Update: This was interesting to read again (03-2023). I’ve changed some of my views on twitter since Elon bought it. He’s a twat and he’s ruining it. And it’s definitely not about free speech anymore.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that Elon Musk wants to buy Twitter. Maybe he will and maybe he won’t, but it’s safe to say that Elon is extremely good at getting people talking. Most of the talk about Twitter right now is focused on free speech, and who should be allowed to have it — or have more of it. It’s polarizing the platform once again, with most of the discussions set in black and white terms. One recent tweet that has people talking:
“For Twitter to deserve public trust, it must be politically neutral, which effectively means upsetting the far right and the far left equally.”
While I mostly agree with him on this point, I think it’s the wrong conversation to be having.
Whether you use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or some other form of social media, you are giving up some of yourself. Yes, we’re all connected and isn’t it wonderful to be living in such a technologically advanced era?
But consider that the cost of that connection is seeing some things you don’t like. You’re going to hear from people who either mildly disagree with your values or are actively trying to marginalize you — or worse, legislate against your very existence.
You’re going to see ads. Ads are annoying at best. At worst, they’re downright creepy when you think about how they’re using your posts and your profile to create the ones they think will appeal to you.
Social media platforms are free to use in terms of money. Socially, we are all paying a high price no matter who owns a particular platform at any given time.
It doesn’t have to be that way. And I don’t believe that we need to jettison all our apps and profiles just because things get weird sometimes. Rather than being owned by the platforms we use, we should be making social media our bitch.
There are practical things you can do to use social media on your terms.
- Block people and terms that you don’t want to see. If some post causes you pain, you have two options: think about it deeply and consider whether there’s something you can learn or use from it, or; block the poster and stop seeing anything else they share. On Twitter, you can also block terms. I have a friend who blocks the word “elon,” which I think is hilarious and it totally works for her. Twitter also has a “mute” feature that I use quite a bit.
- Don’t fill up your profile with every detail about you. Particularly on Facebook, consider not loading up your profile with your elementary and high schools, your political affiliation, hometown, astrological sign, last time you pooped… you get the point. Yes, it’s helpful when finding new friends, but you can also send an introductory message so they know who you are before accepting.
- Make lists and join groups. This can be helpful if you’re having one of those days when you want to interact on social media, but you don’t want to see what everyone in the world is squawking about. On Facebook, you can hang out in a group. On Twitter, you can make lists of people or subjects to follow and only see those posts.
- Reject ads. Do I have to say, “Don’t click on ads?” I hope not, but there it is. You can’t avoid seeing ads because that’s how platforms make money (with the exception of Mastadon, which I’ll get to in a moment). Either scroll on by or click Not Interested in This Ad.
- Stop using emojis. Okay, I’m just kidding. Emojis are the 💣.
You don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water. However, if you want an alternative to the biggie social media platforms, there’s one you can try that I really love.
It’s open source. It’s free. There are no ads. No one is tracking your data. The user interface is very similar to Twitter or Tumblr. Do you love it already?
Here’s how it works. Mastadon is a decentralized platform, which means that there’s no one place that holds all the information about you or your posts. Rather than one big corporation or group owning or controlling the entire platform, people host Mastadon on their own individual servers, or instances.
Anyone can host an instance using the open source software. People join instances that appeal to them, and there are tons of great communities out there. Some are private and you’ll need to be approved before they let you in and others are free to join at any time. It doesn’t really matter what instance you join, because you can communicate with other users in any instance (unless it’s a private one).
One thing to understand about Mastadon. Unlike Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, there’s no algorithm suggesting content you might like. You’ll have to do the work of finding and curating the content and users you like. The timeline is linear. Personally, I love that.
One thing I’ve found on Mastadon is that it tends to be a little friendlier and less contentious than other platforms. I haven’t figured out why yet, but it’s been my experience so far. Also, there’s no marketing going on all the time. It seems to be just real humans not selling anything, which is refreshing.
I’m not leaving!
I’ll still be on my usual platforms: Twitter and Instagram. I’ll just be using them better than I used to. As always, come on over and say hi. And, if you decide to climb on top of a big woolly Mastodon, you can find me there, too: @firstname.lastname@example.org.