This is a long, personal post.
tl;dr: I'm leaving Twitter. You can find me in the Fediverse as @email@example.com.
In the beginning
I started using Twitter because of ZendCon 2007. Cal Evans had the idea that if folks attending the conference were to tweet about it, those who were unable to attend would get an idea of what the conference was about, get links to slides if speakers posted them, and more; it would both feed FOMO, and respond to it. (It also became an unofficial way for many of us to organize non-conference events during the evenings.)
Once the conference was done, I wasn't quite sure what to do with it. There was a bit of engagement, but not a ton. Hash tags, replies, retweets, quote tweets — none of these existed yet. Hell, even direct messages were just a specially formatted tweet, and heaven forbid you get the initial character sequence wrong! We started creating conventions, many of which later became codified into Twitter itself.
Over the next year or two, I found it became my "virtual watercooler." Being somebody who worked remotely, from home, I didn't have office conversations. A few of my colleagues and collaborators were on IRC, but back then, that was about it. If I wanted to talk to a larger group, or somebody not in my regular channels... Twitter became that place.
I made friends. I got job offers. I learned about places to visit on my travels. When abroad, I could coordinate meet-ups with friends.
When I realized folks couldn't spell my handle, I reached out on Twitter to see if I knew somebody at Twitter, or if somebody had a friend at Twitter, to see if I could change my handle, as somebody was squatting on "mwop". A friend of a friend made it happen — and I made a new friend in the process.
That was the honeymoon period, it seems.
The start of the fall
Sometime in the early 2010s, I began seeing the ugly side of Twitter. You know the folks, the ones who slide into your mentions or DMs when you post an opinion, the ones who ask for receipts and links or push whatabout-isms nonstop until you give in or stop replying (which they also take as victory). The ones who treat your lived experience as invalid, because it does not match theirs. The ones who cannot even imagine a valid experience outside their own. The ones who would not even allow another person's beliefs, body, heritage, circumstances to exist if they had their way.
Before muting and blocking existed on Twitter, the service was quickly becoming somewhere I did not want to engage. Somewhere I only felt comfortable posting non-revealing content about things like my open source projects, or retweeting work-related content. (I haven't posted anything about my family in years.) When Twitter allowed you to limit DMs to people you mutually followed, that helped a bit. But even then, I'd get folks in my mentions arguing or trolling; I cannot tell you how many times I was told the projects I worked on were crap, should die in a fire, that I should be embarrassed to even share them, that I should quit and get a different job, preferably in a different field. And this is only a fraction of what I see in the replies to women, people of color, LGBTQ+, people with accessibility issues — where the very act of existing as who they are is evidently an egregious offence. It's easy to see why so many leave the service, even though it can be hugely powerful at connecting you to others in your chosen community.
With muting and blocking, the service became more bearable, but only barely. I'd still get the tweets, replies, and quote tweets, but now the first time somebody spewed vitriol at me, it would be their last.
But I still had to see them at least once.
And then 2016 came along.
I am a liberal. My wife and I laugh at the assertion that you become more conservative with age. If anything, we've become more liberal.
And the run-up to the 2016 US elections broke us.
On Twitter, I was seeing either tons of right-wing hate spewed by folks, or reactions from others to that hate. The few times I addressed it were horrible; the amount of vitriol in my mentions shocked me. Some people have the energy and mental reserves to fight back. I'm not one of those; I internalize the attack, and it replays in my mind over and over. It tears me apart.
So following the election, I started pulling back.
I created a couple lists that I'd check daily, mostly those of authors or artists I like and admire. This created a little oasis for me, and made things somewhat manageable.
But here's the thing: we are all political. Living in a society means we engage with politics. And this meant that, even following creators, I was still seeing politics; the politics of the era affect us all. And I was seeing how people responded, reacted, attacked these people I love and admire, and that was somehow even worse than when it was directed at me.
I started checking Twitter less and less frequently.
