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  • Writer's pictureLaura

Twitter communities: The inside stories

It was the start of another day. I reached over to my phone to tweet what I was feeling but then stopped myself. After doing this so many times before, I knew that it was unlikely that I'd hear back from anyone, that or I’d just end up being muted or unfollowed once again. One thing I've learnt of late is that no one really wants to read your early morning emotions. A good morning pleasantry or something equally light-hearted is fine, but not the deep stuff. That's the stuff that will keep you silenced for a week. One moment of emotional indulgence and you're out of the game. Same with humour, a lesser blow but it's so cringe sharing something that you think is funny when everyone else stands silent or says 'What do you mean?'. Story of my life.

It's not just direct engagement. Since I set my account to private last year, around 300 people have unfollowed me. Some of whom I thought of as friends, others friendly acquaintances, hardly any that I can recall falling out with. I don't know why, and after all, this is Twitter. Nobody owes anyone anything. But still, it’s more noticeable when your account is private as unless you’re a rock star you don’t really get too many follow requests. There may be some who say that they don't care or notice when unfollowed, but really, deep down it can feel so personal, especially when it's someone you used to know and engage with regularly.

My own experiences aside, I think many of us would agree that Twitter is a very different place now from what it used to be. Lots of people have been angered by the changes made to the platform itself, the monetisation, Twitter Blue, the new hierarchies and polarisations forming around these features. Others have become tired of seeing the same old behaviours, content and debates, or they themselves are burnt out from repeatedly sharing content that remains unseen and undervalued. I know that on some days, I wake up and think, shall I just not bother today? Because being on Twitter, giving it what it needs to get you seen can be absolutely exhausting - working for an algorithm with no pay and often no reward becomes arduous, perhaps even exploitive?

For anyone reading this who doesn't use Twitter, you might be thinking 'Why bother?'. It's a good question, and honestly, I've been close to closing down my account and walking away so many times. Because sure, it is absolutely fickle at times (like many other social media platforms), but this aside it's also a place of community. When you find the right people and communities through Twitter it can be life-changing.

The problem is that these communities and connections seem to be diminishing today, gone are the days when we could go online and be ourselves. In the present day, it has begun to feel that to fit into any sort of group or community on Twitter, you need to adapt yourself to be a breezy positive person, that or you need to churn out the same slogans, memes and images every single day. Anything different or even slightly 'negative' is immediately shirked, and we seem to have lost our ability to have deep conversations. Sometimes it feels like we're in the Truman Show.

Whether it's Twitter changing, people changing or both, we definitely seem to be in an era of transition. An era where people are feeling more isolated, less connected and our online communities that we used to turn to seem to be fading away. This has made me think a lot and raises an important question...

Are we really still together when the cracks in our communities seem to be getting so deep?

This is something that I recently asked people on Twitter. The response was unanimous. People said that they felt that things have changed, and not for the better. At the centre of these responses was a theme. One which highlights how important our Twitter communities are, for friendship, wellbeing and coming together with others to share our experiences. Something so important for those of us who are otherwise isolated. For all of its flaws, it's also perhaps one of the most powerful digital spaces there is for a sense of community.

The problem is, that aside from these recent changes that are potentially fracturing our communities, online communities generally remain invisible, unseen and often misunderstood. We don’t tend to talk about how they are more than just a hashtag or other visible symbol. Many of our communities on Twitter are just out there in existence, without any clear visible trace. They aren’t even formally organised or structured as they just seem to happen. People come together and friendships are formed. Another issue is that our understanding remains limited as so much research into online communities focuses on specific groups with a focus on issues such as extremism, or it depends upon the visible features such as the hashtag for ease of data collection. What is missing are the voices within these communities. The voices of everyday people living out their everyday lives. Those who may not even identify as being in a community, yet are such an important part of it.

So that's what sparked this project. We want to bring a new story and narrative about what online communities really are and why they are important. Because until we understand them in this way, how can we truly keep them safe and who will care about these changes if their importance isn't more widely understood? These are just some of the reasons why we need this new story, one that comes from the people within these communities.

