March 23, 2008 was the day my friend Sean introduced me to Twitter. It was a foreign concept to me. A website that would forward text messages from you to a group of friends - and forward any messages they sent back to you.
Happy Easter to everyone! Special "hi" to Sean! Time to finish cleaning up Easter dinner ...— Eric Mann (@EricMann) March 24, 2008
I was hooked. Sean had called the system "crack" and, honestly, it was addictive. I didn't have a smart phone (or a reliable laptop), so getting content via text message was brilliant! I started following more and more people and, eventually, exhausted my limited capacity to pay attention to anything.
Early Twitter was revolutionary. It helped connect me to people I barely knew and tied me in to the communities I cared about most. Twitter was how I got started in the open source community. It's how I learned about and interacted with WordPress. It's how I built my blog. How I started making a name for myself in the world.
Sadly, Twitter today is not the thing that early Twitter was. It's grown up, and I don't like the thing it's grown up to be.
I follow less than 300 people on Twitter as a rule. It keeps my timeline manageable, and it forces me to carefully curate the content I consume. Despite that, Twitter (the company) has found a way to corrupt that stream of content. It's disgusting.
I use "likes" to bookmark content for later consumption, research, or reply. Many of my friends do this, too. The thing is, Twitter started using "likes" as a form of passive promotion - and feeding content liked by my peers into my feed as if it had been explicitly promoted by them.[ref]I know it's fed my content into others' feeds as well. I once "liked" a racist tweet by a former colleague so I could draft a cohesive response later ... someone took my action to be agreement and endorsement of their position. My mistake using the tool in such a way. Twitter's mistake in conflating my bookmarking of content with endorsement.[/ref]
Twitter today fills my feed with ads - most of which are flagged as "promoted" content. Some of which are not flagged in any way. The other day, I noticed advertisements for Accenture Security in my timeline, all retweeted by "null." Attempts to suss out the identity of "null" failed, as the Twitter API merely told me "usernames are unavailable."
I have no idea why, but this tweet keeps showing up in my timeline. It's not promoted, and won't tell me who RTed it. And IT WON'T GO AWAY. pic.twitter.com/OX3W2q9VNx— Eric Mann (@EricMann) August 2, 2018
I later found out that "null" was Accenture Security itself! A few days later, I saw other content "shadow promoted" in my feed; content retweeted by accounts I do not follow was showing up in my feed along with content I wanted. This is ... problematic at best. Nefarious at worst.
Most likely nefarious.
Then there's the fact that Twitter the company "owns" the platform. They control the content that does or does not appear. They conduct shadow bans of users. They lock users' accounts with or without reason.[ref]I've had my account locked once in the past year for no reason whatsoever. Twitter claimed I'd violated a rule, but refused to clarify which rule or how I violated it.[/ref] They refuse to lock other accounts, then publicly defend their non-action despite evidence.
Because Twitter has never found them to be in violation of their rules ... pic.twitter.com/9OGWNq9TWp— Eric Mann (@EricMann) August 10, 2018
I joined Twitter because it connected me to the communities I care about. I'm now leaving Twitter because it's actively worked to damage those communities.
Some time ago, the tech community started moving towards Mastodon - a federated social network with a similar interface and use case to Twitter. Unlike Twitter, however, it's not controlled by a single entity.
Every Mastodon community is a unique installation of the software on some server or servers managed by that community. Individual users belong to one or another community and interact with other users on that same site - exactly like Twitter.
Unlike Twitter, these disparate Mastodon installations can all communicate with one another. A user on mastodon.technology can follow a user on mastodon.social from any other community. The servers handle transferring and copying content from one installation to another. All you need to keep track of is your own account and the list of users you follow.
Again, unlike Twitter, no one company or individual is in charge of when, how, or why accounts are locked or purged. It's a community effort. And, because it's a community effort, for-profit companies can't inject themselves into the workflow with ad buys or any of the aforementioned potentially-nefarious activity I've seen on Twitter.
I explained it to a friend using the WordPress community as an illustration:
Twitter is to WordPress.com as Mastodon is to WordPress.org
One is a monolith run by a single, for-profit company. The other is a piece of software created and powered by the community that allows individuals to democratize the otherwise monolithic system.
I run my blog on WordPress to own my own content and avoid answering to anyone else. As of this week, I run my own Mastodon instance so I can own my own social network and avoid the malicious interference of corporations with their own interests.
My instance runs on AWS and has closed registration to prevent abuse. It's invite-only at the moment and is home to a few of my close, personal friends. If you want to join, drop me a line and we'll talk about it. Server costs are shouldered by the entire community, and we operate on a rule of personal respect. Oh, and no Nazis.
What Comes Next
My Twitter account will stay around. For a while.
I won't be actively using it much as I'm trying incredibly hard to force myself to cut the "crack" Sean introduced me to out of my life. I will interact with these communities primarily through Mastodon.
If you DM me or @-message me on Twitter, I'll see it. It just might take me a few days (or weeks) to respond. If you contact me through Mastodon I'll be as responsive as I used to be. Remember, it's becoming my primary tool.
Blog posts will still auto-publish tweets for now. I might still cross-post meaningful content at intervals. But, come 2019, I will archive and remove my Twitter account.
Said another way, I will be removing my Twitter account on December 31, 2018. All new content and interactions will take place on Mastodon.
I invite you to join me!
There are a lot of Mastodon communities out there. Find one that fits you and join the conversation. Together, we can own our content. Together, we can have engaging conversations. Together, we can build a network like Twitter used to be. Like Twitter should have been. The network and community we deserve.
I'm on Mastodon. Are you?