If you’re an academic on social media, you’ve probably heard that Twitter is dying thanks to Elon Musk. This may or may not concern you, but for many academics it is painful to watch and fatiguing to think about starting over someplace else. Am I sad to leave Twitter? Hardly.
I joined Twitter in May 2009 just as I was finishing my Master’s degree and starting the Ph.D. I can’t remember exactly why I joined, but it’s possible I did so because I was studying Salman Rushdie and had caught wind of the fact that he was eagerly embracing the social media platform. Little did I know what a profound impact this decision would have on my professional life. Twitter allowed me to network with a robust, dynamic group of colleagues who were largely interested in what was, at the time, the same *fringe* research interests. As a first-generation grad student, I felt largely out to sea in grad school. Twitter offered me insight and direction that fundamentally shaped my career. For instance, I learned about #ThatCamp which ultimately connected me to some awesome librarians who helped me with my dissertation research. Live-tweeting my thoughts on the British Olympics opening ceremony led to making a friend who would invite me to publish my first peer-reviewed article. The impact of connecting with other educators on this platform has significantly influenced my teaching practice. Studying Salman Rushdie’s Twitter use became the most interesting part of my Ph.D. research agenda and led me to the Digital Humanities more broadly.
In spite of this long and enriching experience, I haven’t liked to engage on Twitter in some time – probably ever since the algorithm took over the chronological feed as the preferred Twitter experience. I know many people love the algorithm, and there’s even a case to be made that it helps to free us from the fear of missing out (and therefore the pressure to stay on the platform 24/7), but for me it slowly killed one of my favorite platforms. I was never a Twitter celebrity with tons of engagement, but before the algorithm, if I asked a question about teaching resources or research articles, I could count on it being seen by a chunk of people who follow me, and I’d get at least a few replies. After a while, though, I felt like the only way anyone would see my tweets would be if I spent an insane amount of time generating inflammatory or overly-personal content. So I stopped tweeting for the most part which I’m sure only made me more invisible to my followers. The other side of that coin was seeing a bunch of crap in my timeline that I didn’t want to necessarily see. I know it makes some people feel good to know what everyone else is talking about all the time, but for me, it was nauseating. I developed an aversion to opening the app even to check weather updates from Capitol Weather Gang (pretty much the only reason I kept Twitter for the past few years). Like a lot of xennials (and, I’d bet, a lot of people in general), I am often more of a social media lurker than a proliferate content producer or like/RT cheerleader. Algorithms don’t reward you for simply wanting to passively read the content from people you want to follow, but that’s often my preference. If I like or repost something, it means I really, really liked it and/or want my followers to see it. I did try to circumvent some of these issues by using Tweetdeck, but that, of course, was for desktop only and so limited my use of it. Eventually, Twitter became a landmine of caustic, reactionary banter – no longer the generative, intimate community I remember from my earlier years on the platform. The nail in the coffin, so to speak, was Musk’s takeover of the platform. I’d rather not spend my precious energy listing all the ways I find him to be a reprehensible person. Suffice it to say that I’ve disliked him for the better part of the past decade and am more than a little miffed at all the recent pearl-clutching going on about him – Yes! He has always been an egotistical maniac / no, he’s not a genius / welcome to the party.
I am thankful for his Twitter torpedo job in one respect only and that is for sending me into the furry arms of Mastodon. It’s being touted as a Twitter alternative, and though I am very new to the fediverse, my feathers already ruffle at the paltry comparison. Mastodon is social media balm for my soul. It does remind me of the early days of Twitter – intimate, conversant, and, of course, free from annoying algorithmic dribble being forced into my feed. Among so many things I love about this platform is the expectation for making your toots accessible through the use of alternative text and capitalizing individual words in hashtags. I find it kind of adorable how many toots are floating around urging people to boost and use hashtags because there’s no algorithm – many of them clearly too “young” on the Birdsite (as Twitter is called on Mastodon) to remember what (all) social media was like before the algorithm dragons started guarding the treasure. Mastodon reminds me of Wikipedia in part because it relies on volunteer admins to run the various servers and also because they are both non-profit. Even considering all the ways they are problematic, to me they represent the initial promises of the old internet before it was largely funneled into simplistic, data-stealing, profit-driven machines. As central as Twitter became to many people for communicating, branding, and creating, it was always a for-profit platform potentially subject to the whims of any old capitalist fascist. It should make anyone who produces digital content pause and consider the value of owning your own slice of internet paradise so that you have control over your content and your digital footprint (hello! tawnyaazar.com). At the very least, consider what the fediverse has to offer instead of handing your business/data/content/sanity over to another money-hungry narcissist.
BTW, if you do end up joining Mastodon, follow me! Also, I am taking next week off of the blog to celebrate the holidays. See ya next year 😉
Resources for Joining Mastodon:
My own advice for finding a new home on Mastodon is as follows: Sign up with a server of your choice (it does not *really* matter if all you want to do is follow people across servers, but you should check out the list of servers anyway). Find hashtags you want to track and follow them as you would a person. Find out what lists your people are using and follow them. For instance @writingstudies, @litstudies, @AcademicChatter are groups I follow, and if I want them to boost a toot, I can just tag them in it. Use one of the platforms to see who from your Twitter friends have accounts on Mastodon (I used Fedifinder). Then start tooting and boosting. A couple other features that are cool = the “notes” area underneath a user’s profile is cool if you want to remind yourself why you are following them. Also, the “star” or favorite button, while not helping in terms of an algorithm, does help you find posts you’ve favorited in the past (and is also just nice).