It’s been 182 days since I got so pissed off at Elon Musk that I unfollowed everyone and stopped posting regularly. Here’s what I learned about Twitter from the shifts that followed.
Stop feeding your feed
People often complain about ‘not being able to leave’ because of their feed being a source of all information. This is Twitter’s consumer-side network effect in action. As long as you must consume the feed - whether because you need to keep in touch with people, or need to know what’s going on, whatever - Twitter has power over you.
It doesn’t matter that you skip the sponsored posts, or browse on the chronological tab, or whatever sly thing you think you’re doing to ‘beat capitalism’. You are powerless. You are fighting with zero leverage.
Therefore, as I learned by accident, the single most powerful thing you can do as a consumer of Twitter is to kill your feed.
- Stop following shit on Twitter. Keep up to date elsewhere if at all possible.
- Unfollow every topic. Find other communities elsewhere to replace them.
- Unfollow people when you can follow them elsewhere.
- Unfollow people you can’t follow elsewhere if you’re not actually interested in what they’re posting.
- Bridges are good, actually. Unless you’re, like, on a Mastodon instance with a knobhead purist owner, use them to stay connected to the people who you can’t find elsewhere.
Your feed should contain an absolute minimum of content. This is the secret to stop consuming Twitter. People say this isn’t practical or possible, but I’m pretty sure of two things:
- right now, an overwhelming majority of people don’t use Twitter
- once upon a time, not so long ago, you were in that overwhelming majority
So it would certainly be very much exceptional if it wasn’t possible for you.
As you approach ‘feed zero’, Twitter fundamentally changes. It stops being a destination you go to for content. It becomes incidental. A place that purely lives on the other side of links. Where people happen to occasionally host text, images and video. Imgur-like. I can’t remember the last time anyone was beholden to Imgur as a social network.
You won’t be on top of everything anymore. Twitter is the 24-hour news cycle of social networks. Leaving it means leaving that.
Confronting Twitter will lead you to an ultimatum that you cannot work around. You will either miss out, or hate yourself trying to keep up.
Learn to love not being the first to every story. Learn to love not having to hear everything in the world. You’re a statistically insignificant human; when they write those research papers about how we’re overloaded with news, they are writing about you. Maybe those scientists aren’t talking out of their ass.
Why do you want to be on top of everything, anyway? Why do you have to see every single little thing? Is there some value you can articulate in that, and is that value so important that you grit your teeth, continue to browse Twitter and constantly beat yourself up over how this shitty website needs to die so you yourself can go do something actually productive with your life?
If you have a healthy mix of social apps and people, you’ll hear about the stuff you need to hear about. You’ll hear about significant, important happenings. It will find its way to you. Even in my relatively Twitter-centric Roblox circles, I have feeds that let me know when announcements are made on the DevForum, I see the work of awesome creators in Discord channels I frequent, I’m linked to stuff all of the time, and people message me and point me at stuff. I miss a lot of things, but never the things I care about.
As for the rest of your consumption? You don’t need it. Even if you think you need it, you don’t need it. I will repeat it for the stubborn: you do not need it.
The most valuable takeaway from my time on Mastodon is that I don’t give a flying fuck how much smaller the community is. There are plenty of people and posts to saturate my feed at a satiating rate. Maybe even too many for some of the hashtags I follow. It turns out that I am far more satisfied seeing only some content that I enjoy, rather than all the content I mostly don’t care for.
Stop worrying about what you’re missing out on, and learn to enjoy the content where you are. It won’t be the same, but it will be good enough for you.
Creators: be realistic
Sorry. If you make shit like I do, you’ll soon realise that audiences are non-transferable. Instead of moaning about how fucking awful people are for not seeing how obviously right you are for leaving Twitter, you just have to suck it up.
The comeuppance will come. You are not the one who will serve it.
So? You’re still going to need your Twitter account. I still post to mine. Being able to access a body of people built up over years is useful. Reaching people where they are is clearly the right thing to do for a creator.
That doesn’t mean you have to give everyone first-class access to you.
Have you noticed the frequency and tone of my Twitter posts compared to my Mastodon posts? Twitter is hilariously second-rate. I do not linger. I only ever post with clear intent, when I have a reason to specifically access that audience of people. Otherwise, I do not give a shit about them.
On the other hand, Mastodon is where I live. That’s where I debate, discuss, post ludicrous shit at three in the morning, whatever. If you follow me on Mastodon, you are following me, the human. Of course, it helps that Mastodon is generally a better place to be a human, because there are actually nice places there. Do I still promote shit on Mastodon? Sure, but only because I care about it as a human and I want to talk about it.
This is what I have settled on as the best balance, at least for now. I still spend 90% of my time logged out of Twitter. I still treat it as an incidental place, not a destination. But I don’t lose access to the audience who follow me. The people who care about the human side of me know where to go if they care so much.
I must follow this up with a warning that, when you try to use your Twitter audience for notifications and promo, you are yelling 240 characters into an unreliable, unknowable algorithm. You will show up as a small box randomly interspersed and presented to a fraction of the people who told Twitter they want to know about you. Your follower count means nothing, and you should treat your Twitter presence accordingly. I do not expect anything from Twitter. My promotion there is for prospective additional engagement.
Over time, you should build up second or third audiences elsewhere, in places where you can more reliably connect with people who want to follow you. Decide where you want to be, and nurture a new audience. You win when your other audiences are large enough that your Twitter audience isn’t the necessitated centre of your world anymore.
Would I go back?
No. It’s a piece of shit and I don’t need or want it.
I’m not even one of those open source purist types. Genuinely, if it burned down tomorrow, I would not care. I’d maybe notice a new hyperlink in my other feeds. I’d lose access to some of my audience. But I would be totally fine. My life and my audience is not contingent on this company. Not anymore.
Hopefully my very-not-neutral notes could start to point you that way too.