tech, social media, Twitter, Elon Musk, journalists, account suspensions
Elon Musk. Photo credit: Daniel Oberhaus / Wiki (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Alternative homes for political and news discourse.

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The world, it seems, can be divided in two. No, I don’t mean those who believe in democracy and those who don’t, though that’s certainly one way to break things down.

I’m referring to those who consider social media an unavoidable and indispensable part of how we now communicate ideas to each other — and those who don’t. 

To me, choosing to totally abstain from any dominant trend in society has the potential of rendering oneself at least partially irrelevant. Many people also chose “not to do email” or “not to get on the web” or “not to get a mobile phone” — and we can see how well that went. 

Maybe that was a better world, but it is a gone world. 

Today, social media is critical for us to be able to interact with a wide range of individuals. For many it is no less a vital communication tool than a phone or the 911 system. 

And at a time when a large percentage of the population’s perceptions are shaped by social media, we really have no choice but to pay attention to its workings and the health of its infrastructure. 

Furthermore, the reach of social media goes far beyond its borders. As Science magazine noted recently, “Decisions made by social media platforms shape the way news outlets present stories or even how politicians communicate.”

Personally, I’m deeply concerned about social media, because of its power and the continuous shifts we see in who controls it and how they wield their massive influence. 

Right now, Twitter is, for good or for bad, the dominant way people share and comment on news and politics. And one very problematic man controls it. 

When Elon Musk jokingly proposed an annual contest for the best “PsyOp”(a psychological operation, usually covert, designed to influence the public), a Vanity Fair writer retorted with his submission:

The world’s richest man has taken possession of a global social media platform used by the world’s journalists, scientists, governments, private citizens, businesses, religions, militaries and health/emergency services to share all vital information — It’s going as you might expect.

Regardless of who owns Twitter, anyone who thinks it doesn’t matter is not up to date, or is not interested in, or is deliberately choosing to ignore, the primary modes by which human beings currently communicate, including about politics and the exercise of power in public affairs. (Not that I blame anyone who, for reasons of sanity, time, or preference, chooses not to  use social media.)

Personally, I am deeply concerned about social media because of its power and the continuous shifts we see in who controls it and how they wield their massive influence. 

When Facebook stopped being a platform for discussing and debating the great issues of our time, Twitter took on an outsized role. Once Musk took over the company and began making a series of seemingly erratic management decisions — from firing a big chunk of the staff to his outspoken support of rightist values, including platforming fascists and even rapists — plenty of people got fed up. 

Among these was a sizable segment of the Black activist population, for whom Twitter had become a popular community-building and organizing tool. When Musk began reinstating accounts of overt racists, “Black Twitter” started scattering in search of a more congenial home. 

And just this week Australia’s ABC said it would discontinue most of its major X accounts, citing “toxic interactions that unfortunately are becoming more prevalent.” 

The result is a number of emerging “Twitter alternatives” — and a growing number of people heading to them. 

The Alternatives

One thing most of us are wondering is: Can the dynamism, reach, and impact of being on Twitter be realized elsewhere? 

Our nonprofit, public service news organization, WhoWhatWhy, has been on Twitter for years, and I’ve also been on there with my personal twitter, @realrussbaker. I’ve devoted more time and effort to it in recent months and my following has grown commensurately. I enjoy it as an outlet, a source for news and information, and a way to interact with and learn from other people. 

Like most, I realize that Musk could potentially destroy the whole thing — what with alienating much of his audience, laying off large numbers of people, not paying his bills, and breaking the app repeatedly — and that it’s wise to not keep all eggs in one basket.

In order to protect our discourse, we do need an alternative to Twitter (just rebranded by Musk, in typically abrupt and worrisome fashion, as “X”). So I’ve started looking at the alternatives and soliciting comments from those who have explored them more than I. 

I am in no position to make any kind of definitive statements about the state of Musk alternatives. But as an indicator that he is not quite the businessman he thinks he is, just compare how easy it is to Google something with, say, “tacos” and “twitter” to see everyone who tweets about tacos — then try that instead with “tacos” and “X.” 

And apart from the practical shortcomings, isn’t something about the choice of “X” as the brand disturbing in itself? I mean, you have a beautiful symbol in a bird — clearly a nice bird, not some vulture or bird of prey — and you replace it with a symbol of what? The first thing that came to my mind was death, the Xs we put over the eyes of the cartoon dead. Next was cancellation, blotting out, crossed swords.

Where did X come from? Musk tweeted that X was to “embody the imperfections in us all that make us unique.” That would be nice but it feels like quite a stretch — is that what X looks like to you? To me, for what it’s worth, when asking what’s in a name, it would be hard to come up with one that is more in-your-face, more off-putting than X. No surprise, I guess, and maybe it even makes a tortured kind of sense for a public square turned war zone.


