On bad days, Twitter is like being at a family event you desperately want to escape from. Ignorant, know-it-all uncles yell at you, trad wives tell you a woman must sacrifice the food from her plate for her uncaring husband, and right-wing loons are constantly whispering vile things in your ears.
On good days, Twitter is like the best party you ever went to. People share hilarious jokes that seem to have been written with you in mind (because how could anyone else also be fixated on that bad Bollywood film from the 1980s?), someone starts an interesting conversation on science, and you discover there’s a cool new bakery in your part of town that makes the most amazing sourdough.
Despite the madness that has surrounded the social media platform ever since Elon Musk took over (frankly, I am not even sure at this point if Twitter should be called Twitter or X), the uncertainty over its existence, the increasing arbitrariness of its rules, and the many alternatives that have either emerged or flourished anew in the wake of its floundering, there is nothing to replace it—yet.
It’s partly the network effect—the concept that the value of a product or service increases when the number of people who use it goes up—and a combination of a few other things: Twitter has been around longer and has become essential to staying on top of breaking news events as most government agencies and other important people are on Twitter (they may be scattered across other social media platforms, including New Twitters, but not as a default). It has become a cultural artefact (TV shows and films routinely reference it); New Twitters are boring and self-righteous.
The newest platform, Threads, may have amassed a record number of new followers within a day of its launch on 5 July—10 million—but it remains a strange place of Instagram influencers trying to “do Twitter”, something they aren’t very good at because living your best life doesn’t do quite as well on Twitter-like spaces as it does on Insta.
It is too curated and lacks the randomness of Twitter, where anonymity allows people to speak their minds (this is 90% rubbish, but I will take the toxicity of Twitter over the curated blandness of Instagram/Threads). Its user interface is weird—instead of allowing you to search by topic, it shows you a host of user profiles if you are looking for posts on a certain topic, say Barbie. It’s almost like its creators don’t understand the appeal of the very thing they are looking to replace—eavesdropping on conversations.
Having procured an invite to Bluesky, started by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, I was all set to abandon Twitter’s toxic wasteland. Sadly, I was bored within a few hours and haven’t checked back after a day or two of conscientious scrolling and following. It does have the potential to become New Twitter once more people join—though how it plans to moderate better so it doesn’t attract the same sort of negativity is not yet clear—but currently, all it’s good for is whinging about Twitter, and that gets stale quickly.
I do have an account on Mastodon but even signing up for it feels hard and difficult to understand (what are “instances”?). I don’t want to be on Github, I just want my daily dose of LoLs and fights with men’s rights activists.
There is no doubt Twitter is, as one user astutely put it, Elon Musk’s personal “Mojo Dojo Casa House”—and he can choose to shut it down tomorrow. We will then be forced to flock to one of the alternatives and hope its “for you” timeline eventually becomes as whacky, unpredictable and serendipitous.
Until then, we are stuck in Twitter’s infinite scroll, looking for that one room where there’s an absolutely wild party going on.