Why There Are Too Few Twitter Quitters

Twitter bird as a plane that's about to crash
Illustration: Cheyne Gateley/VIP+

I would love to leave Twitter. But I can’t yet.

I’m horrified by Elon Musk’s behavior, particularly the way he began playing Whack-a-Mole in recent weeks with the accounts of various Twitter users he claimed doxxed him or promoted Twitter rivals — a flimsy excuse to censor viewpoints with which he disagrees. This from a guy who plunked down $44 billion to acquire what he claimed should be a bastion for free speech.  

I suppose I should take heart in Musk’s tweet Sunday offering to step down from the CEO role if the majority of Twitter users responding to his unscientific poll voted him out. But as long as he maintains ownership of the platform, it’s hard to believe him ceding that role to someone else will make any difference.

I can no longer in good conscience allow Musk to profit from my usage of the platform, but the problem is it’s an indispensable tool lacking a viable competitive alternative.

I’d feel differently if I had hundreds of thousands of followers at the very least, which is why I cannot understand how the sheer outrageousness of Musk’s conduct has failed to trigger a mass exodus off Twitter that would need to be started by its most prominent users. 

Alas, as someone with a low-five-figure following, my departure wouldn’t have any impact beyond personally disadvantaging me. Cutting myself off from the real-time conversation no other social platform can replicate hurts no one else but me.

This isn’t to say Twitter is too big to fail, either. To the contrary: It’s easy to forget how small Twitter is compared with other social media giants.

So it's inevitable that at least one of these incumbents will attempt to seize on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to steal away Twitter’s user base by incorporating real-time conversation capabilities. Facebook, which has seemed rudderless as of late while founder Mark Zuckerberg aims his energies at pivoting to the metaverse, is reportedly moving in that direction.

I’d sooner believe Facebook is capable of stealing Twitter’s audience than any of the upstarts trying same, including Mastodon, Post, Hive, Counter Social, Plurk and Amino.

But because no single one of them seems to be seeing the kind of momentum it should, I’m getting Trump vibes all over again: The preponderance of also-rans reminds me of the large field of candidates who tried to take on Donald Trump in the 2016 primaries, only to essentially cancel out one another. 

What especially grates me about this situation is that experiencing Musk’s early Twitter tenure does bring back those first days Trump spent in the White House. There was this profound feeling of helplessness watching his reckless audacity without being able to stop it. Enough people voted to see to that. 

That’s precisely what gets my goat about the Musk situation: Alienated Twitter users do have the ability to stick it to him by leaving the platform. And yet because enough aren’t, it feels like such a wasted opportunity to exercise real power.

Then again, even the best possible alternative won’t matter much unless we see high-profile defectors trigger a broader evacuation of Twitter. It’s not like we haven’t seen some account deactivations among some pretty famous people, just not nearly enough. And those who open accounts on other platforms while keeping their Twitter account aren’t accomplishing anything. 

By sitting idly by and just tweeting like we always have, even as Musk behaves abominably, is an act of complicity. We are enabling what we could be stopping.