I started using Instagram in 2019, primarily to share my Zentangle-inspired art. Oh, my, was that a breath of fresh air. Yes, there are ads, but I would open it, and be greeted by primarily screen after screen after screen of art. It was bliss.
I was also increasingly using Facebook, mostly in private groups for, you guessed it, sharing Zentangle-inspired art. When one of these moved to circle.so, I was amazed at how much better the experience was on a private platform. We could engage directly with each other, and the website facilitated meaningful interaction better. It showed me that social media doesn't have to be algorithmically determined, and that decent tooling could facilitate better quality interactions. And I re-discovered that smaller is better; I don't need the entire world at my fingertips all the time.
But I also kept checking my creator lists on Twitter; it was a habit I couldn't quite shake.
And then Musk came along, and threw his ego and money around, announcing his intent to buy Twitter.
When he announced his intent in April of this year, I remembered Mastodon, and remembered that the PHP community had an instance. I joined, and started using that as my goto microblogging location, even setting up ways to send tweets when I posted certain keywords. The community then was small (around 200 folks), and I could even follow our local server timeline quickly each day, which would give me recommendations for new folks to follow.
But I still kept checking my creator lists on Twitter; I missed these creators, and wanted to follow their work.
And then the Twitter deal closed, and now Musk was "in charge". (The quotes are deliberate; his flailing hardly feels like somebody in charge.)
And I just can't.
Allowing Trump back on (even if he hasn't yet rejoined); sending dog whistles and outright overtures to white nationalists and antisemitism and outright fascists; unbanning people banned for those exact beliefs; playing roulette with the verification system until it becomes meaningless; firing the very people that made the service work for so many years, and who worked to improve its community safety (though these efforts still needed a lot of work); and and and and
I just can't.
I don't want to provide content for a billionaire to make money off of. I don't want to engage with the ads that will help pay for this new version of the service. As much as I cherish free speech, I'm not a free speech absolutist; hate speech should not be protected, and certainly not amplified. I don't want to be in the "world's town hall" if that means having to argue with people who do not bring arguments to the table in good faith.
Where I'll be
And... I don't have to.
Since Twitter transferred ownership to Musk, the Masto instance I'm on, phpc.social, has grown to over 1600 users. The majority of the creators I follow are at least trying Mastodon out, usually on one of the big instances. Many friends I've not communicated with in years are also moving, to many different hosts. Where I was able to follow my instance timeline easily each day, I've now already given up on even following my home timeline, and am, in fact, needing to segregate into lists again... but now not out of a desire to limit what I see, but instead to allow me to dive into conversations around topics when I have the time and interest.
Look, Mastodon isn't perfect. It could use some UX designers and experts. And there's a moderation problem, particularly if you're on a big instance; in particular, BIPOC users are reporting issues with moderation and discrimination that need to be addressed head on. And while the design of ActivityPub, the protocol underlying Mastodon, is such that while "spin up your own instance" is a valid answer, the fact is that if your audience grows, you can DDoS your instance really quickly any time you post.
But it's also important to note that Mastodon has been chugging along for years already, powering communities that are largely queer and neurodivergent, and you can quickly find communities that share your values, and which are small and inviting, and fiercely protective. These are the same communities that, when each of Gab and Truth Social came online (both of which are built on Mastodon), immediately defederated them, ensuring they would not show up in their timelines, or any of the servers they federate with.
It's good enough, at least for now.
A week ago, I decided I was done with Twitter. I requested my archive. I deleted my one remaining Twitter-related app from my phone (I loathed the "official" app). I modified my browser such that the words "twitter" or "tweetdeck" now suggest the site I use with my Mastodon accounts. I setup WebFinger on my website, such that "@firstname.lastname@example.org" will resolve to wherever I am microblogging. And I removed all references to Twitter on my website; no more "Tweet this" links, no more embedded tweet streams.
I'll continue occasionally posting to Twitter, via my Mastodon account. But I'm no longer going to visit it to read timelines or mentions. It'll be like sending the odd communique to the wilderness for now.
Goodbye, Twitter. You were fun, until you weren't.