November 1, 2022

Farewell, Twitter

Yesterday, I decided to deactivate my Twitter account. I’m just waiting to download my archive (if that remains a thing under the new regime) and I’ll be gone. As I said in my last thread, I’ve watched as Twitter, a place I once loved, has decayed into a fever swamp of vitriol and hate.

I was one of Twitter’s earliest users, back when it was SMS only. No website, no API, no app. I created @foundhistory upon the advice of my colleagues Ken Albers, Jeremy Boggs, and Josh Greenberg, who were attending SxSW in Austin in March of 2007, where Twitter made its big debut among the technorati. We may have been the first digital humanists on the platform.

In those early years, say from 2007-2012, I made a ton of friends. Some of them I’ve gone on to meet in person. Some of them I still only know by the time we’ve spent together on Twitter. It’s where we built the #DH community.

I have had some of the best discussions of my academic career on Twitter. Twitter has given me some of my best ideas. Twitter made possible projects like One Week | One Tool, THATCamp, and Hacking the Academy. Twitter has gotten me speaking gigs. It has helped me publicize my work. It has allowed me to keep up with the work of colleagues in the field.

These are the reasons people in the ideas biz (journalists, professors, etc.) are on Twitter. They are the reasons they stay on Twitter when they know (as I’ve known) that they’re complicit in the hatred and even violence it stokes.

But, for me, “I have to be on Twitter for my job” just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Sometime between 2012 and 2017 (it wasn’t just the 2016 election, though that was a big part of it) the benefits of being on Twitter started to be outweighed by the costs of being on Twitter—to my mental health, to my self-respect, to my ability to think clearly, to my sense of decency. Elon Musk’s purchase of the company, and more pointedly his recent (and recently deleted) tweet fueling conspiracy theories about the cause of the brutal attack on Paul Pelosi, is the last straw. If before this week, Twitter was full of ugliness, now it’s wholly owned by it. It’s time to go.

Whatever benefit having 7000 followers has to my career, it’s no longer worth the cost to my dignity and our culture. I’m leaving Twitter, and it makes me really sad. If any of you find someplace else to be, please let me know. I want our conversations to continue.

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