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For the Birds
November 1, 2023

For the Birds

Reading Time: 7 minutes

When They Finally Realized It Was Time to Quit Twitter., Eight Twitter users on why they finally quit Elon Musk’s social network., Elon Musk’s Twitter purchase finally helped these obsessives quit.

For years, Twitter had the reputation of being an insulated pocket reality for journalists, wonks, and especially wonky journalists. The rest of the world either didn’t participate or spent its social currency on Facebook or Instagram or, I dunno, kickball for grown-ups.

There is certainly some truth to this observation, but on the one-year anniversary of Elon Musk’s acquisition and transformation of the company, a broader group of users is clearly feeling a loss. Twitter was a home for everyone: inveterate gamers, breathless BTS stans, transcendent trolls, and—yes—a whole lot of political reporters. Complaints about its usability, functionality, and overall impact on one’s mental well-being long predate the Elon era, and yet, I’ve surprised myself by my ability to be wistful about what we’re all now calling the good old days.

That’s why I reached out to eight people—some archetypal Twitter addicts, others who don’t fit the mold—who’ve left the site in the past year to ask them why they made the decision to board up shop. (I’ve withheld some of their last names at their request.) The reasons for their departures vary. Some find the proximity to someone with Musk’s vindictive, charmless tweets (and they’re hard to escape) to be viscerally unpleasant; others simply dislike how shoddy, gouging, and feature-poor the platform has become in his wake. Some deleted their accounts; others just ignore them now. Their stories, in loose order of departure, present a kind of alternative history of the Musk takeover and a broad view of his digital carnage. It isn’t just bleeding-heart liberals who are disgusted by the state of Twitter. Some users just miss when the site worked.

‘I used Twitter to get information. I work in public policy, I’m an advocate for certain issues, and I found it helpful to get additional context, quickly, about things going on around Capitol Hill. I didn’t really have a following. For the most part I lurked, while occasionally screaming into the void. But two days after the Musk acquisition, I completely deleted my account. I didn’t like his stance on certain issues, and there was other stuff that seemed to be writing on the wall. I mean, the second-largest shareholder in Twitter is Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, from the Saudi family. I honestly don’t get why people are sticking around. The one thing I can control is the choices I make with what I participate in. A lot of my friends wouldn’t be caught dead on Truth Social, but from a moderation perspective, what is the difference between Twitter and Truth Social in 2023? I’d love to see a platform that addresses disinformation and can allow for healthy debate. I haven’t moved over to Threads yet. I’d love for it to fill that role someday.’ Cory Smith, who works in public policy

‘I joined Twitter around 2008, and I mainly did so out of curiosity. For the first several years, I mainly used it for entertainment. I mostly followed local athletes and radio personalities in my area, around Dallas, and a handful of comedians. Most of the people I followed were good about responding back, so it was really used as a way to interact with them. Then Trump happened, and the platform basically was taken over by news. It definitely stopped being fun in 2016 and never got better. The straw that broke the camel’s back was that Monday morning when Elon had officially taken over: My feed literally became almost all Nazis overnight. I started blocking them, but it was futile. For every one you block, there’s five or 10 more that pop up. I was never big on posting to begin with, but I don’t do it at all now since I quit the app completely. I miss the pre-Trump version of the platform. It was a lot of fun then.’ Ryan, who works in IT

‘Before the Musk era, I used Twitter for entertainment, to keep up with celebrities and politics, and to find other regular people’s opinions on something that was trending. I liked that it was more straightforward to show me posts from people I followed that are popular, because it made me feel more entertained and it was easier to keep up with. I left Twitter because it was getting difficult to differentiate between regular people like me versus actual people who are respected in a certain field and truly verified in their occupation, whether it’s a journalist or a celebrity. I mean, come on: Within the first day when Musk took over and let anyone have a check mark, someone pretended to be Eli Lilly, the main insulin manufacturer, and tweeted that insulin is free. I’m still active on other apps like Instagram, but it’s nowhere near as it was with Twitter. On Twitter, I could be anyone and just tweet random nonsense if I wanted or post every other minute if I wanted. On Instagram, it’s hard to do that when people you know in real life follow you.’ —Natasha, who is a recent graduate of Temple University

