A eulogy for Twitter (in more than 220 characters)

Published 11:39 am Thursday, July 27, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

If I had 220 characters or less to describe the current state of Twitter right now, it’d probably be something like this: imagine a bunch of spectators camped out at the site of an impending trainwreck, pretending it’s not going to happen and yet, also checking regularly for the inevitable event.

Many of you reading this are probably not Twitter users. Perhaps your social media of choice is Facebook or Instagram (or, heaven forbid, TikTok). So you might not be in the loop about the slow decay of the old “microblogging” website. But ever since Elon Musk purchased the website late last year, Twitter has been getting weird.

Well, weirder than it usually is.

The billionaire (who purchased Twitter for much more than it’s actually worth) has made plenty of changes to the platform in the past few months, most of which have been so deeply unpopular that he’s reverted those changes almost immediately. He also got rid of a good chunk of the workforce (such as the important tech engineers), so the website has malfunctioned more times this year than I can remember in the past decade.

Sometimes, it feels like Twitter users are all at the end of the school year, signing yearbooks and trading contact info so we can keep in touch elsewhere. “Find me on Discord,” one person says, while another announces that they’re going to dust off their old Tumblr page. Others have gone to test the waters at plenty of other new social media websites like Mastodon and Bluesky and Threads.

But plenty of us are still around, and still using Twitter regularly, like we’re getting as much mileage as we can out of an old car that’s one transmission failure away from the junkyard.

The most annoying thing is that I quite like Twitter.

I first remember mention of the website in its early years while I was still in college. It was described in a comparison to Facebook at the time: you could post short status updates but no photos or anything else. And you had to keep your messages to 140 characters or less, often meaning that punctuation was tossed to the wayside so you could squeeze all your words in one “tweet.”

My brother was the one who actually suggested I make an account (though he may not remember it now). And so, at the height of my still-unemployed-post-college-graduation boredom in August 2012, I created an account so I could “live tweet” the Olympics as I watched them. I couldn’t tell you what my first tweets actually said now, but I do remember they were about the gymnastics competition!

Some of the appeal of Twitter at first for most people came from being able to keep up with celebrities and maybe even briefly interact with them. But most of my first follows were friends and family and I knew, and I still don’t care much about celebrities, though I did follow a few. (And once, memorably, Lucy Liu replied to a compliment I tweeted about her directing work on an episode of Elementary! That still is kind of cool to me.)

But what really kept me on Twitter all these years is the easy access to information for pretty much anything I want. Scrolling through my Twitter feed at any given time will show you a hodgepodge of North Carolina news, sports commentary, Japanese music announcements, weather alerts, anime fandom tweets, and whatever other random things my Twitter friends are talking about at the moment. It’s a taste of everything all in one place, and sometimes the quickest source of breaking news.

Twitter was always a great place for fandoms too, which is how I met most of the people I interact with there. Facebook is fine for connecting with family and old friends, but I know most of the people there aren’t going to have opinions about my favorite band’s new song or the new anime I just started watching. But Twitter easily connected me to people who do share those interests.

It’s a global website, so I’ve talked to people from Argentina and Australia to Canada and Malaysia and everywhere else in between. I’ve certainly learned about so many different perspectives along the way.

You can always stumble across strange things on Twitter, ranging from accounts that document the most obscure history facts to making a series of tweets that compare a celebrity to an inanimate object or animal. (The general sense of humor on Twitter is strange.)

My favorite silly account is “Star Trek Minus Context” which simply shares screencaps of any Star Trek series or movie without any explanation for the text or image. As a science-fiction franchise, you can be sure there are plenty of head-scratching things to be shared on that Twitter account.

The website has changed over the years: adding the ability to tweet photos and videos, expanding the character count from 140 to 220, adding a “quote-retweet” function for sharing with commentary, and much more. Some features only stuck around for a little while (“fleets” were very fleeting) and others remain more permanent.

But it was the acquisition by Elon Musk that seemed to shake the Twitter community up enough to set in motion this slow-motion trainwreck we all can’t seem to stop watching. His time at the top has driven away users and advertisers alike. Plenty of us are still there, but for how much longer? Who knows? It feels like closing time at the bar and we’re all just waiting to see how long we can linger before they shut the lights off and we have to call a cab to head home.

So I suppose this is my little eulogy for a fun website that I enjoyed for the past eleven years. Twitter’s not dead yet, but sometimes certainly it feels like it.

Holly Taylor is a staff writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or by phone at 252-332-7206.