Leaving Birdsite // 25. October 2019
Twitter is a place of fear to me. After 10 years on the platform, I’ve decided it is time to leave. When I joined in 2009, I was hopeful about the feeling of community and belonging that it offered. I loved it for staying in touch with friends, acquaintances and colleagues from all over the world. During the height of my public speaking efforts in 2014-2015, it helped me to share conference resources and feedback.
It was in this time that I had my first weird experiences with Twitter: conference organizers invited me to speak not for the topic that I offered or my delivery style, but for my "reach on Twitter". During my time at Akamai, well-meaning colleagues gave me advise about "improving my personal brand on Twitter". I became torn about sharing authentic thoughts and emotions due to fear of alienating followers. I tried "branding" myself more and even threw some money on the infamous "Sponsored Tweets". But with each bit of effort of professionalizing my Twitter persona, I felt more disconnected from the real people I used to be in touch with via Twitter.
In late 2016, I was sitting in a snowed-in hotel in Moscow and watched the U.S. elections scheme play out. Afterwards, I felt that I had been supporting a platform that played an active part in bringing a demagogue to power. Twitter felt tainted. And yet, I stayed on. Why?
In 2017, I changed my employer so that I could work on a dedicated product full-time and to be closer to my family. During the application phase, an interviewer commented on how impressive my Twitter profile was. Later that year, I published SQIP, my most successful web performance and OSS community project to this day, and the response on Twitter was amazing - making me worry that without Twitter, this project would not have been such a success.
I realized that the main reason that kept me on Twitter was fear: fear of losing influence, fear of losing relevance in the community, fear of becoming a less attractive potential employee, fear of losing touch and falling behind on information and web performance tooling. This combination of existential Angst and FOMO gnawed at me until my unease became such that I needed to do something about it.
At first, I deleted apps and blocked Twitter web access from my devices via hosts entries. I only allowed myself to visit Twitter once per week to check messages and notifications. Thanks to Nicole Sullivan, I learned about BlockTogether, whose community-provided block-lists removed some of the hate that had found its way into my timeline.
In 2019, Twitter changed its platform again and increased the amount of meaningless noise in my timeline from accounts I wasn’t following. I felt that their goal was to inflame reactions and keep people trigger-happy on their infinite-scroll interface, which appalled and alienated me. Thanks to Frederik Hemberger, I learned about disabling retweets for people I followed to combat the rage-filled noise appearing in my timeline and while I was afraid to miss out on meaningful content, I went through with it and was happy to discover that the noise became bearable again.
Due to my stepped alienation from Twitter, I found alternative means of community exchange and catching up on important articles and tools for my profession. Now I have decided that it is time to leave Twitter for good: I have deleted all my tweets, DMs and media and am in the process of "unliking" all my "likes" - which is being hindered by Twitter’s increasingly limited API and ridiculous attempt at "Developer Certification". This fresh, negative contact with Twitter and their attitude only helps to fortify my stance.
I will make a conscious effort to reach out to people I miss via channels outside of Twitter. For my friends in the web performance community there’s an excellent Slack group and for more private relations, I will rely on common IMs. I will try to use technology to schedule real get-togethers and avoid "socializing" on the net. See you in person soon!