A digital image of the Twitter logo overlaid onto a network of digital connections.

In this series of articles, we're going to share the perspectives of others, people from diverse backgrounds each with different stories to tell about what their Twitter communities mean to them. The good and the bad.

This week, me and my good friend Mike are going to chat with you. We’ve both encountered different communities and have different life circumstances, but there are some things that we share. Mike is an unpaid carer and Unpaid Carer Representative with the Cardiff and Vale Regional Partnership Board, as well as an active voice in the carers' community on Twitter. Find out more about Mike here:

I myself have disabilities and I’m cared for by J, so here at ASW, we are both greatly inspired by what Mike does. Both Mike and I suffer from depression, and the communities we have been a part of are important for us both to be able to connect and feel less alone. So, here it is, the first of our stories...

Interview 1: Me and Mike

1. What do online communities mean to you?


During the early and darkest days of the lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic I was thrown a lifeline in the form of social media. Before I joined Twitter I often felt alone and like I was the only one facing my particular challenges, but from connecting with others I learned that although it's not exactly the same, others had similar challenges they were also facing. Those early days of Twitter saved my sanity, and I will be forever grateful for the connections I made during that time and since. I also look forward to making new connections.


I sort of flit between different online communities. My earliest experience of feeling a sense of community was probably when I started out with my photography during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Before that, I’d only really used Twitter for news and politics, so when I started to share my photos I was surprised at this new world of friendship and collectivism. Since receiving my autism diagnosis I can honestly say that Twitter has been life-changing - I have learnt so much by following other people and reading their stories. It allows you the space to share your version of normal, which is usually deemed weird. But then, when you find your community and tribe, it’s completely normal. I cannot express how validating that is when you’ve been the weirdo or outcast for so long. So for me, online communities are essential for identity, belonging and creating change in the wider world.

2. What recent changes have you noticed about Twitter communities?


I was on a Twitter break for a while last year, and when I came back I couldn’t believe it - everything had changed. People who I’d followed for years had vanished, I have no way of ever finding out where they went or if they are ok, as they didn’t have full name accounts. Overall, the sense of community was completely depleted. I don’t know whether this is just my experience but it seems that people don’t really want to chat like they used to - that or we’re just not seeing each other anymore. It’s quite an unsettling feeling, almost a paranoia as you see one of your previous friends on your timeline but they never interact with you these days - so you don’t want to roll in on their tweet just in case they ignore you or it makes you or them uncomfortable. Social anxiety is a thing online too!

I think that going to a private account has amplified my feelings of disconnect if I’m honest, that and the changes in the algorithm. It just feels that interactions now are more chance encounters than solid friendships - it all feels very unstable.


At some point last year when Elon Musk came along with his bags of money, deciding that he wanted to buy Twitter and turn it into a ‘market square of free speech’. Well, it didn’t quite turn out that way and Twitter now feels more like a place where you need to pay to gain the full advantage of Twitter. The consequence of this is that Twitter now feels more and more disjointed, and within our communities, I find it’s becoming harder and harder to connect with others.

It’s beginning to feel like people or our communities that we’ve created are simply being treated as a hashtag, a part of the algorithm or a source of income for a man that already has more money than many of us could ever dream of.

For some Twitter can be their main or only form of social interaction with others and a great source of comfort and support, but those interactions now appear to be dwindling away before our very eyes. I know there are other forms of social, but for many, the thought of starting over is simply unbearable, so the challenge we have now is finding a way of keeping our communities together or risking having them scattered to the four corners of the internet. To many of us, these communities are far more than just a bunch of random strangers on the internet, they are a very important and valuable way of keeping our sanity and even making new friendships. Having connected with people on Twitter I’ve also connected with some of those same people in the real world and if it hadn’t been for Twitter we may never have met and made those connections in the first place.

