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So, Elon Musk might actually be buying Twitter. Although the site has already long been controlled by crypto-obsessed Silicon Valley types fixated on the idea that free speech means you don’t have to do any content moderation on the websites you own, there’s something about Elon Musk that’s making people want to use this as an excuse to finally leave the site, though it’s unclear how many will actually pull that trigger. Luckily, there are actually some options if you think you’ll miss microblogging.
There isn’t a site that can replace Twitter that is exactly like Twitter, unfortunately. But there are a couple of different options for small-scale blogging, community, and interesting conversation, albeit with a slower pace of conversation than Twitter has.
The most obvious Twitter replacement is probably Mastodon, a decentralized series of social networking sites that are, in form and function, the most similar to Twitter. The one big difference is that instead of just one Twitter, it’s more like a network of Twitters that can interact with each other but don’t necessarily have to. It’s theoretically possible to be a part of one Mastodon instance that is focused on a highly specific topic—tabletop games, for instance—and alongside more generalized instances where you can share what you ate for lunch. The hope is that your tabletop friends won’t have to see pictures of salads, and your general friends won’t have to get in the weeds about tabletop games.The obvious benefit here is that the idea that users are more self-selecting, and thus a little friendlier than the big stewpot that all the users on Twitter are in. Still, as more users migrate to Mastodon, expect some growing pains. Mastodon's website briefly went down today following an increase in traffic.
Discord servers are simply chat rooms based around a particular community or topic. Almost every single internet personality you are aware of has a Discord server they run, especially if it is centered around video games or a video game content creator. Originally, Discord was a chat service specifically for gamers, but over time non-gamers have flocked to the site as a way to keep up with friends. When you sign up you have the option to create your own server, but a lot of the time it’s just easier to join someone else’s, especially if they’ve dedicated the time and energy to having robust moderation.
Tumblr still exists, just barely, and has gotten delightfully weird in its decline. If you’re primarily on Twitter to look at animated gifs of whatever your pop cultural hyperfixation is at the moment, rest assured that Tumblr remains the default place for posting fanart or high contrast screenshots of a recent blockbuster movie. Since there are simply fewer people on it, it’s now just a fertile ground for the kind of shitposting that once made the platform infamous to non-users.
Do you miss the old internet, from before Twitter? Enter Neocities, modeled after Geocities, the place where many people still online made their first homes for themselves. Neocities allows every user to create and host their own website, coded in HTML. There’s a kind of passive social aspect to the web host as well. Each site on Neocities is added to a browseable gallery of sites, which also shows you what’s possible with the platform. Looking at the sites in the gallery makes me nostalgic for the days of painstakingly coding my Sailor Moon fansite on Angelfire.
Forums used to be the default place for discussion on the internet but have fallen out of vogue. Generally speaking, they move slowly and require content moderation, which takes a lot of work. That said, finding a well-moderated, slower-moving community can make you feel like you’re actually talking to other human beings, rather than shooting your thoughts out into the void. Although they’re not without their own issues, long running forums like ResetEra, which focuses on video games, or even Reddit, which allows users to create their own specialized sub-forums, can be an alternative for people who wish the internet wasn’t quite so fast.
Spacehey appeals to an internet nostalgia a little more recent than Geocities. Spacehey harkens back to the old days of MySpace, recreating the Web 1.0 aesthetic with an uncanny degree of accuracy. You’ll even have a slot for your “top friends,” if you remember how much it used to matter to be featured on a pal’s MySpace page. Right now the site is free of two of the most annoying aspects of Twitter—algorithmic post sorting and advertisements. This is social media at its most basic, which is part of its appeal.
Pillowfort is yet another bid for your nostalgia for an older internet. Livejournal was once the default gathering space for people in fandom, which changed after the site was sold and made a few changes to its terms of service. Pillowfort doesn’t try to recreate Livejournal exactly, but rather takes some of its best features and combines them with newer features from sites like Tumblr. On Pillowfort, you can write longform posts on your own blog with varying levels of customizable privacy settings, and also join communities and post directly to them. You can also reblog posts from other people on your main feed, like you can on Tumblr or Twitter. Out of all the options here, this is the only one that’s paid—the developers are asking for $5 to access their open beta to cover server fees.
This is probably the hardest option, but it’s worth thinking about if you’d really like direct control over how your interface with social media. Artist and programmer Darius Kazemi, who runs an intentionally small social media site called Friend Camp, has written a detailed guide on how to start up, run and maintain your own Mastodon instance or other social media site. Although Kazemi says that running and maintaining a social media site can be done with minimal programming experiences, he makes it clear that it is a time investment. You’ll be an administrator, and it’ll be necessary to do maintenance on your site as well as enforce the rules of the community. Given how bad harassment is on Twitter, though, this might be the ideal solution for people who enjoy microblogging, but wish Twitter did a better job of content moderation.
Start Your Own
Zines were social media before social media. Young people wrote their own articles and made their own weirdo multimedia projects, then xeroxed them, stapled them together, and mailed them to each other. The history of zines in punk rock music is essential to the genre. Recently, the broad slice of the internet that is called “fandom” has gotten back into the practice of creating fanmade magazines, though they’re a little slicker than they used to be. For what it’s worth, Motherboard once had a zine, and it was really fun to put together, though I didn’t do any of the stapling or printing.If you’re not interested in making a physical zine, you can effectively make your own one through newsletter writing services like Tinyletter or Substack. Some of these online zines, like Garbage Day from Ryan Broderick, have ended up being really useful sources for the cool things going on online, without having to wade into the trenches yourself.
Newsletters and Zines
You know what’s the original social network? Your freaking neighbors. If what you really enjoy from Twitter is just talking to people, look to your local community for ways you can add more of that to your life without being on the internet more. Next time you have a funny thought, text it to your friends instead of writing it online for strangers. If you want to meet like-minded people for political activism, see if there are any local city council meetings to attend. Most towns with more than one stoplight have ways for people with interests like books or religion in common to get together. Consider visiting your local public library—if there’s a fancy private library for a university nearby, often you can visit that too if you ask nicely. Hell, I bet there’s a food co-op you can join where you can get into arguments with the most tedious people on Earth in real life rather than on an app. The world is your oyster.