Flipping the Bird

Like so many, we at HuMetricsHSS have been watching the implosion of Twitter with increasing concern. Since Elon Musk bought Twitter on October 28, 2022, the platform has been on a steep slide into what Safiya Noble recently called “this cesspool” (as she, like so many others, decided to leave). We have been debating among ourselves how long to stay. Many in the academic community have been doggedly determined to continue to communicate using the medium, recognizing in its user base, if not always its infrastructure, the values we hold dear: equity, openness, collegiality, soundness, and community.

Equity, Collegiality, and Community: Although Twitter has never been the digital public square we were all encouraged to believe it could be, it was a platform anyone could use — for free. Activists and advocates alike flocked to the platform, and entire communities of practice made it their own: Black Twitter, Feminist Twitter, Academic Twitter, and so many more. Sure, Twitter has always been filled with trolls and angry bots and was not always a friendly place, particularly for trans people and people of color. But the opportunities for connection, for networking, for hearing other voices outside of your own circle of family, friends, and colleagues — all of this made Twitter a unique platform for dialog and exchange, protected by a code of conduct and an army of content moderators. One of Musk’s first acts was to lay off most of Twitter’s safety and security staff and to disband its Trust and Safety Council; layoffs included the entire accessibility team, prompting a stern letter from Senator Ed Markey. Changes to its code of conduct came quickly too. Twitter’s focus now is on what it calls “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach.” It is unclear how such a policy will be applied. The latest debacle over Twitter Blue, demanding users pay $7.99 a month for “verified” accounts and the protections of two-factor authentication. What is clear is that Twitter’s focus on increasing revenue now significantly overshadows any commitments it once had to maintaining an equitable, collegial community-focused platform.

Openness: A hallmark of Twitter has long been its open API, which it offered for free to developers. Not only did this openness make Twitter ubiquitous on other communications platforms, it made Twitter the darling of academic research. A couple of weeks ago, the promised shutoff finally happened, breaking thousands of apps, and paid tiers for access, beginning at $100/month, were put into place. (Academic research can still be undertaken for free, but now researchers must apply and face caps on access that seriously limit the value and impact of that research.) The latest? You can no longer search Twitter without having an account and logging in, needing to pay for access to search in data, if not in dollars. The openness we all had learned to love about Twitter is no more.

Soundness: Misinformation, which Twitter (like all social media platforms) had already been struggling to combat, has rapidly been overtaken by disinformation. The blue checkmark fiasco only grows worse by the day, and now Twitter users’ feeds are being dominated by content from paid accounts, many of which are parody accounts masquerading as real. This is only the beginning, as fake experts and trolls are expected to dominate feeds, while several publicly funded news organizations have decided to leave Twitter after being mislabeled in a way that made them sound as if they were organs for government propaganda. All the confusion over who is who and what accounts can be trusted means much of the content on Twitter may now be moving from disinformation to outright malinformation. This trend, too, deeply disturbs us.

And so we, too, have decided to go.

Following the advice from experts as to what to do when leaving Twitter, we will be leaving our account active, with a pinned tweet explaining our lack of activity, but will only be monitoring it for mentions. You can find us instead on the Humanities Commons instance of Mastodon: @humetricshss@hcommons.social

Yes, we know it’s not Twitter. But then Twitter isn’t Twitter anymore either. Swapping tweets for toots is the best we can do. If you haven’t yet found a Mastodon instance, instances.social is a useful tool to help find a one to call home. We’re on hcommons.social, but there are servers out there for every user. See you on Mastodon!