Elon Musk's $44 billion (€43.9 billion) takeover of Twitter is having a result Musk may not be happy with: Tweeters are escaping the birdcage.
Since the takeover, Musk has been posting some very imperial-sounding announcements of planned changes on the platform. These include a controversial move to charge $7.99 per month for "Twitter Blue," a subscription service allowing users to keep or acquire the coveted blue verification checkmark next to their name. Allowing users to pay for verification makes it easier to impersonate high-profile people, critics say.
Beyond this, many users are also complaining of an uptick in hate speech on the platform. Social media analytics site Dataminr showed an increase in racist and homophobic slurs in the days after Musk completed the deal to buy Twitter on October 27. Even Twitter's own head of safety and integrity, Yoel Roth, warned of ramped-up troll campaigns.
"Bottom line up front: Twitter's policies haven't changed. Hateful conduct has no place here," he wrote at the start of his thread.
Since Musk bought Twitter, it's estimated nearly a million accounts were deactivated, while another circa half million were suspended. For a social media platform with some 237 million daily active users, that may not seem like much. But some say the exodus has only just begun.
Elon Musk, for his part, recently tweeted that "user numbers have increased significantly around the world since the deal was announced," although he added that the company has seen a drop in revenue as advertisers left due to pressure from "activist groups."
So where are recovering tweetaholics heading? Here are four of the most popular (and up-and-coming) microblogging platforms.
Very much in the spotlight at the moment is Mastodon. Open-source and not-for-profit, Mastodon sports a user-friendly interface via a browser or app, including many features available in Twitter.
After signing up via a decentralized host server, a user can post "toots" of up to 500 characters (more than Twitter's 280-character limit). Toots show up chronologically on your timeline, and you can reply to toots, mark favorites, follow and tag others — and it also operates with the hashtag concept.
Mastodon was created in 2016 by German software developer Eugen Rochko, who is also Mastodon's sole employee. His salary, as well as hosting services, are paid via crowdfunding.
Separate servers, which maintain their own community rules, are self-organized into a networked federation — known on Mastodon as the "fediverse."
Rochko told Time magazine that servers band together to ostracize hate speech from the platform, saying "I guess you could call it the democratic process."
According to its page, Mastodon currently has 1.2 million active users. It's experienced rapid growth since Musk took over Twitter.
This reporter joined Mastodon as part of experiential reporting. Signing up was easy, while the interface is clean and easy to navigate, although there's no guide for picking which server to sign up on — probably the biggest difference for ex-Twitter users to get their heads around.
With many new users just arriving to the platform, Mastodon has a frontier feeling. Some users are reportedly having delays in getting accounts set up properly, and there's concern over whether individual servers can handle the heavy traffic of new users with millions of followers.
It remains to be seen whether Mastodon will turn Twitter into a fossil.
Ye — that is, the artist formerly known as Kanye West — recently announced plans to buy Parler, a social media platform popular among those of a more conservative stripe.
Parler, founded in 2018, bills itself as oriented toward free speech and implements minimal content moderation. It has already taken in many users who have been banned from more mainstream microblogging sites.
The platform was reportedly used to help coordinate the attack on the US Capitol in January 2021, resulting in many companies denying it service and its removal from app stores. The platform added content filters in May 2021.
As on Twitter, users can follow others and interact with posts, or "parleys" of up to 1,000 characters. Numerous prominent US conservatives are active on the platform.
Despite its right-wing tint, Parler could be described as more independent than Donald Trump's Truth Social, which is very clearly oriented first and foremost toward MAGA Republicans. For those on the opposite end of the political spectrum, the platform Tribel also seems to be gaining steam among the constellation of Twitter alternatives.
Founded in 2007, Tumblr is a veteran of sorts in the microblogging scene. With its emphasis on multimedia and curation, it plays host to numerous quirky communities.
But it's been criticized as clunky and difficult to search.
Despite various ownership changes and spotty growth, though, some say rumors of Tumblrs' death are greatly exaggerated. Not only has it maintained a following over the years, but more than half of new users are reportedly Generation Z — a highly sought-after demographic apparently in decline on Meta platforms Facebook and Instagram.
Like Tumblr, Reddit is also often mentioned as a veteran microblogging platform since it has been around since 2005. Organized into communities and "subreddits" on virtually any topic imaginable, it's often described as a social news aggregator rather than a microblogging platform — although the boundaries are certainly blurry.
If you're wondering what happened to Twitter cofounder and former CEO Jack Dorsey (beside growing his beard), he's been busy developing Bluesky Social. Started as a nonprofit Twitter spinoff in 2019, it's currently available in private beta form.
On its webpage, Bluesky says it is building a protocol to act as "a new foundation for social networking which gives creators independence from platforms, developers the freedom to build, and users a choice in their experience."
Although that certainly sounds promising, users will have to wait for a more public rollout to see any proof in the pudding.
Edited by: Kate Hairsine