Opinion: How I gave up Twitter and learned to love social media again

Opinion: How I gave up Twitter and learned to love social media again

I had no plans to join Bluesky. Then a friend sent me an invite code and I changed my mind. Bluesky is one of many social networks that have sprung up to compete with Twitter, which, since Elon Musk took over last October, has become increasingly toxic. Alternatives came along fast and furious – Mastodon, with its multiple (too confusing) servers; Post and Hive and Spill.

None really stuck.

Then, last Wednesday, Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta, which operates Instagram and Facebook, launched Threads, another Twitter-style platform that in less than a week gained more than 100 million users. “I’m not sure I can wrap my head around this fact,” posted Threads boss Adam Mosseri.

All this plays against the accumulated chaos on Twitter. During the July 4th holiday, the number of tweets that users could see was suddenly limited. Musk bears much of the responsibility for the uprising, with his penchant for conspiratorial tweets, his broad notions of free speech and his general arrogance.

In one way or another, I’ve been on Twitter for almost 15 years. I also have a Facebook account. I have resisted the urge to leave or join other networks for various reasons, not least because it feels overwhelming. How many social media networks is too many? Also, even now, Twitter’s reach can keep me in professional and personal contact with almost everyone I want to reach, and something close to real time. If there’s a lot on the site that repels me – the vaccine deniers, the white supremacists, the Christofascists – I also believe that we ignore toxicity at our peril; should be considered.

So far, the opposite seems to be the case with Threads. According to Mosseri, the site does not emphasize news and politics, no doubt as a way to avoid the kind of digital gangs that have long been all too common on the bird app.

Many early reviews weren’t kind, citing everything from the mobile-only interface to the mind-numbing ubiquity of influencers and celebrities. The release provoked a cease and desist letter from Twitter’s lawyers, alleging “systematic, intentional and illegal misappropriation” of its intellectual property, along with some NSFW attacks from Musk.

For now at least, I’ll be watching the Threads-Twitter launch from the sidelines. I haven’t joined Threads yet. In the proxy war between Musk and Zuckerberg – what is, by the way, the status of your cage mail? “I’m a conscientious objector. Or maybe I just want them both to lose.

All of which brings me to Bluesky, which has its own problems. One is the presence on the board of directors of Jack Dorsey, the former CEO of Twitter whose tenure was only slightly less troubled than Musk’s.

The app may crash, with updates not loading unless you update. Even worse, there are those invite codes, which may be a necessary evil (Bluesky remains in beta testing) but still provide uncomfortable exclusivity.

After all, what social media promises is that you can talk to anyone. That this is illusory goes without saying; Does Barack Obama really want to hear from me? The illusion, however, remains powerful because it feeds the idea that social networks represent a common good, a digital version of the public square.

This is a claim I resist because it is antithetical for the public square to be owned by one billionaire or for the commons to come from multiple competitors. And yet, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I feel his attraction too.

That’s part of what motivates me about Bluesky. It’s kind of sleepy at the moment, like a city that was planned but not fully built, with lots of open space. Unlike Twitter, where my timeline updates dozens, even hundreds, of tweets at a time, Bluesky’s notifications pop up one by one.

In part, this has to do with my status as a newcomer; I’ve been on the site for just over a week. I’m still finding people to follow and having them find me. But it is also due to the small number of users so far. According to a network representative, nearly 60,000 new accounts were created after Twitter announced it would limit posts, and there are reports of 1 million downloads of Bluesky. Compare that to Threads’ 100 million subscriptions, or Twitter’s estimated 350 million users.

For many people, the volume is what’s exciting. But I prefer something a little more manageable. I like that I don’t feel compelled to keep the app open, nor to constantly check it. In this, Bluesky reminds me of my first experiences on social media, when I had no preconceptions and had to learn as I went along. Conversations then felt more intimate because they also felt less public. Or maybe it’s because less users also means less trolls.

If Bluesky takes off, the few can multiply, and intimacy can disappear or just be tarnished, as it has on Twitter and Facebook. But for now, the slowness pleases me. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t delete my other accounts. But there’s something to be said for this quiet corner of the virtual commons, at least it gives me pause for thought.

David L. Ulin is a contributing writer for Opinion. His novel “Thirteen Question Method” will be published in October.

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