Once there was Twitter and only Twitter. Well, and a little bit of Facebook, because Mark Zuckerberg’s gravitational pull is such that people can never completely leave his orbit. But mostly Twitter. And all was good.
Except it wasn’t, because Twitter was frequently awful. But it was nonetheless my go-to place online. For news. For chats with friends. For silly GIFs and cartoons and other creative stuff. For arguing with Sainsbury’s that, no, gluten-free bread shouldn’t be blue.
It was big and messy. But with the power of lists, I tamed Twitter. And I frittered away too many hours scrolling until my thumb and principles begged for mercy.
Then Elon Musk arrived.
A smashing time
Showing every ounce of his business acumen and ‘man of the people’ nous, Musk methodically set about destroying Twitter. That is if a ‘method’ is to blunder around in a drunken haze, randomly smashing things with a hammer.
Sensing what was to come, I and many others decamped to Mastodon. I’d had an account for a while, but not used it much. What I found was clunky but pleasant. People had actual conversations there.
But much of my circle never made it, having decided choosing a server was a step too far when signing up to a social network. Others drifted back to Twitter, the lack of immediate adoring crowds and the lure of the fight having them throw their integrity into a bin and dash back to Musk’s heaving bosom.
Musk, though, wasn’t in a cuddling mood. He still had his hammer and turned up its dial to SUPER SMASH. He’d already fired thousands of staff and eradicated teams responsible for network safety and removing disinformation. He’d killed third-party Twitter apps and filled feeds with MAGA-esque blue ticks and Tories. He’d refused to pay bills, picked fights with news outlets and declared anyone to the political left of Ron DeSantis to be a a communist.
For an encore, he stated ‘cis’ was a slur when used on Twitter (but ignored those suffering from actual hate speech and threats). He made Tweetdeck worse and demanded people pay for it. He rate-limited Twitter, giving you error messages when you scrolled past a mere 600 tweets in a day. And he for a brief and bonkers period gated the entire site, at which point Google hit a big ‘delete from index’ button.
There was a mad scramble for lifeboats. Creative folks headed to Instagram. The Mastodon-curious elected to have another go. Entire communities flirted with Bluesky. Then Meta launched Threads, which mashed Twitter into a pile of influencers with a fork. With a heavy heart, you knew this was where many of your friends would stay.
Let’s gaze into the future. While Threads rapidly grew in user count, its activity levels didn’t keep pace into late 2023 – because more rich white dudes started social networks to tempt people away. Shouty. Announce! Broadcast. Newsy. Hooked. Parp. And #JustMakeItStop. Even Tumblr had a resurgence. At which point, Twitter finally went bankrupt and was bought by a man with a suspicious moustache called Zark Muckerberg.
But it was too late. No one man could ‘own’ social because by 2024 it was too distributed. On the plus side, no single megalomaniac can now destroy the fabric of social networking. The counterpoint is most people’s full-time ‘job’ has become checking 500 social media feeds a day.
Still, Apple Vision Pro and swivel chair sales are through the roof, because you can spin around endlessly on the latter while using the former to gaze at countless virtual social network screens until you get dizzy, fall off your chair, crack your head on the floor, and hope the latest blow will finally bring you to your senses.