You’ve never heard of him, but Mike was one of Twitter’s best-case scenarios.
Mike – a high school teacher in Ontario, Canada, who told me not to use his last name – signed up on Twitter in 2007, shortly after it was launched. He used it as a portal to a world he could never access in any other way: it allows him to interact with celebrities whom he admires and sometimes they respond to.
“I used it to ask [writer] Neil Guyman is a question, and he answered, and I thought it was amazing, “he told me. He did the same thing with director Ava Duvern and was eventually invited to his movie screening. SelmaAnd had to meet him in real life.
And now Mike is no longer on Twitter. He left after the 2016 presidential election, concluding that the service was not good for society – or for his own mentality.
“I was spending a lot of time on it,” he said. “And it was a constant stir of anxiety. What is adding to my life to get minute by minute updates about all the horrors of the world and all the stupid things that people are constantly talking about?”
Except … Mike is still on Twitter, sorted. That’s how he found me when I was Twitter users are asked to talk about their experiences To leave the service: He does not tweet or log in to his account. But she gives a lot of peeps, even though it doesn’t make her happy, and even though she uses a productivity app to keep herself from seeing. “I hide quite heavily,” he admits.
All of which can be said that although we talk about Twitter using shorthand – helsite, bad business, things that were supposed to help develop democracy but didn’t – Twitter is not a monolith. It is used by 217 million people, and each of them has a different, and often complex and conflicting relationship with the service. And we don’t know how they would react if Elon Musk bought Twitter for 44 billion.
All we can do though is look back and see if there are any clues about the future of Twitter’s history. Which, of course, made the video an overnight sensation, since Musk dropped some clues about his Twitter plans, suggesting that he wanted to return to Twitter’s earlier iterations – including less rules and more lax application of misuse and misinformation.
This is the Twitter that made many Twitter users sick – and publicly announced. You may recall comedian Leslie Jones leaving the service in the summer of 2016 due to a racist attack by an alt-right troll whose name you already forgot. But a few weeks later, after Twitter permanently banned his opponent, he returned,
Or author Lindy West, who explained in a 2017 Guardian article why she was eating the platform five years later:
“I speak again and I’m” feeding the trolls. “I don’t say anything and the harassment escalates. I report threats and I’m a” censor “. I was further abused, “he wrote. “After half a decade of solving problems, I have to conclude that it is impossible to make this platform accessible to anyone but trolls, robots and dictators.”
I checked in with West this week to see how his Twitter-free life is going four years later. Like Mike, he talked about it as a former addict: “At first glance, it ruined my mental health. I woke up in the morning looking at my bedside phone and wondering, ‘What’s going on there?” – and sometimes it’s the most The bad thing is – I don’t miss it, “he said.
At least as important as that: Twitter turned out to be the mirage that was supposed to offer him the opposite – the attention and admiration from an audience he wanted to reach with his writing. “Nothing happened in my career after I left Twitter,” he said. “There was absolutely no obvious effect except that my mental health was good.” (And yes, West acknowledges that it would be easier for someone writing for the Guardian and the New York Times to leave Twitter than to expect to use Twitter to help them get a job writing for the Guardian and the New York Times.)
But it’s not that the West doesn’t want attention or likes social media. She has gotten enough followers on Instagram, where she says people are much nicer than them on Twitter. Plus a substack, of course.
You almost always find that dilemma – sometimes about Twitter, sometimes all about the Internet – when you talk about leaving Twitter. New York Times reporter Jonathan Weissman announced that he was granted bail in 2016, citing continued, coordinated anti-Semitic abuse.
But he returned two years later. The main reason, Wesman says, was that Twitter spent time and effort figuring out how to get rid of its most intimidating users: “It’s not a cesspool that it once was,” he says. “The steps that Twitter has taken are in good faith and should be rewarded.”
But Weissman also thinks he should be on Twitter – partly to make the news headline and partly to promote his work and that of his colleagues. And then, in his next breath, he doubts that inspiration: Twitter, he argues, could be a good place to promote himself. But get people to read your work? Not too much.
“I see a tweet with lots of mentions and retweets or whatever – and then I click on the statistics to see how many people actually read the story and its infinite. It’s nothing, “he said. “People deceive themselves about the power of Twitter to spread your story. It’s misleading.”
And yes, Twitter is also used by people who are not in the media and do not have big public profiles. Those people may be conflicting about it, too.
Derek Povagek is a former web designer who lived in the California Bay Area. He was an early Twitter fan – he thought he could have 4,000 users. He is now a flax farmer in rural Oregon, and Twitter values the connections that have allowed him to make and maintain connections. Finding like-minded people online has been especially helpful, he said, when in the real world there aren’t many people around him.
“On its best day, Twitter is like a kind of telepathy,” he said. “You know what your friends and admirers think of that day, as if by magic.”
But Povazek also spoke of Twitter as an addictive product – something he has tried to stop more than once, including now: “It’s like giving up a drug. I’m going through it now – I’ve literally withdrawn. “
Questions for Pawazek and everyone else who has used Twitter and even loved it, got sick of it and then quit (at least temporarily): If Elon Musk owns Twitter, will he push it back and make it harder?
We don’t know, obviously, and probably Musk doesn’t either: his well-documented shoot-first decision-making style means there’s something on the table. And from his initial comments and tweets about his intentions, it is clear that he did not think terribly deeply about his $ 44 billion purchase, beyond the common sense that the service should have less restraint.
It is possible that we will learn more in the near future: Musk had to outline at least one indication of his view that banks had agreed to lend him money to buy it, and I have been told that he has been doing the same to potential investors recently. Some of this will become public through reporting, and Mask himself may choose to share some of it.
But we don’t know how any of this comes out until Musk actually owns the thing and then starts managing it. And then we have to ask hundreds of millions of people how they think things are going before we really reach a conclusion.