I Hope Twitter Goes Away

by alex_gaynor

About seven months ago, I abruptly quit Twitter. Though I'd been thinking about it for a while, ultimately leaving was a snap decision for me. Lately I've been reflecting on why I hate Twitter so much.

The obviously uniquely identifying feature of Twitter is the 140 character limit, but I don't think that's a sufficient explanation for why Twitter is the way it is. I think Twitter is defined by the fact that it's about broadcast.

Every other social medium I use, is about communities. On Facebook I participate in the community of folks I know from the real world. On IRC every channel I'm in is its own community, often corresponding to some larger one, e.g. the Python community.

Communities are, above all else, defined by membership, the ability for people to identify as a part of one, and to participate in activities, and share things and experiences with the group.

Twitter has no mechanisms for this. Every user floats by themselves, interacting with who they please. This denies us the ability to build communities, to set social norms, and to enforce them. Twitter has absolutely no way for me to share with others that someone isn't a person I want in my communities; unless they do something so bad as to actually get banned from Twitter (which takes quite a bit of effort! Far more than it does to get kicked from any of the IRC channels I moderate).

It's because of this, that I think it's not a coincidence that harassment and abuse are epidemic on Twitter. It's not because Twitter mishandles these (though they definitely do), it's because a core design tenet of Twitter's product enables harassment. It's fundamentally impossible to create a safe space with a public account, at any time anyone can jump in, and no one is empowered to help moderate it, in fact, most of the time, a harassers Tweet won't be seen by anyone besides their target.

Twitter's also a phenomenally bad place to have a discussion, and again, not just because of the 140 character limit. Try following a multi-party conversation using any of the official clients; it's completely impossible. Depending on which message you treat as the root, an apparently randomly chosen of other possible messages will appear, in an inconsistent order. The inability to have an actual conversation means that when we Tweet, our messages are really just shouting into the ether, we have no expectation of any real ability to engage with people and to learn.

Twitter is good for two things: engaging with #Brands, and broadcasting messages to whoever wants to read them — and of course the most widely broadcast are always jokes.

It's for all these reasons that I hope Twitter genuinely ceases to be. I want a product that enables me to build and participate in communities, that encourages discussions and expressing meaningful ideas. Not one that systemically encourages harassment, abuse, and shouting as loud as you can, and which on its best day, is a glorified link aggregator. And not a very good one.

To hell with Twitter.


Hi, I'm Alex. I'm a software engineer at Mozilla, working on Firefox security. Before that I was a software engineer with the U.S. Digital Service. I'm an avid open source contributor and live in Washington, DC.