s proposed that Twitter, as well as Facebook, played in these events:
- Used to spread misinformation and for insurrectionists to plan violence, and large platforms allow misinformation to spread quickly
- Known misinformation and violent content not always taken down
- Algorithms promoted misinformation and groups that spread it and promoted violence, and not adjusted when they were known to be doing so
- Social media works by forming bubbles that lead to polarization and demonization
- Large private platforms have the final say in who is allowed to share content, and have a conflict of interest when misinformation makes more money. Note that I am not saying they made any wrong decisions about if or when to deplatform; I’m saying the incentives work against ethical decisions.
I’m in the process of doing research to learn more about these problems. Now, it’s not like I’m an expert on it or can argue down anyone who would insist social networks aren’t a problem. But ethics isn’t always about certainty. If I continue to think there’s a good chance that Twitter helped to facilitate these disastrous events, then it’s reasonable for me to decide that I don’t want to play a part in such a platform.
I won’t yet delete my Twitter account, but I won’t be posting or reading my feed. I also won’t be reading Twitter feeds of others through other means, like direct browsing, through feed readers, or Twitter feeds reposted to Mastodon. Any of those still support the unethical Twitter platform.
I’ve decided I’ll be using Mastodon, an open-source social network. Its much smaller adoption means that it doesn’t serve as a substitute for everything I got out of Twitter, but I’ve found that it serves one component of a multi-pronged replacement. The things I used Twitter for at the end were:
- US news: I’ve found that news web site RSS feeds full this need, with the extra benefit that it’s a bit more matter-of-fact and a bit less polarizing.
- Interacting with influential programmers: several prominent folks had begun interacting with me on Twitter to bounce ideas off one another. We’ve been able to exchange emails, which resulted in richer thoughts shared.
- Sharing and responding to random thoughts: Mastodon works great for this. You can learn more on my About Mastodon page.
If, like me, your Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter account aren’t directly tied to how you make your living, I would strongly encourage you to stop using those services because of their ethical problems.
If your livelihood is based on these services, then since that isn’t my situation, I don’t have practical advice or the moral authority to encourage to you leave them. But I would encourage you to at least spend some time looking into alternate ways that folks suggest to drive your business.