I know we all call it the hellsite and talk about how much Twitter is ruining our lives, but I’m going to miss her when she’s gone.
Honestly, I already do. I haven’t seen a lot of follower haemorrhaging thus far, but I am feeling the tweaks to the algorithm. I have a small but very engaged community on Twitter, but since sometime late Friday I’m lucky to get a single like on any tweet, and the analytics data seems to show a big drop in how many people are seeing my content. Turns out, shouting into the void is actually no fun; people have got to shout alongside you. I have to assume this is related to the changes to prioritize verified users in everyone’s feeds, and since that man would have to pry my last eight dollars out of my cold, dead hands, I guess it just rolls this way.
I’m sad about losing Twitter because it has been a big part of my professional life ever since I joined as a graduate student in the late-2000s; when I ended up in a department where there wasn’t a lot of support for the work I wanted to do, my handful of pals in my department helped me see Twitter as a place to build a larger community. When I started blogging, I found an audience for my ideas on Twitter and found challenges to those same ideas there, too. And when I found myself in a brand new discipline as an educational technologist, I found the professional network that would see me through the challenges of the first year of the pandemic. Among those folks, I would find good friends.
Twitter as it once was was a social media that made sense to me; I’m not cool enough for TikTok, not hot enough for Instagram, not patient (or maybe just angry) enough for Facebook. I never really used MySpace and I don’t know what Friendster was and I remember thinking FourSquare was cool until the internet reminded me that it’s a harrowing place to share personal data. But Twitter and I always clicked well: the text-based medium, the tonal balance of hope and cynicism, the general preference for sharing failings and grievances over successes. These are things that speak to me.
I became confident in my public scholarship on Twitter; I was invited to publish in collections because of Twitter; and almost all of my keynote invitations have come first as Twitter DMs. It’s a critical space for my career. Or at least it was. It’s hard to get external links and non-retweets seen right now if you’re an unverified user, and that’s sad, because I don’t know who I would be as a scholar without the critical conversations and corrections that helped me find my voice. I did really silly things on Twitter like a live-blogging of the reading experience of Ian McEwan’s terrible novel about a sentient fetus or a multi-day debate with Norm MacDonald about the state of Canadian Literature or the weird time I was on the BBC because of a viral tweet about Jon Stewart’s retirement.
The weirdness of Twitter was always in the possibility of this kind of thing happening. That doesn’t seem possible to me under a regime where anyone can pay $8 / month to have their voice amplified and everyone else can get buried by them. But what do I know.
The think about Twitter that I find hard to replicate elsewhere is the happenstance of a space shared collectively by so many people who, once upon a time, anyway, were often flattened to share equal weight. This obviously (1) is shaped by subject position, because for some marginalized folks Twitter has always been a hellscape and (2) turned out to be a flattening that from about 2016 on pretty much ruined the world. And I get that, I do. But the pre-2015 days, when Twitter really did feel (to me, anyway) like a Town Square? No other existing tool comes close to tapping into that feeling. Because it was never an echo chamber to me — it was always a place where I could find scholars and writers and experts with all kinds of different perspectives and read them alongside each other. That had a great deal of value to me.
Maybe Twitter will survive all of this. Seems unlikely, but who expected Facebook to still be around after we abandoned it to our parents? But even if it does, it’s hard to imagine it gets back to the silly, strange place it was when we were all a little sillier and more naive, and before the presence of misinformation and flattened expertise was so obviously deadly.
I guess that’s the question: will I miss Twitter, or do I already miss the person I was in those years, before grief and pandemic life and disappointment and existential dread reframed how I understand the world? I can’t really know that, I suppose.
But I can keep hoping I make it to the end of Twitter without ever being the main character. So far, so good.