Today is in Ornellember time format.

photo of an electronic circuit

Digital Migration

Published (gregorian) (ornellember)

Tags: existential

If you know me from Twitter, you’ve seen me talk about wanting to get off the platform. Here’s a lot more info about that!

1. Social media in general

I’m increasingly skeptical of social media, but I really enjoy online community. At various points, I’ve had Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Snapchat, and Reddit accounts. I had Facebook for nearly 10 years (2008-2018 iirc), and cold-deleted it with just a quick post to DM me for my phone number or other ways to get in touch. It was an instant relief.

I did the same with my Instagram, but at the time, I was a visual artist, so I still put another account up for art. I deleted that too after about a year, then I put one up in March 2020 for photos of Pixie, and deleted that one this year. I still have one sockpuppet account I use to follow tattoo artists, but when asked, I say I don’t have instagram.

Each Tumblr and Snapchat account was pretty short-lived. On Reddit, I still have one long-running account, but mostly use short-lived alts. So what about Twitter?

2. Twitter history

I made a Twitter account in 2010. Technically, this is the longest-running social media account I’ve ever had; but really, I barely used it for most of that time. I only really started being active in 2019, around the time I graduated from my coding bootcamp, in order to become involved in the Tech Twitter community.

Twitter has a big learning curve to become interesting. It was a long drudge, or sludge, or whatever you call it, at first, but I think you can track the milestones by number of followers.

Once I had around 200-300 followers, things started to get interesting, because I’d consistently get follow-backs from people I followed, and started to build “mutual” relationships, where you’re strangers but kind of friends. 600-800 was the most pleasant: I consistently had people to have cool conversations with, but it felt like I knew most of them, like a little village.

When I crossed around 1200 followers, it got a little weird. I started to get a lot of great conversations, but also a lot of lateral engagement - shady replies, hidden quote tweets, and a handful of times, I saw things on my timeline that looked like subtweets at me.

3. Problematic mechanics within Twitter

3.1. Subtweeting

Subtweeting is when you allude to a certain person or their content without linking to it directly. I’ve done that a couple of times, for people whose business model depends on outrage.

I think we subtweet for a few possible reasons:

  1. we’re just a passive aggressive person who’s afraid of confrontation. I think that’s a very small minority.

  2. we don’t want to give the account engagement, but they posted something that is causing a lot of conversation, and we want to participate in that conversation.

  3. we think the person will not understand, or be defensive.

  4. we think the person’s following will make things difficult.

Subtweeting can be problematic, because if you feel like you’re being subtweeted, you can’t always be sure, so you can’t really engage with the person subtweeting. In case #3, it can also be hurtful that someone doesn’t feel like it’s worth talking to you directly, especially when it’s coming from a “mutual.” However, I actually think reason #4 is a super important and valid concern, and I want to talk more about it.

3.2. Big Followings

The experience of Twitter really depends on how many people follow you.

At a certain follower count, people started to engage with me differently. For instance, someone I knew of IRL and thought highly of, who works with one of my best friends, DM’d me a resource and mentioned she was “a big fan,” which I thought was super funny. People reached out for job opportunities, and seemingly just assumed I was competent without me having to prove myself. Most jarringly, I met someone for tea, who had lived in Amsterdam for 6 months, and he mentioned that he had followed me for a long time, and chosen to move to Amsterdam partially because of my experience - he had never replied to my tweets or DM’d me until the week before.

That was all pretty weird, but what was most consistently disturbing was what I’d describe as “shielding.” I’m on Twitter because I like to have real conversations and make friends, but earnest, genuine conversations don’t usually get lots of engagement (likes and shares.)

After a certain level of following, I occasionally got strangers getting kind of rude and nasty in my replies, but also, my community outnumbers them, and wants to stick up for me. A few times, an IRL friend or relative who’s not very active on Twitter responded to my tweets without much context on either the content of my tweet or the mechanics of Twitter, and someone else interprets it as criticism or shade, responds to them kind of shutting down their point, and get lots of likes. It’s never anything mean, but it’s always super funny that people want to protect me from someone who’s, say, one of my best friends since middle school but just bad at Twitter.

