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Ever since Elon Musk bought Twitter in October, many users of the social media platform have discussed taking their musings elsewhere — and some have actually done it.
Some object to Musk’s spreading of falsehoods, the rise in hate speech after he took over, his layoff of half of Twitter’s staff and his reinstatement of former President Donald Trump’s account. Some figure that the site will go down entirely at some point due to many of the company’s engineers leaving the company. And some just say the site’s best days are behind it.
Either way, Twitter has had real “Closing Time” vibes over the last two weeks, with many longtime users taking to heart Semisonic’s counsel: You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.
Here’s a look at where some Twitter users are testing the waters.
Mastodon, founded in 2014, has received the lion’s share of attention in recent weeks, and it has gained a lot of users in that time. Mastodon says it had more than 2.5 million active monthly users as of Tuesday. Nearly 180,000 people joined Mastodon in a single day last week, according to data scientist Esteban Moro.
Soooo, what is Mastodon, exactly?
It’s a decentralized, open-source social media platform. Anyone can launch and host their own Mastodon server and create their own community, which can connect to other Mastodon servers. Because it’s open-source, it is not owned by anyone, and its creators do not own a copyright on it.
That’s by design. “Nobody is in control of the entire network,” founder Eugen Rochko told NPR last week.
“It is, in effect, more democratic,” he said.
You can read more about Mastodon’s structure on its basic help page. That page declares: “Mastodon is not Twitter.” It says that the site won’t nudge you to follow certain people and that Mastodon does not emphasize a post’s popularity or virality: “What’s important, here, is to interact in real conversations.”
Each server has its own rules and moderators, and moderators can serve as gatekeepers to that server, deciding who can join. Users of the different servers (known as Instances) can generally interact with one another, though Instances may form around specific interests, like one for journalists, or cyberpunks, or food and wine aficionados. You can create accounts on more than one server, so there’s no need to pick the perfect community right out of the gate.
Mastodon does not offer some of the features familiar to Twitter users, such as quote tweets. Also, direct messages can potentially be read by a server’s moderator, so keep that in mind.
It can be daunting to start all over from scratch on a new network. Some transplants to Mastodon are using tools like Fedifinder and Twitodon to find the accounts they know from Twitter and follow them on Mastodon.
Screenshot by NPR
Hive Social, founded in 2019, is available as a mobile app for Apple and as a beta on Android. It offers a chronological feed (rather than the algorithm-determined feeds of many leading apps), and it says it does not do “shadow banning” or prioritize certain accounts.
The app promises to bring back “what you used to love about social media in a new way.” Some aspects of Hive — like profile music — hearken to a simpler time, namely the Myspace era. It’s also very photo-forward, like Instagram or Tumblr.
Like Mastodon, Hive Social is experiencing rapid growth amid Twitter’s chaos, despite apparently being run by just two people and hustling to crowdfund.
Hive Social was No. 1 on Apple’s App Store chart of free social networking apps on Wednesday. Hive said on Monday that it had passed 1 million “Besties,” and on Tuesday it said it had gained 250,000 users overnight, despite its email verification process not working. (Twitter, meanwhile, still ranked No. 1 on the App Store’s news apps chart.)
On Twitter, new joiners of Hive cheered its growth, though several lamented the lack of a desktop app or website and said they’d experienced sign-up and username difficulties.
Screenshot by NPR
The site is making a direct appeal to departing Twitter users, promising content moderation, the ability to write posts of any length and “a civil place to debate ideas.”
“Remember when social media was fun, introduced you to big ideas and cool people, and actually made you smarter? Remember when it didn’t waste your time and make you angry or sad? When you could disagree with someone without being threatened or insulted? We want to bring that back with Post,” Bardin wrote in a post on the site’s homepage.
It’s difficult to see what Post offers, since there’s currently a long waitlist to join it. Per an email update Tuesday evening, the site had 180,000 people on its waitlist, 20,000 people had been invited to join and 16,000 had activated their accounts.
Like Hive, the site’s small staff is struggling to keep up with demand. Bardin wrote that the “platform is holding up fine” but warned that users should take care when selecting a username, as they won’t be able to change it for a while, and that questions sent to email support will not be answered for several days.
Bardin admits the site is still “half baked,” lacking basic features such as the ability to search for other people to follow and a personalized feed of the people you’re following once that functionality exists. “This means that 1,000 people are all on the same feed and see the same thing. As you can imagine, that’s a lot of cat and dog pictures,” he wrote in an update on Saturday.
Legacy social media networks
Of course, many Twitter users are already on other social media platforms. Twitter’s uncertain state may spur them to use other well-known social networks more or differently.
Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, Reddit and Tumblr all continue to exist, with their own quirks and moderation issues.
They may not have the same claim to “town square” status that Twitter has sometimes approached, but to varying degrees they feature some of the same qualities that Twitter has offered: news, entertainment, community and endless feeds of content.
Can any site foster the same communities and conversations that thrived on the bird app’s good days? It’s too soon to know for sure, but many people are hoping the answer is yes.