Billionaire Elon Musk has bought Twitter, and has sacked numerous people, including the board of directors and has named himself CEO. Musk stated “The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence. There is currently great danger that social media will splinter into far right wing and far left wing echo chambers that generate more hate and divide our society. In the relentless pursuit of clicks, much of traditional media has fueled and catered to those polarized extremes, as they believe that is what brings in the money, but, in doing
so, the opportunity for dialogue is lost.” While much of the reference to the traditional media is true, it is still unclear how he proposes to turn Twitter into a “digital town square”1.
While Musk states that he “didn’t do it to make more money”, he “did it to try to help humanity”. However, it has been suggested that Musk will introduce a user charge for those who have the blue tick, which is a verification system that individuals are who they say they are. Twitter Blue was the platform’s first subscription service, launched in June 2021, and offers “exclusive access to premium features” on a monthly subscription basis. Musk is believed to be considering increasing the subscription price for Twitter Blue from $4.99 a month to $19.99 a month2.
It seems that making money is still part of what he is on about and the ‘digital town square’ may be largely for those who can afford to pay for it, something that many cannot. So, it risks becoming just another vehicle for the wealthy to tell people how wonderful they are and how the poor are scum who deserve everything they get.
People have already started leaving Twitter simply because it has been bought by Musk, and I have certainly considered doing so, mostly because he is not quite the full shilling (he named one of his children X AE A-XII Musk), and seems to be intent on changing Twitter, perhaps even to the extent of allowing the Mango Mussolini (Trump) back on the platform. If that happens, many have stated that they will leave, me included.
There are alternatives to Twitter, and some of them are run by what they call open source software. Open source software has a source code that anyone can inspect, modify, and enhance. The source code is the part of software that most computer users don’t ever see; it’s the code computer programmers can manipulate to change how a piece of software—a “program” or “application”—works. Programmers who have access to a program’s source code can improve that program by adding features or fixing bugs. The opposite of open source software is proprietary software. This is software where the source code is the property of a person, organisation or corporation and it is they who maintain exclusive control of that software, and often charge heavily for its use. Examples of this include Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop3.
Based on my limited knowledge, the most reasonable open source alternatives to Twitter seem to be: Mastodon, CounterSocial, Tooter and Tribel.
Mastodon is like a decentralised version of Twitter. You don’t join Mastodon per se; you join a specific server run by an organisation, individual, or group. The moderation policies are separately determined on each server, although there are basic moderation policies that apply to all servers. You’re not limited to a single server; you can follow people or have followers from other servers, and you can change servers — or create your own.
On Mastodon, you post toots (rather than tweets) with a 500-character limit per post; you can attach images, a video, or an audio file. Hashtags are encouraged to help people find your toots, and there are apps for iOS (iPhone) and Android (other phone brands) devices. There is also a beginners guide, and a ‘tips’ site. To sign up, you go to https://joinmastodon.org/ and click on the ‘Servers’ link at the top of the page to choose which server you want to sign up for. You can choose to search by topic and/or language. Some will let you join immediately while others have waiting lists. You might want to start with one of the more populated ones, such as ‘mastodon.social’ which at last count had about 779,000 users. It is also vacuuming them up fairly quickly as users seem to be leaving Twitter at quite a rate4.
On its front page, CounterSocial boasts that it doesn’t allow trolls, ads, or fake news — and in fact, it currently bans several countries for being “origin points” for bots, such as Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and Syria. Its user interface works via a series of columns rather than the traditional single column feed of Twitter (if you’ve ever used Tweetdeck [I haven’t], you’ve got a fair idea of what CounterSocial looks like). You can use each column to follow different hashtags or user lists. You can pin columns in their place or move them around the interface, arrange notifications for replies or new entries. There is also a chat link for support and conflict resolution. The social network is free; a Pro account costs $4.99 a month and includes additional security, access to other feeds such as traffic radio and news videos, and entry into a virtual reality site4.
Tooter contains all the primary Twitter features like toots (tweets), trending posts, etc., and its user interface has been designed to be similar to Twitter. As on Twitter, users can write and publish them in the form of toots. These can also include images, links etc. Users can follow others whose toots they appreciate and it shows trending topics (hashtags) as does Twitter. Users can create groups and can join existing groups with which to share posts. As on Twitter, users can give feedback to posts in the form of comments, reposts, and likes, and users can also mute and block specific users5.
There are other Twitter-like social media platforms, one of which is Tribel. It is marketed as a place to grow your profile and your influence. What that means is anyone’s guess. It looks much like Twitter however reviews of it that do not sound like PR plants, are hard to find online6.
I expect that as Musk and his cronies infiltrate Twitter and they attempt to start charging for access (as has been mooted – see above), the trickle of people leaving Twitter will become a flood. At least three of the sites listed above have had significant increases in the number of subscribers over the last few weeks, and these are, as some wag said on Tribel, ‘Twitter refugees’6.
On Twitter you have people who follow you and read your tweets and for me this has been fairly stable over the last 6 months or so. However, over the last couple of weeks this has seen an unusual and significant drop of a couple of percent; only a trickle but perhaps indicative of what people think of Musk and what he may do to the platform.
I think I might have a crack at these platforms just to see what they are like. I might even report back.