I had a similar experience disagreeing with a very popular white woman in tech. She had immediately responded to what I still think was a very mild, specific disagreement really defensively, and immediately her followers weren’t engaging with my point, or if they did, they did so in a very deferential way, with the disclaimer that they thought she was a good person, that they weren’t attacking her.

I, too have noticed that when someone disagrees in my replies, people don’t often engage with them positively until I do, which signals to them that this is an okay criticism. I even suspect that the fact that I am a minority as a Black woman in tech, and do get some really weird replies, means a handful of people are overly defensive of me. I am thankful for the sentiment, but uncomfortable with this, because it shields me from introspection and prevents dialogue.

3.3. Dunking

I’ll go through the rest of these more quickly.

Because of the aforementioned dynamics, and the character limit, it’s often easier to show your opinion in a one-sided, surface-level debate than it is to have a deep conversation in the replies, something that Reddit, for instance, is built to support.

One consequence is dunking. Typically, someone will tweet something stupid or unpopular, and hundreds to thousands of people quote-tweet them (bringing the conversation to their own territory) to ridicule their point. It’s an easy way to get engagement. Sometimes it’s funny, especially when it’s something light-hearted, but it gets grating. It’s especially annoying when people cherry-pick an absolute extreme example of an opinion they disagree with, and present it as some kind of widespread idea, when they’re the ones spreading it by dunking.

3.4. Parasocial relationships

Even if you’re not on Twitter, you probably know this concept, so I’m not explaining it. Parasocial relationships are one-sided. I have about 100 “mutuals” on Twitter that I feel are at least friendly acquaintances, and would feel comfortable inviting to talk or hang out. However, there are also a lot of people I don’t interact with, because they never reply to my tweets, and I don’t know who they are.

As previously mentioned, I had my first taste of the dynamics of a parasocial relationship recently (I want to mention this is a nice person, who didn’t mean anything bad by it, we’ve hung out more since.) It really shook me. I want to stay away from that, which is… tough.. on the internet, but I’m going to do what I can. That does include directly addressing you, the reader, here, so you know I’m WATCHING you too.

3.5. Privacy and permanence

I’m probably one of the only people I know who really liked Twitter Fleets. I delete a good 30% of my tweets shortly after tweeting them, because I’m just uncomfortable with them existing on the internet forever. Our memories don’t work like that: we don’t have a reliable archive of everything we’ve experienced, carefully preserved in ones and zeros, unchanging. We experience one thing, and we think about it, and feel it, and reconsider it, and our feelings change, and we’re not quite sure about the details anymore, and we are left with an impression. It feels strange to just give the world a permanent, crawlable database into years of my raw thoughts. I just want to have control of what I store and what I let expire.

4. Next steps

I see the move away from Twitter as an opportunity to do a few things.

One is to get away from corporations: I am curious about the fediverse (you can check out my mastodon.social here).

The other is to manage my relationships better. On Twitter, I conflated everything into one account with one audience. Now, I want to funnel people into my blog, my phone, or my Fediverse accounts, depending on the level of friendship we actually have.

As far as what I’m doing with my Twitter account, it’s been on private for a few months, but I think I’m going to take it back public at some point in the next month, and just leave it mostly dormant, because I have written some stuff that I think is valuable enough to be archived. There’s a good chance I’m going to go in and delete a lot of my personal life, though, depending on how much I care/have time.

I am also making a monthly newsletter funneled from from my Twitter account (should I call Ornellember months something else? mornths?)

Maybe if I get serious about writing, I’ll actually get an editor, so you don’t have to deal with all my typos and rambling.

Anyway, here’s my twitter! Take a good look at it, say goodbye, whatever. (I’m curious what people will see from that link over the next few months.) See you on my blog!