The tech site The Verge recently published its own review of various alternatives, focusing on the user experience and technology over the other things that people like me may also care about — such as, what kinds of people are on each platform. Or —  is it a good place to spend time for what we consider important, like meeting quality people, reading interesting content, learning, sharing effectively, and, last but not least, reaching a substantial audience? 

A range of alternatives has appeared, from nonprofit, idealistic ventures to large outfits like Meta/Facebook, which, with Threads, is attempting to get into the game.  

Other players in this arena include Bluesky, a product from Jack Dorsey, who previously owned and ran Twitter; Mastodon, Post, Tribel, Spoutible, Diaspora, and T2. (And that doesn’t include all the other ways people communicate, which may be more focused on images and less on messages, such as Instagram.) You can read more about some of the various Twitter alternatives here, here and here.

How are they doing? Well, here are some of the things folks are telling me: 

Teresa, who is already set up on Mark Zuckerberg’s new Threads and a couple of other platforms, says she is not very active yet on those other platforms: “It’s hard because I like the people I follow here [Twitter/X] and it’s tough trying to find them elsewhere or taking the time to find them.”

Twitter, Fail Whale

From Memory Lane: Twitter Fail Whale. Photo credit: Vanessa Wu / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Mike says he uses Mastodon, which is essentially a network of more specialized networks. But: “I don’t seem to find that many folks to engage with as easily as I do here [Twitter/X]. Your mileage may vary.”

Bruce said: “I recently gave up on Mastodon, too hard to understand and navigate. I recently tried Reddit Economics. It’s apparently older people locked into pre-MMT [Modern Monetary Theory] arguments, not many progressives at all it seems.”

Gray said:

I started to investigate different platforms, but I got tired of them. I used Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, and Tribel. I started getting engagement on Spoutible and then it started slipping. I like the look of Post, but it does not have the Twitter feel. The only one I’ve tried that does is Spoutible, but they don’t use an algorithm so the way they boost things is by repetition. Mastodon is clunky and hard to understand. I did not spend any time on Tribel. I’ve been feeling like that one of these or a new one will have to take off, but so far none are better than a damaged X.

Chris finds Tribel easiest to use, “the most like Twitter.” 

Douglas said: “Post is my alternative for when this place tanks. It has a combination of news focus, serendipity and simplicity that works. Nowhere near the reach yet, though.”

My point is just to get folks talking about what we’d like to do — help create some new entity that resembles a functioning community rather than just scatter in different directions and forsake the cohesion (however tumultuous) that Twitter once afforded us. 

Some news organizations are exploring alternatives, with the BBC and the iconic Texas Observer both going with Mastodon. 

The Observer’s board had recently decided to pull the plug on the progressive publication due to financial difficulties, but the staff refused, rallied, and raised money to keep going. It did this with the help of its Mastodon audience. 

I recently had a chat with the Observer’s Kit O’Connell, who is part of a two-person team trying anything and everything to keep the publication’s new momentum going. They’re still on Twitter but found what many of us have: It’s a place where controversy and bumper-sticker type content does best.

O’Connell says that going to Mastodon has been great for them because, although their audience is smaller, it’s much more serious about content, and much more willing to engage — and actually read — not just “like” or retweet. And donate. 

Yet Mastodon takes some getting used to because of the way it is set up: a network of networks, and you have to choose which one to sign up for. 

You’re probably wondering: Well, what is the reach of each of these platforms? I’m not going to get into that here, because the numbers seem to be changing constantly. For example, Zuckerberg’s Threads was quite the rage at first but has been sputtering a bit; also, Zuckerberg is outspoken about avoiding political discussions, as advertisers don’t want controversy. Others are taking a slow and steady approach, perhaps building a cadre of like-minded people whose discourse may be much more civil than that on the erratic Twitter/X behemoth. 

My point is just to get folks talking about what we’d like to do — help create some new entity that resembles a functioning community rather than just scatter in different directions and forsake the cohesion (however tumultuous) that Twitter once afforded us. 

This is our world, and together, we have to decide how and where we’ll discuss it. As for the  platforms, they all have merit and deserve our serious consideration. 

The illustration above was created by WhoWhatWhy from California Energy Commission / Flickr (CC BY 2.0), Anthony Quintano / Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0), Sawyer Merritt / Wikimedia, Meta Platforms Inc. / Wikimedia, Spoutible, Post.News, Bluesky / Wikimedia, Gerd Altmann / Pixabay, T2, Mastodon / Wikimedia, T2, Tribel / Facebook, and Counter.Social.


  • Russ Baker

    Russ Baker is Editor-in-Chief of WhoWhatWhy. He is an award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in exploring power dynamics behind major events.

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