3. Have you needed to change any of your own behaviours?


From my own perspective, I’ve had to go hunting for people that I used to see regularly on my timeline, but now unless I go searching for them, I rarely see them anymore. The amount of hatred and vitriol on Twitter has also gotten out of hand to the point where people are afraid of posting for the fear of what might happen or be said if they do. Many a time recently I’ve wanted to post something about my depression or an opinion or about something happening in my life, but after writing the post I’ve sat there with my finger or mouse cursor over the post tweet button and then decided to just delete the entire tweet because I don’t want to deal with any potential fallout. Twitter was in the past a place where people could be open about their struggles and challenges, but now it feels more like a place where we all have to conform to some set of unwritten and unseen rules or we get singled out as a troublemaker or attention seeker.

It’s a real shame that one man has single-handedly managed to destroy something that in the past was so good for so many. But when you are as wealthy as Elon Musk is I suppose you can afford to buy a new toy and play with it until you’ve completely destroyed it, before discarding it and moving on to the next project.


This is an interesting question. I have definitely changed my own behaviours but I think this is partly due to my own personal interests and motives transitioning. I take a very critical position on the world which isn’t generally well-received in some of the communities I’m in. I think part of the problem I have is that I’m sort of on the fringes of several very different communities which causes conflict and I can never please everyone. So I’ve stopped trying. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt though when friends walk away or start ignoring you.

I’ve also recently seen a huge increase in people being launched upon with stigma for speaking openly about disability or mental illness, which is just horrible. For some of us, our Twitter communities are the only place where that version of normal is accepted - because for those of us with severe health problems sadly this is our normal. Sadly, so many of us are now feeling we have to filter or restrict what we say, just because others won’t approve. It’s taught me that digital stigma is a very real problem that needs addressing.

4. What do you see as being the main barriers for our communities in the future?


Polls are just one example of how Twitter is slowly going to become a ‘market square of free speech’ for those that can afford to pay only. I mean, would you pay a fee every time you went to the polls to vote for the government or to vote for your local MP or councillor? I very much doubt many would, so why should we be expected to pay for the privilege of voting in a Twitter poll? Also, if I don’t want to pay to have the privilege of seeing my Tweets in the ‘for you’ tab then give me the option to remove that tab.


I think that as Mike has explained, accessibility to community spaces is going to present a problem for many people as Twitter becomes increasingly monetised. It also amplifies issues surrounding the online attention economy that we are a part of. It’s never been a level playing field in terms of being seen and gaining engagement which will potentially worsen if visibility is centred around who can afford to be seen. My concerns here are the impact this will have on our friendships within communities. How will we know who is truly interacting with us as a friend when the need for attention is so rife - and not just for aesthetics either? For many of us, we need to be seen to survive financially and otherwise.

That as well as certain behaviours being restricted such as what I explained above about digital stigma - if we create a culture where self-expression is limited to pseudo-positivity and little else then what does that do for our communities?

Finally though, I think it’s really important that we don’t fall into the trap of ruminating over a utopian Twitter past. Because it wasn’t great back then either and all of these same issues were a concern back then too. It’s perhaps that because things are changing and we’re feeling a bit rocky, we are now suddenly paying more attention to them rather than them being new problems.


So as you can see from both Mike's and my own experiences, we feel that Twitter has changed, but whether that is due to its owner or something wider, this is complex and cannot be answered in one article. The important thing for us all to consider is what will happen to our communities if people are no longer engaging or able to be how they were previously? Will these spaces disappear or perhaps change into something different?

These are just our two perspectives and there are so many more out there. Stories that show different insights on these questions, stories that come from those within these communities. Deeper insights into exactly what is happening within different Twitter communities today.

For anyone else who would like to contribute towards this project - your voice matters too.

If you would like to add your own story or experiences, either anonymously or otherwise, feel free to get in touch with us. We currently have a private Twitter group chat running, you are welcome to join us :)

1 Comment

Dec 08, 2023

As someone who is trying to reduce her social media content I’m afraid I have avoided Twitter of late

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