Notes from the Twitterpocalypse

For as long as I can remember I’ve been terrified of zombies. (Yes, I know they are not real.) Just the concept of zombies terrifies me, though, to the point that I can’t even watch ads for shows like The Walking Dead. The reason for my fear has always been the idea of someone you know – someone you love even, being a hollow shell of their living selves, a murderous being in the decaying body of someone who once held dear.

I’ve been semi-jokingly referring to Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter as “Twitterpocalypse” since his first bid to buy the platform but to be honest, the state of social media in general – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, all of it – has felt like a zombie apocalypse for me for a while now: a semi-dead malevolent shell of a thing that I used to love. 

Now I’m not gonna lie and act like I hate being on Twitter. It’s clearly not true, if you know me you know I’m ALWAYS there. I’ve loved Twitter so much and for so long that in 2009, back in its infancy, I co-organized an in-person Twitter “un-conference” in Chicago with my friend Maura Hernandez. Back then, I was a bright-eyed Twitter utopianist:  live-tweeting concerts and tech conferences, inviting my friends, doing tutorials at my job. Jack Dorsey should have hired me. 

13 years later, I still easily exceed Twitter’s definition of a “heavy user” (someone who logs in to Twitter six or seven days a week and tweets about three to four times a week). Many of my friends are here, including a lot of my real-life friends, and my online friends who landed here from other dormant/dying social platforms over the years. 

Twitter’s always been a convenient way to catch up with news AND with people’s lives. Its timeline content format can be hard for some folks to follow, but for my neurodivergent brain, it’s like having a virtual water cooler, a support group, organizing tool, and party line in one place. I’ve tweeted through good times and bad: protests, TV shows, award shows, celebrity drama, celebrity deaths. 

During the height of the pandemic, Twitter was a lifeline when I couldn’t see most people in person. And it’s also more accessible for me, as so many platforms have moved to prioritize video and visual content, word-loving, low-vision me will always value text over visuals for my online experience. 

Even so, I’m ambivalent about the possible end of Twitter as we know it. I’ve had to navigate much of the worst of this bird app for years now as a Black woman: racist pile-ons and bullying are daily risks for me and other marginalized folks. June 2020, during the height of the BLM protests, was especially bad on Twitter for me: targeted harassment and doxxing threats that were a concentrated version of what many other Black women on Twitter have endured for years, since Gamergate. Whatever changes Musk brings (and we are already seeing them) will just add to the list of what already makes Twitter a cesspool.

If Twitter does become a shell of (the best of) its former self, the online communities and subcultures that made it what it was in the first place will find other places to go. We’ve existed long before Twitter and we always find a new place to migrate to. It’s always been the people on Twitter that made it worthwhile to me in the first place. That is why I’ve stayed. 

On the other hand, I’m definitely worried about the threat of Elon Musk’s Twitter to media democracy overall, doing a lot of the damage Facebook/Meta has already done:  filling our feeds and the news cycle with unchecked misinformation/disinformation and junk content, putting marginalized folks at even greater privacy and harassment risks and suppressing political expression while amplifying fascist hate speech and elite business interests.

But that’s bigger than Twitter or Facebook: even platforms that have been touted as the “future of social media” like Mastodon, have had their own problems with harassment and content moderation. No matter where online communities go next, it’s the technologists, executives and moderators behind these platforms that have the responsibility to do better: prevent abuse, protect data privacy and filter out fake news. That’s been the scary state of social media for a long time now – and where the real fight for its post-apocalyptic future will lie, with or without Twitter. 

For now, I’m not planning to leave Twitter immediately. Despite my heavy user status, I do find myself spending less time there anyway because my own relationship with social media is just ready for a change. I don’t know where I’ll land next for my next home base. Discord is too hard for me to follow, TikTok is just an accessibility no-no for me (probably BeReal, too, if I ever get around to trying it). We’ll see where I go, but in the meantime I’ll be tweeting through it.

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