Out of the window of the train just north of Brussels you can see the poster pictured here – Niet panikeren, organiseren it says. Don’t panic, organise in English.
The past few days a slightly alternative slogan has been on my mind. Don’t whine, organise!
I have some sympathy for both of these complaints – that what Musk is doing is damaging both the news media and our political discourse – but I think the heart of the issue is that for too long we treated Twitter as a social network, while we were in fact building civic digital infrastructure on an American commercial platform (an issue that I discuss further here).
But back to the slogan. These complaints (that border on whines) from all and sundry about Twitter’s demise ring rather hollow for me unless they are accompanied by appropriate responses. What are you – as an individual, or the company you work for – doing to put these problems right?
The reason Twitter worked for journalism and political discourse was obvious enough to see. It was the place where the important and powerful in our societies would say something, and the news media would pick up on it. Twitter’s now abandoned Verified system largely meant that a journalist knew if a statement from a senior person was indeed them – and those tweets went into articles. Those of us not influential in our own right could likewise leverage this system – Twitter was a way to foster connections with people you did not know offline, but it would be professionally helpful to know them. Being able to organise your Twitter timeline chronologically helped too – it meant seeing breaking news fast was easier there than on any other platform.
And if Twitter is not as useful for any of that any more? You should organise!
Why does The New Statesman – where Manavis writes – still list Twitter profiles for all its authors? After the NPR scandal, or Musk’s response to the BBC interview, Twitter is not a place any respectable media ought to be. Open up a Mastodon instance – newstatesman.social or some such. Or get every journalist there onto journa.host. Get a couple of hundred journalists onto Mastodon, and I am pretty sure that you would then have politicians and all sorts of others following as well.
And is Mastodon the Twitter replacement? I don’t know. But some thing or things based on ActivityPub (that Mastodon is built on) is going to be a better bet than any centralised, commercially run platform. We have now clearly and obviously seen the danger of that – Musk’s takeover of Twitter shows it beyond doubt.
And if Mastodon and ActivityPub do not do the job the way you want them to? Organise there as well! These are open source projects – work on new features. Train people to build new tools. Help and support each other to make these systems work better. And some of those initiatives might even work, while complaining about Twitter is just going to get you sent a poop emoji.
So sure, politicians and journalists, I get why you’re annoyed about the demise of Twitter. It annoys me too. But I’ve got on and done my bit – I’ve built a following of more than 10000 on Mastodon, and made alternative plans for coverage of my big project next month so as to not rely on Twitter. I’ll happily lend a hand to assist others to make the transition away from Twitter.
But please, get on with it! Don’t whine, organise!