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How to leave twitter while keeping your followers

How to leave twitter while keeping your followers

Thanks to Elon Musk’s somewhat erratic approach to free speech, employee relations, subscriptions, parody, and misinformation, a lot of people have taken to Twitter to announce that they’re leaving Twitter. They will find it difficult.

This is not because Twitter is addictive. For most people it is not. That’s because Twitter gives them something they can’t get anywhere else – a range of connections with other users and the ability to reach out and reach them. If you only had access to one supermarket, you wouldn’t describe it as “addiction.” You would describe it as a domestic monopoly.

Like many, I left for a new pasture, which is Mastodon (you can find me on Mastodon’s EconTwitter server). But I sure will keep tweeting, because I have close to 200,000 people following me on Twitter. It’s a nuisance. It would be much better if I brought them all with me to the Mastodon. It’s an abysmal failure of public policy. I can’t.

To see this more clearly, imagine I decide I don’t want to commit to my mobile service provider. After minimal paperwork, I can move to a different network. My friends didn’t even know I did it; I can keep the same phone, same phone number.

Even if that It was not It is true that my mobile phone is already vastly superior to Twitter on the other hand: I can call people whose phones are connected to different networks. It’s completely seamless; They might be on EE or Vodafone or O2, and it doesn’t matter. A world where you can only call people who use the same phone network as if you were a pain in the ass. And it’s also very likely a world in which the largest network or two have become dominant — and in which many people have felt obligated to carry two phones. It may sound familiar to social media users who switch between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn.

The difference here is that telephone networks are interoperable in a way that Twitter simply isn’t. It’s not just phone networks, but Apple and Google make software that can read and write Microsoft Word files; You don’t need an Outlook account to email your Outlook friends and a separate Gmail account for your Gmail friends; I can send you a bank transfer even if your bank is different from your bank.

Sometimes (as with email) this interoperability is by design. Sometimes (as with banks and cell phones) these have been reinforced by regulation. Sometimes it’s a matter of competitive compatibility: Apple decides to make software that works well with Microsoft Office, and Microsoft can do little to stop it.


Like Rebecca Giblin and Corey Durow explain in their new book Chokepoint capitalismThere’s no technical reason why this portability couldn’t be extended to the likes of Twitter and Facebook. A short article Doctorow wrote for the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains what that might look like.

First, you sign up for an alternative – perhaps a Mastodon server. You give her your Twitter password. Twitter checks that you’re happy to allow the connection and that it’s not some hacker; It then lets your friends know you’ve moved to Mastodon and asks if they’d be happy to forward their tweets to you. (If you go to crazy town Truth Social or Parler instead, they might say no.)

Why did you move to a new service? Any number of reasons. Maybe blue ticks are free there, ads don’t rely on scary monitoring, or you have more control over the kinds of things you see. Content moderation might be more powerful. Or maybe content moderation is lacking, which is what you prefer.

The point is, if Facebook and Twitter are interoperable with competitors, it will be easy to move and bring your digital network with you. If your friends prefer the old social networks, they can happily stay there while still being able to reach you. The whole arrangement will obviously encourage new competitors to enter the market, while pushing established players to up their game.

Interoperability often works best with some regulatory muscle behind it, and one (but not the only) approach is to legislate to create a broad defense for interoperators. If I, as a Twitter user, want to sign up for a new interoperability service that uses my password to send my posts from Mastodon to Twitter, and pull tweets from Twitter to Mastodon for me to see, Twitter is not allowed to block me or sue the interoperability service for doing so.

The world of interoperable social media may be a source of anxiety for some. It might boost struggling right-wing platforms like Parler and Truth Social. It would certainly make it more difficult for social media companies to act as arbiters for what kind of speech is unacceptable. But it’s never been a good idea to give social media companies the power to monopolize what can and can’t be said. It was a worse idea than letting them put obstacles in the way of users who wanted to take their friends with them when they left.

Tim Harford’s new book is “How to make the world add

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