The WordPress Community Isn’t Ready to Leave Twitter

Elon Musk has bought Twitter in a $44B deal that closed this week, tweeting “Let the good times roll,” on Friday after taking the helm. Musk fired top executives at the company and tweeted an appeal to Twitter’s advertisers to share his motivation in acquiring what is arguably the world’s most important social network:

“The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence,” Musk said. “There is currently great danger that social media will splinter into far right wing and far left wing echo chambers that generate more hate and divide our society.”

Musk also hinted at the importance of content moderation, saying “Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences!” The company is forming a council to discuss content moderation, but nobody knows what that will mean for the future of Twitter.

While some Twitter users have considered migrating to Tumblr, the structure and user base isn’t currently comparable to the Twitter experience. In response to Verge co-founder Nilay Patel’s provocative article titled “Welcome to hell, Elon,” Tumblr CEO Matt Mullenweg tweeted his support.

“This is an unfortunately good summary of why running a social network is so hard, as I’ve learned with Tumblr,” Mullenweg said. “I am wishing Twitter the best and also hope this doesn’t slow down Tesla or SpaceX, which I think are critical to the future.”

Patel aptly communicated the weight of the political challenges Musk will face in his commitment to steering Twitter away from becoming “a free-for-all hellscape,” which some think has already happened. If Musk decides to open the doors to unsavory characters who were banned in the past, it may drive the social network into the ground.

While the WordPress community has many online gathering places – various Slack workspaces, P2 blogs, and Facebook groups – it has always been Twitter that served as the place for both casual interactions and breaking news. It is the de facto social network for those working in tech. There are many who only use the platform for keeping up with WordPress news and the community.

“There’s nowhere else to really go!” WordPress product designer Mike McAlister said. “WordPress people are pretty much exclusively on Twitter it seems.”

Apart from the few optimistic souls who think Twitter will be better than ever, many community members expressed apprehension about losing the network they have built over the years. As the closing of the sale loomed, people threatened to leave Twitter on principle if Musk gained control. That day has arrived, but for the most part the WordPress community is not abandoning Twitter.

“Twitter has had too good of an impact on my life to just jump ship,” Edan Ben-Atar said. “I’ll stick around for as long as it makes sense. For now, nothing has changed from what is noticeable to the eye.”

WordPress designer Dustin Henrich says he is staying but also looking up the people he follows on other platforms.

“I’ve made too many good connections, enjoy reading about people’s tech and non tech lives, and learning from some wicked smart people,” Henrich said. “I’d truly be sad if this just all went away.”

Decentralized social networking, which has so far failed to gain much mainstream attention, is getting a second look in light of Twitter changing hands. WordPress agency owner Tom Finley is experimenting with using the Activity Pub plugin to set up his site as a private Mastadon server. It implements the ActivityPub protocol for WordPress so readers can see the site’s posts on Mastadon and other federated platforms (that support Activity Pub).

Some WordPress community members are flirting with joining Mastadon instances, or have already committed to posting in both networks, but we are not yet seeing a mass exodus flocking to the fediverse.

“We’ve seen this attempted exodus to the promised land many times before,” Ross Wintle said in a post that explains why he isn’t optimistic about people successfully leaving Twitter. “Without a proper mass migration of people and organizations to another service, it doesn’t stick.

“You end up with people cross posting to multiple services to reach all the people that they want to reach. And then as a reader I’m checking multiple services and seeing the same things. The signal/noise ratio goes down. And most people get fed up and end up back where they were before.”

The most hopeful speculators ask if this could this be the return of blogs. At the moment blogs are not social enough, and there isn’t a critical mass of bloggers eager enough to adopt the protocols necessary to connect their sites in a stream of easily digestible, short updates.

Until Elon Musk makes more radical changes, many WordPress community members see no reason to leave Twitter.

“For now, I don’t see a reason to leave,” WordPress developer advocate Birgit Pauli-Haack said. “Block, Unfollow, Mute are my friends for curating my feed. I did cancel my subscription to Twitter Blue after 12 months. Being allowed to edit tweets is not worth it.”

Overall, most people are taking a “wait and see” approach regarding leaving Twitter.

“I haven’t found a viable alternative,” WordPress meetup organizer Sallie Goetsch said. “I do hang out in various WP Slack groups, but for the wider world…we’ll just have to see what happens here.”

One positive byproduct of this recent shake-up is that the WordPress community is considering a future where important conversations happen on another platform. As users explore other social networks, they may gain an affinity for a different type of social media culture with features that Twitter is lacking. Migrating and settling into a new social home on the web takes time.

“I’m not saying I wouldn’t love a mass migration to happen,” Ross Wintle said. “I’ve just seen so many attempts now and none seem to have been particularly successful, and I don’t see why this one would either.

“For a big change to happen, I think either the platform has to spontaneously combust itself or it falls out of fashion by a long period of attrition and fades from the public consciousness over time. Facebook may even be at the start of this. Time will tell.

“Perhaps, one day, we will look back and remember that thing we all used called Twitter the same way we remember Geocities and MySpace. But I struggle to see how that will be next week or next month. It will be in many years.”


23 responses to “The WordPress Community Isn’t Ready to Leave Twitter”

  1. Unfortunately, there’s nowhere you can go in America or online that is free from fascistic white supremacy and thinly veiled stochastic terrorism. There’s no reason to cede Twitter to the MAGA white supremacists and neo-Nazis right before the midterms and before the 2024 elections. The real reason Elon bought Twitter is to let these creeps back onto Twitter.