‘The thing that comes to mind when I think about what I liked is: a picture of a skeleton covered in pink fur, Joyce Carol Oates’ gnarly feet, and ‘Fire truck.’ I really liked being able to ask a silly question—like what people eat for lunch in summer or how tall we all think Jesus was—and getting a barrage of different answers. Also, as an editor, I liked having what felt like a cheat code to discourse, an easily searchable, constantly refreshing window into conversations people cared about. Oh, and a place to share and see links. Remember normal links, from, like, three weeks ago? I wanted to leave pretty much as soon as it seemed like the sale was going to go forcibly through because I don’t want to be associated with Elon Musk in any way. The idea that my stray thoughts about network procedurals or, like, nail polish color names could be ambiently enriching him is deeply gross. So I’m no longer posting—except for a big project we did, I admit it! And while I leave it open in a tab during the workday, I don’t end up looking at it much? It’s just not fun or useful, at least on my feed. Outside of work, I only really check the site when friends send me tweets directly—which, to be fair, still happens a good amount. So much of Twitter is about Twitter. It’s like the Jeremy Renner app, but for Elon. There’s just less to see!’ —Meredith Haggerty, who works as an editor in digital media

‘I was a completionist, basically. Several times a day I’d pull up Twitter wherever I’d left off in my chronological feed and then just read the rest until I caught back up to now. I’m aware this is psychotic behavior, but I was running a newsletter where Twitter was my main source. It was always bad but often bad in a funny way, or an informative way. It was the place you could get every possible take on whatever was going on, for better and worse. So I scaled back my posting a lot, and then watched my feed gradually empty out as a lot of other people did the same, and as Elon tweaked the algorithm to make sure that we all saw @catturd2 as much as possible. Now I check in maybe once a day, but it’s pretty much useless to me. There are, like, three or four people I like who still post there, so all I really see is them, and a lot of algo junk and weird right-wing ads. I do miss Twitter in the sense that it was the only social media where being a good writer made you ‘pretty,’ but everything dies except for email! It’s the circle of life.’ Rusty Foster, who writes a newsletter

‘Twitter was what newspapers were for my parents: a source of news, actual news, inside scoops, the whole nine. But it feels like the platform was sabotaged from the inside. The features are less logical, and the ones that sort of work are all paid. I flocked—sort of—to Reddit but I’m not as active as with Twitter. I miss the pre-Musk days, when the platform was more than functional. TweetDeck being free was the bomb. Back then, I would’ve paid for a subscription if needed.’ Jose Flamenco, who works in IT

‘I wouldn’t say that I decided to leave Twitter at any one particular moment; it was more just the sum result of Musk’s continued incompetence. It was right around the time that the API changes forced the closure of some of my favorite automated accounts that I really stopped using the platform on a daily basis. The name change was just the icing on top. I rarely find anything that I want to engage with on the site, but that’s true of most social media these days. I haven’t tweeted in a very long time, but I’m guessing that’ll change at some point, as I don’t think that a viable alternative to the platform will emerge for several years. The sad truth is that some careers are going to rely on Twitter for months and possibly years to come even as mainstream social media continues to rot away. It will be a slow process, but I still think authors, podcasters, journalists, comedians, and so on will continue to have accounts for the foreseeable future, unless TikTok truly does make trad social media completely obsolete. The best jokes and memes are still on the site, despite everything. If you look at Reddit, an absurd amount of the viral content is still just Twitter screencaps. I still have that nostalgia for the golden age of normie social media, where basically every person you could conceivably know had an account and was reasonably active.’ —Steven, who works as a copywriter

‘I liked to keep my account strictly to my topics of interest, so I was always somehow careful about who to follow, what tweets to like. Online happenings rarely showed up on my timeline, so I was able to ignore them. If I wanted to know what was up, I would check the trending topics. I have to admit that it was fun keeping up with whatever was happening, and I enjoyed reading what people think about a trending topic usually from the replies of a trending tweet. But then, after Elon took over, irrelevant tweets started to dominate my timeline. I could barely find relevant tweets in the For You page—finding a relevant tweet felt like rummaging through piles of garbage. The Following page still worked just fine as far as I could tell, but I liked to go to For You, hoping to see tweets made by my mutual’s mutual that I didn’t follow, for example. So I stopped tweeting altogether before deciding to deactivate. I miss being ‘in charge’ of what I’d like to see on my timeline and belonging to a community. Before I left, it felt like various communities merged into one: gaming, streaming, crypto, tech, art, tradcath, academia, fashion, literature, cinema—you name it. There was no place to belong anymore.’ A 27-year-old from Indonesia who asked to remain anonymous


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