Sure, just staying on Twitter is theoretically an option, but frankly, so is moving to the next big platform. As far as social media goes, Twitter is already aging in relevance; many online creators are focusing mainly on TikTok or Instagram. Like Facebook, Twitter stopped being cool as soon as its core user base got old enough to spend more time talking about 401(k)s and mortgage rates than pop culture. Of course, some of us stayed there to live tweet scandalto dissect game of thronesand talk about politics. But for many of us this is our job, not just our leisure activity. And it came at a cost, whether he was getting run over by trolls or feeling drained from the day’s drama. And of course, some people lost careers or relationships because of things they said online. Others were bullied from social media entirely.
There is always the risk of being a semi-public figure; after all, while attention can be great, it can also be destructive. Being online is, in many ways, gambling with your future, because you’ll never run into who or what.
Of course, my view of Twitter’s trajectory is shaped by my long history online. I came to Twitter from LiveJournal, a blogging platform that officially died after it was bought by a Russian company, SUP Media. But it was dying in America long before SUP came into the frame. Users were already on one of the LiveJournal clones: Twitter, Tumblr, etc. And we had no idea that Twitter would win as the primary site for the transition, so we opened accounts on multiple sites. For at least the last couple of years, people have been creating accounts on Mastodon, Pillowfort, and a number of others. Because, fundamentally, platforms are about people, not owners. And Twitter’s leadership was unpopular long before Musk offered to buy the platform. Users who had relied on Twitter for crowdfunding, organizing protests, raising awareness about social issues and more were struggling with how the company seemed intent on creating features that made it easier to advertise but harder to connect . It’s impossible not to wonder if what we’re seeing now isn’t just the next turn in the biggest wheel of internet culture. As technology changes, can any platform be the only one that matters, or will we always move on to greener pastures as our needs change?
Twitter dominated for so long that it’s scary to contemplate the actual end of the line for this form of microblogging. But already, more than 50% of Twitter’s biggest users don’t actually use it anymore. It is for various reasons, but this is always the case when a platform starts to collapse. Going viral the way I did with hashtags in 2011 may not happen again on another platform, although all signs point to virality being a permanent part of online life. When influencing became a career goal and not just a fluke, the writing was on the wall for every platform that seemed too big to fail. Where celebrities and cultural influencers go, so will everyone else. This is perhaps my most chronic take online, but Musk seems to have bought a millstone, not a cultural touchstone.
The importance of Twitter five years ago cannot be overstated, but now, as we look at the possibility of a future without Twitter, will anything really change for the average person who uses the Internet but doesn’t live on it? Social media users who lose touch on Twitter will be found again in different places. I have friends I first met in the AOL chat rooms in the 90’s! I have been found on other platforms for the simple reason that I have a distinctive username. For those who are making their big break on TikTok or YouTube, it will be even easier for your audience to follow them. But not all content creators like micro-celebrities. Many will get what they need from social media and gradually end their careers online.
For many users, social media is a tool to get what you want, but it’s not a place to live your life. In many ways, Twitter’s huge popularity depended on our ignorance of its potential impact, but now that we know what it costs? I’m not sure we’ll miss it enough to keep paying that price. Maybe Musk will make money from the deal, but even he seems to suspect that Twitter is dying. And while he may think he can resurrect him, nobody likes a zombie.
Mikki Kendall is a writer, occasional feminist, and author of Feminism Hood.