It’s not free speech we hate, it’s you

Look away now if you think Mastodon is in any way a viable alternative to Twitter.

There’s a certain level of millennial hysteria in the air about Twitter at the moment, and a number of people are trying out Mastodon, the distributed social network that is so nerdy and complex that there’s simply too much friction involved in getting on it. As to the chances of ever finding the nice people you follow on Twitter, and managing to follow them all again, good luck. You’ll need it.

I tried it out before, during the last bout of millennial hysteria, before Twitter came to its senses and started banning evil people. What I found then was a strong sense that people had gone there to get away from the likes of me (middle aged white male), and fair enough. Given that after 32 years on Twitter I still only have 285 followers, there doesn’t seem to be enough lifetime left to me to build it up from zero again. Mastodon is for the young.

And I’m going to sound unkind, that nothing I’ve seen over there makes me believe I’m missing out. I’m afraid the discourse just seems utterly wet to me. If people aren’t just talking about Mastodon itself, which most of them are. And, Jesus Christ, the patronising tone of those who have been on there for a while in offering advice to normies and newbies.

As to Twitter, is it doomed? This time, it might be. Musk is a dick, and nowhere near as clever as he thinks he is. His one-dimensional understanding of free speech (and freedom in general), his inability to empathise with others, his ridiculous binary thinking, his false dichotomies and his impulsive behaviour all mean that the company is not in safe hands.

More than this, Twitter itself has always been a failure. Apart from its initial (weird) concept of 140 character posts, nothing the service has added since has improved it. Sure, we all post photos and videos, but they wouldn’t be missed. A doubling of the character count didn’t improve things. Threads and quote tweets made things worse. Its advertising model is annoying and has never made it enough money. And as to the algorithm: trends, topics, recommendations, the non-chronological timeline — it results in a user-hostile experience that leads to red mists and rage.

Talking of rage and outrage: the absolute worst aspect of Twitter has always been people screaming into their own echo chambers. Beatles Twitter is actually really nice, and I’m sure you can create a nice experience for yourself with careful curation. But it takes time. And you have to be ruthless. Perhaps the most disappointing thing is when people you really like and support start retweeting the arseholes into your timeline and commenting about them. Or, worse, amplifying arseholes/bots who have, like, three followers.

It’s the lack of common sense in the end. If people hadn’t piled into the outrage cycle over Trump, if people now just left Musk to his followers, we’d all be happier. There’s no point in engaging with these people, as we have known since time immemorial. Don’t Feed The Trolls was first painted on a cave wall somewhere in the South of France 17,000 years ago.

So, no Mastodon for me. And if Twitter dies, it dies. We’ll all have to start blogging again.

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