Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
“RIP Twitter” was trending on Monday, moments after news broke that ultra-rich shitposter Elon Musk had struck a deal to buy the social media platform. While curators celebrated the move as a triumph for their favorite billionaire edgelord, progressives, queer and trans people, and other communities lamented what they saw as the inevitable demise of the platform.
In many ways, the reaction was reasonable, given Musk’s long track record of implicit and explicit transphobia, abuse of workand generally being a unbearable shit who regularly uses his immense wealth and influence to make himself the main character. Combine that with Twitter’s long track record of failing to protect marginalized groups from targeted abuse and it’s easy to envision a future where Musk rolls back even the meagerest protections, welcomes back QAnon conspiracy peddlers, and renders the platform unusable for large swaths of the human race.
But instead of mourning and doomscrolling, I found the prospect of a Musk-led Twitter an even greater incentive to do what I had already done on the Bird site: log out.
I joined Twitter in 2007 at the insistence of a friend, convinced that “micro-blogging” (as he described it at the time) would be the wave of the future. Fifteen years is a long time to stay on a social media platform, and people tend to have short memories when digital spaces start to seem timeless and eternal. But nothing lasts forever, and despite its transformation from a quirky novelty into a cutting-edge public forum and source of information, today’s Twitter seems both essential and overwhelmingly boring – a prison that doesn’t is made bearable only by fleeting moments of joy shared between irreverent mutuals.
Since a lot of my IRL social circles include heavy Twitter users, I’ve heard this lament many times. Even long before Musk’s takeover attempt, the mood was that using Twitter involved exposing yourself to increasing levels of psychic damage in exchange for occasional hits from a dwindling supply of dopamine. We all want to feel connected, but for many people, especially those living in marginalized identities, the vibes are turned off and the numbers don’t add up like they used to.
Like all major social media platforms, Twitter’s business model involves manipulate human attention to generate profit. Algorithms are designed to increase engagement and time spent on site so the company can sell ads, and nothing drives engagement quite like conflict and outrage.
You don’t have to be a “technology is ruining our brains” person anymore to see how completely unsustainable and screwed up this is. After two years of pandemic isolation, it feels like that momentum has reached a breaking point. With more people taking extended social media breaks, the time seems right to narrow our interactions away from massive public forums and into smaller, tight-knit communities, both online and offline. It means reconsidering the whole idea that we should be constantly connected to global communication platforms that incite outrage and engagement, often to the detriment of our mental health and safety.
That’s a lot to ask for someone like me who is extremely online, but the benefits of taking more frequent breaks from social media can’t be overstated. This is especially true when these breaks become opportunities to reconnect with communities on a smaller scale. Some of my longest breaks from Twitter have involved reconnecting with friends on Discord or connecting to local networks. mutual aid projects, such as grocery delivery for people experiencing food insecurity at the height of the pandemic. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the the biggest demonstration for racial justice since the civil rights movement happened at the height of pandemic isolation, when millions of people were unemployed and desperate to reconnect with friends and neighbors away from bright screens.
For some, seeking refuge with Elon’s Twitter might mean trying alternative social platforms like Mastodon which aim to replace the bluebird site with something ostensibly less centralized and evil. But like many Facebook Exodus that came before, it seems unlikely that most experienced Twitter users will abandon their followers for greener pastures.
More likely, if Musk’s dreams of “free speech absolutism” come to fruition, we may see more people simply spending less time on the site. And if reclaiming our time and attention means investing more in smaller-scale communities and relationships, then disconnecting can be a beautiful thing.
Platforms come and go, but strong communities are forever.