On January 1st, Sherman Alexie announced in a Twitter post that he was leaving Twitter. The tweet read, in its entirety:
Hey folks, I'm leaving Twitter because its negatives increasingly outweigh its positives. Thank you for the follows.
Some speculated that Alexie's account had been hacked, but Alexie confirmed over email with the Seattle Review of Books that he decided to leave Twitter. His Twitter account appears to have been deleted (or at least deactivated) since that January 1st posting.
Alexie isn't the only writer to leave Twitter. Ta-Nehisi Coates announced yesterday that he was leaving the service for a year to work on his next book:
Ok. So I'm gonna take the year to try my hand at this fancy book writin' stuff. See y'all in '18. Take us out, Queen... pic.twitter.com/kLISnrMJE9— Ta-Nehisi Coates (@tanehisicoates) January 2, 2017
And Lindy West deactivated her account last night:
Hey, friends! I'm going to deactivate my Twitter account, at least for a while. I'm finding the costs are starting to outweigh the benefits.— Lindy West (@thelindywest) January 3, 2017
She wrote about her decision in the Guardian today:
I hate to disappoint anyone, but the breaking point for me wasn’t the trolls themselves (if I have learned anything from the dark side of Twitter, it is how to feel nothing when a frog calls you a cunt) – it was the global repercussions of Twitter’s refusal to stop them.
These three writers didn't coordinate their mass exodus. They're each leaving Twitter for different reasons. But it's clear that Twitter is approaching a tipping point.
Writers (including West) have complained for years about the platform's popularity with trolls. Twitter has acknowledged its troll problem, but it has not done much to stem the tides of neo-Nazis, so-called men's rights "activists," and other deplorable people who use the platform to anonymously harass and demean anyone they dislike. Twitter has done little to troll-proof their service over the past few years even as they've added and promoted an array of advertiser-friendly features. They have made their priorities clear: they care much more about shilling products than listening to their users.
And now the most powerful troll on the planet, Donald Trump, uses Twitter as his preferred communication platform. In fact, Twitter has become synonymous with Trump in a very uncomfortable way. It's hard to use Twitter these days without feeling like you're contributing to the feeding of the black hole of attention that is Trump. You can't escape the sensation that no matter how you respond to Trump's proclamations on Twitter — positively, negatively, indifferently — you're still nothing more than a tiny, doomed satellite in his orbit.
On a less apocalyptic level, other writers have complained for years that Twitter is a time-suck, that it gets in the way of writing, and reading, and living. Why provide free content for a free social media service with questionable morals, they say, when you could be writing your next book? It's a great question.
Even I, a Twitter-lover from way back, don't enjoy using the service very much anymore. Some people use Twitter to communicate complicated ideas in nigh-unreadable threaded "tweetstorms" that violate the idea of what Twitter is supposed to do. Others use it as Facebook-lite, another way to share insipid memes and reinforce their own sheltered worldviews. And every time Trump tweets, he causes another earthquake in which people retweet, riposte, and rehash every last syllable. Too many users are trying too hard to be funny while the world burns around them: sometimes, Twitter feels like a convention of awful Jon Stewart impersonators, all trying and failing to be witty and original in exactly the same way.
Simply, Twitter is not very fun anymore.
A few things keep me invested in the service. There's no better way to learn about breaking news, for one thing. For another, I follow a lot of very smart people, and I would miss their insights. Thirdly, as much as I hate Twitter, I hate every other social network even more: Snapchat is better for personal communication; Instagram requires photos, which aren't my thing; and Facebook's molasses-slow algorithm and chirpy, endlessly positive vibe makes Twitter look downright attractive in comparison.
But sooner or later, enough people I like are going to abandon the service, and the pain-to-pleasure ratio will tip unfavorably. I don't know how Twitter will survive 2017 without making some drastic changes to its service. Maybe it's already too late.