17 Nov What the Twitter exodus says about our use of social media
Since Elon Musk’s successful acquisition of Twitter, there has been some unrest among a proportion of users of the platform. Many have complained about Musk’s perceived right wing political leanings or his moves to reduce the workforce of Twitter. Users of Twitter have been encouraging others to join Mastodon, where numbers are increasing rapidly.
Over 1 million people have joined Mastodon since October 27. Between that and those who returned to their old accounts, the number of active users has risen to over 1.6 million today, which, for context, is over 3 times what it was just about two weeks ago!
— Mastodon (@joinmastodon) November 12, 2022
Ironically, pre the Musk takeover, the main critics of Twitter have tended to be freedom of speech absolutists, convinced the site was too “woke” or left wing. This led to users moving to other platforms such as Gettr and Parler. Quite incredibly Twitter has managed – in the space of little more than 12 months – to annoy users from across the entire political spectrum.
Your tool, not mine
I have also seen various people bemoaning the exodus of users because their entire business model has been built on interactions across Twitter and the death of the platform would kill their own livelihoods. While it is hard not to be sympathetic to individuals, it remains a mystery to me that people seemingly choose to place their entire livelihood on one social media platform.
Twitter’s objective is to make money for its shareholders, a task that it has been doing a singularly poor job of for some time. It was a listed company that has now been delisted and purchased by a very rich individual. It is not inconceivable that the same could happen to Google, Facebook or any of the other platforms we rely on daily (although it would – at current valuations – take someone much richer than even Musk to achieve this).
Sometimes in the flush of excitement about a new social media platform we care more about inviting our friends to join us there than we do about its motives. It is often quoted but remains true that “If you are not paying for a product, you are not the customer; you are the product being sold.” Nowhere is this truer than social media where the user acquisition experience (few adverts) is a very different experience to the monetisation phase.
A public interest company?
Musk has argued that Twitter is an asset for mankind and it needs to make more money to sustain its existence – an issue he should perhaps have more carefully considered before paying $44 billion for it. But there is an argument that social networks should not be owned by shareholders or individuals but by their users – something Mastodon is aiming to pioneer. The problem is – to get through the tricky user acquisition phase – global social networks need lots of money. And those providing the money want a return.
In an ideal world we would not know or care who owned social networks and would simply use them as little or as often as we like without fear of manipulation of our data or political influence. Until then it is not “my Facebook” or “my Twitter” but “Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook” and “Elon Musk’s Twitter”.