The new owner of Twitter is behaving in a way that has forced me to make a decision. Can I, in good conscience, continue to produce content that earns ad revenue for a man who is now working to normalize transphobic, antisemitic, racist, misogynistic, fascistic speech and other kinds of dangerous hate and disinformation? I know how to survive and even thrive while blocking out the worst of these things, but do I want to be part of such an ecosystem? It’s clear now that the chief twit knows what he is doing. He is gaslighting us with his “free speech” and “transparency” rhetoric, and I’ve had enough.
I am angry that Twitter is being ruined in such fashion, and I feel the poorer for its loss. Twitter is where I first learned about Trayvon Martin’s murder—several days before the newspaper mentioned it. I only had access to this news because of the overlap between academic Twitter and Black Twitter among the people I was following. (This was before the site’s algorithm began to shape people’s timelines, a feature I resisted adopting.) Many years later, the place served as a lifeline during the multiple crises of 2020: covid, murderous police violence uncovered again, the seeming attempt of an unhinged president to bring martial law to DC, and then the conspiracy to overthrow the results of the 2020 election.
Twitter helped many of us to overcome the crippling effects of isolation in this never-ending pandemic because, at its best, it facilitated conversation. Along the way, it introduced me to disaster, public health, and disability scholars, including historians, and to disability Twitter more generally. Most recently, the platform has been extremely important for finding experts and reliable information about Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine and the West’s response. As a result, I have grown all too aware that not only does the European history I know need decolonizing (one clear consequence of the Black Lives Matter movement) but the Imperial Russian and Soviet history I learned in graduate school does too.
Across all of these topics, I have benefited from contact with ordinary engaged citizens. Twitter was never just about expert discourses. In fact, sometimes the information I sought had to do with things in my own neighborhood, such as a power outage, snowstorm, or possible explanations for the appearance of emergency vehicles.
Saying goodbye to Twitter is possible because I’ve already been able to connect with historians, in particular, on Mastodon, although reaching beyond them will take longer. At the same time, there are plenty of important voices still on Twitter, not least those from Ukraine. That’s why I’m keeping my scrubbed account there for reading only, not conversing.
I posted a few notes about Mastodon a little over a week ago. If anyone is interested in trying it out, there’s a new instance run by historians called historians.social. It was started by professional historians, but they are explicitly welcoming all who are working in or otherwise engaged with history. By the way, starting on Mastodon is only as hard or easy as you make it. My advice is just to dive in and then learn the options and features by doing. Don’t worry about finding the perfect instance either because it’s easy to move. But do read the rules because moderation varies across instances.