Is it worth jumping ship from Twitter?


Hailey Akau

Illustration by Hailey Akau

By Ryan Forgosh, Staff Writer, News

Elon Musk acquired Twitter on Oct. 27 and promptly got to work setting it on fire.

With the hellscape that is Twitter now burning to the ground—and around 3,000 remaining employees working to put out Musk’s fire—people have been flying out of the bird app to find a new social media platform to nest in. Whether it be the 6-year-old Mastodon finally getting the attention it’s craved, the brand new Hive Social run by merely three people, or the resurgence of fan-favorite Tumblr, the question remains: are any of these alternatives actually better than Twitter? Is it even worth roosting elsewhere?

Unfortunately for the Musk-antis (myself included), these alternative platforms, while promising, don’t have the foundation needed to compete against Twitter. Each alternative platform brings its own issues, and each one is less-than-ideal when compared to Twitter. If Twitter goes under tomorrow, we will ultimately be left with several platforms each offering distinct reasons for use, but no single end-all-be-all social media service.

Mastodon was one of the first alternatives introduced after Musk’s purchase, but it’s been around since 2016. Mastodon’s big selling point is that it’s open source—allowing anyone to view the code and make modifications, so a user isn’t locked into just what the company and its coders want them to do. This open-source code, however, is both the appeal and the biggest problem with Mastodon. 

Most people don’t know exactly what a “free open-source code” is, or how it affects a social platform. Unless the user’s already in the know, those words mean absolutely nothing. The common person prioritizes user experience, which suffers because of the open-source nature of Mastodon.

Mastodon is not a centralized platform, but rather a collection of “instances,” or personal spaces coded by users. These instances work as different servers that a user can host, post within, and prod others to join. Instead of simply posting on Mastodon, users post on a server hosted by Mastodon. 

To post on Twitter, a user goes to the app or webpage, creates an account using a phone number or email address, then tweets to their heart’s content.

For Mastodon, a user must likewise create an account—on Mastodon’s home site. Like it says on the sign-up page, Mastodon is not a single website. Users must choose an instance to make an account on. You might be asking yourself, “Okay, so where do I find a server?” That is an excellent question without an easy answer. Users can browse servers while creating an account, but that’s generally a crapshoot when it comes to finding a server that will suit an individual’s desires. The best way to create an account is to already know a server that the user would like to join from the start. But how are they supposed to know that? This is their first time signing up for an account! 

This once again presents the problem with Mastodon being a platform that primarily caters to people who are already familiar with it. How else is anyone supposed to know what instances the people they want to interact with are on? Or how Mastodon’s system even works? And how can a user ensure that they don’t accidently wind up on a neo-Nazi server? (Oh yeah, Mastodon also has a huge neo-Nazi population.)

In 2019, the largest instance on Mastodon was Gab, a server with virtually no moderation to which the far right flocked. When I opened Gab on Nov. 29, the first three gabs—Gab’s equivalent to tweets—that greeted me came from The Babylon Bee, Christian Nationalists of USA, and Donald Trump. 

Yes, the actual Donald Trump. The same Trump who, until Musk’s takeover, was banned on Twitter for literally using it to incite an insurrection. That Trump.

Mastodon’s open source model means it can’t force compliance with any set of user regulations. This also means Mastodon is the perfect place for the alt-right crowd to congregate. 

Mastodon founder Eugen Rochko told Time Magazine, “[Mastodon is] kind of like cars. Cars are used by everyone, even bad people, even for bad purposes, there’s nothing you can do about it, because the tool is out there.”

That’s all well and good, but cars aren’t used to spread hateful rhetoric. Speech without restriction is Mastodon’s entire platform.

Okay, so Mastodon isn’t the social media platform to replace Twitter. Speaking of, let’s see how Twitter is doing. Oh, advertisers are pulling out from the platform? Sounds about right.

Well, there’s always Hive Social, the new kid in the race. Hive Social, or Hive, is much simpler than Mastodon. It’s essentially a copy of Twitter (sans Elon Musk baggage) with a bit of MySpace and Instagram sprinkled in.

Like Twitter, Hive users can post text and images on the app, but if they head over to the search page, they can see photos from accounts they don’t follow—both trending and recommended—much like Instagram’s search page. Users can also attach songs to their profiles—a feature reminiscent of MySpace.

This sounds great on paper—until a user tries to actually use the app. After opening, it takes 25 full seconds for Hive to load posts. (For comparison, it took Twitter less than three seconds.) Why is this?

Launched in 2019, Hive is run by just three people and is still in its infancy compared to Twitter, which made its debut in 2006. To make matters worse, the Android version of the app—the version I use—is still in early access, meaning I can’t yet set a song to my profile. 

The biggest problem with Hive is that it lacks a web browser version. Companies and organizations utilize the web version of Twitter to tweet for marketing and communication, so without this, Hive just doesn’t have the same reach as Twitter.

This brings us to the legacy social media, Meta’s apps, Facebook and Instagram, and Tumblr. But before we address those, let’s check in on Twitter! Oh, Apple is threatening to remove the app from the App Store? Noted.

The biggest problem with Facebook and Instagram is the same problem Twitter currently faces: its tyrannical ownership and moderation policies. Facebook is well-known for propagating hate speech and factually inaccurate news. So why switch from Twitter to Facebook if they share similar issues? Chances are if a user’s not a fan of Musk, Mark Zuckerberg isn’t their cup of tea either. And photo-heavy Instagram just doesn’t fulfill the same niche as Twitter, which includes more text and multimedia.

And finally, we have Tumblr. Tumblr had a mass exodus in 2018 when the company banned explicit content on the platform, including Not Safe For Work art that centered aesthetically complex nude drawings that previously thrived on the app. But Tumblr has recently reversed this decision.

“We now welcome a broader range of expression, creativity, and art on Tumblr, including content depicting the human form (yes, that includes the naked human form),” the company said in a blogpost on Nov. 1.

 Does Tumblr’s decision-reversal warrant a return? Or at least, a migration of Twitter users? It’s a well-established platform with a large and inclusive userbase. Although Tumblr’s issues are similar to Mastodon’s—with a large portion of the userbase being insiders to similar fandoms, albeit without the moderation issues—it’s much easier to use and understand.

What’s the catch, then? In terms of it being a stable platform, there isn’t one. However, Tumblr is stigmatized. It’s known for its large population of “stans,” or obsessive fans of content including Sherlock, Doctor Who, and K-pop. 

While this isn’t an issue with the platform (in fact, Tumblr tends to lean into this) it does create a stigma for its users. Twitter has a large population of users who rely on the platform for their businesses, and while businesses could thrive on Tumblr, this stigma could be problematic.

Tumblr’s population has not fully recovered from the 2018 exodus, so although it is on the rise again with around 135 million monthly active users as of November, its userbase still pales in comparison to Twitter’s over 430 million monthly active users.

So, which social media platform will replace Twitter? None of them—yet. 

Each alternative to Twitter has its own issues that makes it a less-than-worthwhile option. Mastodon’s entire selling point is also its downfall. Hive Social is just too new. Facebook is Facebook, and its sister app, Instagram, is too different. That leaves Tumblr, whose focus is far different from Twitter’s.

Until Musk’s fire is just ash, it seems Twitter may still be the de facto social media platform. But competition appeared seemingly overnight to challenge Twitter’s chokehold on the market, and there is a very real possibility of a new platform—maybe one of the aforementioned ones—dethroning Twitter.