Twitter, or X as we’re now meant to call it, has changed. We’ve all noticed it. Engagement is at an all-time low and many of those reliable and familiar faces have now disappeared into the ether. What was once a bustling community has been replaced with spam, blue tick bots and meme farms.
Twitter has never been perfect of course. The incentive for hate, trolling and pile-ons has always been a key feature of its engagement driven algorithms. But for many, Twitter had become a lifeline, especially for those who felt isolated in every other aspect of their lives. During the COVID years, it helped people stay connected. Others felt they could find their tribe on Twitter and be their true selves. Whether this version of Twitter ever truly existed is a debate for another day, but right now we can be certain that X just isn’t what Twitter used to be.
In this final blog of our ‘online communities’ series, we talk to two former Twitter users about their time on the platform. What they have written for us speaks powerfully about their own experiences on Twitter, what it meant for them and why they feel it’s a place they can no longer be. We won’t dilute their answers with our own running commentary, or try to overshadow what they have said, so what follows is their written responses in full.
What was Twitter like for you before you left?
I had been on Twitter for sometime before the COVID-19 pandemic started, where I shared my blog posts, or anything related. I used to chat with bloggers here who I already knew before as well as others. But it was during the COVID-19 lockdowns that the Twitter community meant so much. I met more like-minded people, or who sadly had same/similar experiences. Many of us couldn't see our loved ones in care homes.
Even when lockdowns started lifting, care homes didn't and so my torn feelings and struggles I was having because of it, I came across those who were going through the same thing. So we understood and supported each other. I felt we were a united front.
Has your experience of online communities on Twitter changed? If so, what do you think has caused this?
My first original Twitter account I made private and only the people who I actively communicated with and vice versa were allowed to follow and I created a second one just for blog purposes where anyone could follow. I was getting some abuse when covid had started and there were other things I did not want to see that I was seeing, so I heavily muted that account. Unfortunately, some things were still coming through. So I gave up muting any further.
Eventually things were going quieter with both my Twitter accounts and then Elon Musk took over. I closed my second Twitter account I created and opened up the other one, so that anyone could follow again. Nothing bad happened. But I was still feeling should I leave Twitter.
Prior to taking a month's break completely from the online world last year, including Twitter, I came back to find Elon Musk had upset his employees again. I then noticed how quiet things were on Twitter. I hardly had any interaction. I also noticed how even more I wasn't seeing tweets from those I followed and so I would literally have to bring them up to see if they were ok. I see that they were actively tweeting. Yet I wasn't seeing them on my timeline and instead there would be tweets on my timeline from people I wasn't following. So things have definitely got worse since Elon Musk took over and I wonder if it's money that now speaks, over the rest of us that don't want to pay for the services Elon Musk puts on.
In the end, mentally, I could not bear Twitter any longer and I closed my remaining Twitter account down in February this year.
Although I wasn't on Twitter all day, it became less towards the end until I decided one day I had enough and left. I that feel since leaving Twitter I have more free time. My mental health and well-being feels better for it because it got to the point that when I had good mental health days and went on Twitter, I would not feel good after.
The things I muted still somehow would appear on my timeline. There be the odd tweet that would appear on my timeline that I hadn't followed. So why was I seeing that? And the people that mattered to me, who I followed, it was getting to the point where I wasn't seeing their tweets. So, I would have to visit their timeline to see if they had tweeted or not. So deciding to leave Twitter permanently in addition to the other areas of my life that I have changed, has helped me manage my mental well-being much better.
What do you think is important for Twitter communities to stay connected in the future?
When you were lucky to find the right people, you would find you had a good supportive network. You didn't feel alone and isolated. What I had before things changed for the worse was really important to me. Those people I chatted with often were important to me. For those still on Twitter we need that back. But will it happen?
Liz has left Twitter but has since crafted her own digital space where she writes regularly about health and wellbeing, mental health, books and more.
Check out Liz's blog here:
How did leaving Twitter make you feel?
It’s complicated. I use three Twitter accounts. One for personal use where I only scroll to keep up with all the latest news and politics, and the other two for business. So, rather than saying I have actually left Twitter, it is probably better to say that I am taking a back seat. Stepping away from the everyday chaos and just popping back on now and again to do the essentials. I still scroll my personal timeline, but this has become less in recent weeks. I don’t think Twitter can still be thought of as a reliable source of information anymore. Finding the truth on a platform tailored towards performance, misdirection and one-upmanship requires far more energy than I am willing to expend.
Stepping back has been an enormous relief. Twitter is corrosive. It eats into your psyche. You live your life on edge, not really knowing why your heart is racing or why you suddenly find yourself in a foul mood. All you know is that the platform is there, lurking in the background, waiting for your latest content. You need to post something otherwise the algorithm won’t be happy. Never mind your own happiness. Just keep feeding the algorithm. So yes, it’s been a relief to step back. My general mood has improved and a shadow of dread has been lifted. On those occasions when the threat of Twitter does rear its ugly head, I can feel my mind quickly slipping back into darkness. It’s a place I do not want to be.
Was there anything that surprised you about yourself when you left?
Only when I stepped back did I realise how much Twitter was ruining my life. It might sound extreme to say Twitter could ruin your life, but looking back that’s exactly what it was doing. I’m not talking about major irreversible consequences. It didn’t cause financial ruin or anything like that. But it did ruin everyday life. It drained my life of any joy or fulfilment. A simple walk could become consumed by conversations about the next tweet. You sit down to eat dinner and then realise at the end that you were too stressed to remember how it tasted. You live and breathe for the platform. Sometimes you don’t realise it until you leave.
Do you think you will ever return?
I hope not. I certainly won’t ever go back to posting daily or being actively social. I still use the platform to keep up with news and politics, but unless there is a major story to follow, I am finding myself checking my timeline less and less.
I did very briefly try Threads (the new platform by Meta) but if anything it’s worse than Twitter. It is missing key features such as a proper search function and the ability to follow a select group of users. Because of this, it forces you to engage with random people in your timeline in the hope the algorithm shows you to more relevant users. Blue Sky seems promising, but only time will tell. At the moment the algorithm is kind and forgiving. But how long will it be before its AI mind learns how to harness the power of human jealousy, competitiveness and spite? Not long I would imagine. Nothing seems to drive engagement more than misery and hate.
Whatever the case, I really doubt that I will return to regularly posting on Twitter again. To do that would be to give up my freedom to live the life I want to live. We all pretend that we have full control over how we use social media, but there is no escaping the algorithm and what it does to you. Once it is inside your head, it will control you. My advice? Escape. Banish it from your life and don’t look back.
A big thank you to Liz and Henry. If you have your own Twitter experience you would like to share, please free to comment below.
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