Last night, I deactivated my own Twitter account and walked away from an audience of 30,000 followers. Because I no longer believe a moral argument can be made for staying on Twitter/X in 2023.
It’s easy for our values to slip. We feel uncomfortable with the actions, statements and ideas of people like Musk, but we shrug that discomfort off and keep engaging, tweeting and scrolling. And every time we do that — we lose a little conviction and a little of what ties us to our values. The only way to be values-driven is to be ruthlessly moral in where we engage.
Twitter has become a platform that amplifies the voice of the powerful over the vulnerable. It is designed to reward controversy, conflict and outrage. Nuance, expertise and thoughtful debate struggle to survive. And as Twitter becomes more chaotic under its new owner, Elon Musk, the situation worsens.
Musk boosts misinformation. He promotes hate. He demonstrates utter contempt for minorities, dissidents and his own employees. He postures as a free speech fan while selling out free speech at every turn. He courts the content of anti-Semites and sues the ADL for calling it out. He perpetuates an algorithm that boosts bullshit and suppresses insight, all in pursuit of engagement and attention. And every time we shrug and keep scrolling, we tacitly endorse his behaviour.
Remaining on Twitter increasingly requires us to compromise our values. Turning a blind eye to misinformation, extremism, abuse and harassment. Giving our attention and data to a corporation with dubious motives. And tempting us to reactively add our own angry voice to the maelstrom. In all the noise and frayed tempers, it becomes difficult to act with empathy, compassion and care — the ties that bind society together.
Is there anything good left on the platform? We know the pitch: connecting with distant friends, building communities, and spreading awareness of important causes. But the bad has become predominant. The benefits do not outweigh the costs.
Some still argue that abandoning Twitter is a form of cowardice or retreat — giving up the digital public square to the trolls and propagandists. But staying implies complicity with the breakdown of constructive discourse and the race to the bottom. There are other ways to have our voices heard and to contribute to the public conversation — ways that align with our values, beliefs, better selves and best interests.
The only acceptable choice is to withdraw from an environment that brings out our worst instincts, and redirect our energy and attention to more thoughtful online and offline spaces. To have difficult but necessary discussions in good faith with our friends and neighbours. To support quality online content that values truth over clicks. To seek out and elevate talented, considered and informed voices through other platforms. To foster communities centred on connection and care.
It won’t be easy. Twitter is addictive, giving us dopamine hits of outrage and validation. Leaving will feel uncomfortable for many of us. But in the long run, we will be better for it.
We cannot avoid hard questions about our roles in unjust systems and toxic culture. Our integrity is on the line in the positions and spaces we occupy. But we can step away and reclaim power over our attention and engagement. When social media boundless and chaotic, it is up to us to be disciplined and to set boundaries.
We have to consciously build the kind of online spaces and communities that reflect human values at their best. That commitment starts by leaving platforms designed to bring out the worst in us. Our values matter more than tweets, followers and likes. But staying true to them means having the courage and wisdom to log off.
I am spending my time now on my own website and Mastodon, for the most part. They’re platforms better suited to who I am and what I want to build as a technology writer and thinker. They’re platforms where I don’t feel every second spent scrolling is a betrayal of my core principles.