    • This is an ignorant take, John, to the point where it’s near offensive.

      With Twitter being a global social network, the idea that you can take such a reductive perspective its ownership and centralize it around your country as sad.

      This isn’t about white supremacy. This isn’t about a past president of the United States. This isn’t about racism. This isn’t about fascism.

      And I don’t even know if your comment is more about your political ideology or what. I’ve seen your comments on this site over the past few years and you’ve gone from such a well-balanced WordPress professional to a political pundit. Why?

      It’s a change in ownership of a company with which you disagree and then attribute it to something to central to your own ideology that you completely ignore the rest of the world.

      WordPress is global, Twitter is global, the changing of ownership and how it operates is not all about the United States.

  2. Hmmm what can we say? Only time will tell. What I perceived was that too much echo chambers formed on Twitter. Maybe it would be better to break them up and let people interact again.

    Good luck to Mr. Musk with that.

  3. Twitter was never a utopia, but I can’t see Musk’s purchase doing anything good (if anyone can engineer a social network that runs over some pedestrians and then catches fire, it’s him).

    It’s pretty clear where he stands politically, and as a result I’ve already seen a lot of celebrating bigots and trending slurs as the worst people feel emboldened by this.

    The question is, how bad does it need to get before we all jump ship? Trump’s inevitable return? When Twitter becomes the next 4chan? Or the next Kiwifarms?

    More than anything I think we’re now reaping the rewards of moving all our discourse to closed platforms owned and directed by the whims of billionaires.

  4. Matt Mullenweg: “… the mission of ‘Democratize Publishing’ to me means that people of all backgrounds, interests, and abilities should be able to access Free-as-in-speech software that empowers them to express themselves on the open web and to own their content.”

    Reaction: WordPress is great!

    Elon Musk: “The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence,”

    Reaction: Run away, the sky is falling, run away!

    Sounds kind of the same to me. If I don’t like what someone has to say on their blog then I can choose not to visit and read it. If I don’t like what someone tweets then I can choose not to follow them. Overall, I choose to not be easily offended.

  5. The indieweb approach is far more relevant than activitypub as a Twitter replacement.

    Large numbers of people conduct conversations off Twitter on their own blogs pushing the content around via webmention (a modern replacement for ping back). Abs pulling via web sub and micro sub

    It is simple, lightweight, and effective. WordPress should make a stron effort to support this excellent community and should add webmentions to core

  6. I embrace the change that Mr. Musk wants. As a citizen of an Eastern European country that was 45 years under a socialist regime, we reformed into a democratic society in 1989 and joined the EU in 2006. One of the main reasons was all the benefits that Western democracy had like human rights, voting rights, and the freedom of speech.

    Twitter should be an open platform of free speech where people should be able to express themselves by participating in civil debate.

    Only the law should govern whether someone should be punished for his words.

    Freedom of speech and a free market economy is the essence of democracy. Without these two conditions, you cannot have democracy.

    I see many people like you in the Western world take democracy for granted, keep in mind that you should take care of it and protect it. Protecting the freedom of speech is a critical mission of each democratic society.

  7. I tossed social media in the trash a few years ago and would suggest it to anyone for multiple reasons. Say no to FOMO and clamoring for attention. Regain some mental health and productivity. Just my opinion.

  8. Nowhere is perfect if Twitter serves a purpose for you, why leave? If you end up finding it irritating, too toxic or inconsistent with your values as an individual or a business, then leave. Twitter has never been important to me, so leaving on principle wasn’t really a difficult choice.

  9. Twitter is not the government it is a privately held business. Musk is well known to be a racist, not unexpected from a white South African, so your expectation of free speech is misplaced. His ego has grown with his fortune.

  10. first of all: thanks for your awesome work – it is a pleasure to see Wptavern up and running. IT covers so much core topics of WP – this is just awesome! KEEP up the great work

    you said:
    Moderation here is not at all better than on Twitter in the pre-Musk era, so all I can say is GO ELON! 🙂

    well wholeheartedly disagreed – i only have to say: This is one of the nicest place in the whole WordPress universe

    keep this up – and do the great great job.

  11. The Hate Group, Britain First were celebrating being allowed back on twitter at the weekend after years of being banned. I deactivated my account immediately after hearing this.

    There are awesome WordPress groups on Linkedin & Facebook, look forward to seeing some of you there.

  12. First and foremost, Twitter is not “the world’s most important social network”, it’s possibly the most important social network in the US, but not the world. In Europe, it’s nowhere near as big as in the US, and none of my tech friends here on the old continent uses it on a daily basis. We do use Facebook though. If you type in “Facebook vs Twitter user base” in Google, you will actually see that Twitter is merely 1/5 the size of Facebook internationally:

    Twitter – 332 million monthly active users (January 2016)
    Facebook – 1.59 billion monthly active users (Dec 31, 2015)

    Second, I don’t see how anyone interested in web development, or more specifically in our case – WordPress, would have anything to be afraid of because Twitter changed owners. We are supposed to focus on providing the best possible solution for online platform creation, not on topics deemed controversial that would make us susceptible to banning, etc.

    Let’s just do our part.

    • @Grzegorz WordPress isn’t the only thing I’m interested in and my entire day isn’t devoted to talking about WordPress online. Twitter has a good chunk of WordPress folks on there that I can hit up but like Sallie Goetsch said in the piece that Make WordPress Slack may be a good place to just talk about WordPress but I’ll spare them the woodworking and home automation talk I tend to do on other social networks.


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