Feeding the Bird

April 5, 2023 5 min read

My very important take on tweet versus toot.

Andy Bell wrote about Mastodon ick and straddling it with Twitter, and Louie Mantia Jr.’s post reminded me that arguing via reply can be a sort of boorish grab at someone’s platform.

I remember when people wrote on their blogs and responded to each other in ice-cold takes! So I’d like to climb on my soapbox and address the smoldering bird in the room.

I’m only months into Mastodon and I’ve liked it because it’s felt smaller, more personal and weird than Twitter. It seems more about connectedness (technically and personally) than conformance and consumption.

I started quietly from zero—no followers or people followed—and I’m just now easing into the stress of trying to keep up with a stream rather than trying to keep up with peoples’ posts. The smallness is artificial and not unique to Mastodon, just something I’ve needed to be mindful of while I curate my experience. But the platform difference is real and important, and it’s felt mostly refreshing with some exceptions.

I’m annoyed at cross-posting without any sort of engagement. It seems like a self-absorbed way to promote without interaction, and I think the “social” part of social media should be about interaction. I wouldn’t dare tell someone how to post though, because nobody has voted me arbiter of speech.1

I’m puzzled by content warnings and just how cautious they can be, but I admire people trying to be cautious and sensitive. That highly personal line for “warning” is a curious thing.

I’m perpetually confused by all the references to “birdsite,” like uttering “Twitter” will conjure some kind of Elongoblin that buries you in doge memes.

I’m still trying to figure out what to do with a serial self-rebooster, who contributes great nuggets to my feed and also forces me to re-read them constantly.

Ultimately, Mastodon is … fine. I’ve encountered friendly people, posted my own tiny thoughts and jokes, and come away with news and ideas to consider.

Twitter is less fine.

I think we can all agree it’s a hot mess. Maybe even Elon, but it’s hard to tell because it seems like he’s having a fabulous time.

I never loved the chaos, or ads, or the feeling that everything there amounted to commercial speech. I launched my escape pod because I was giving too much attention to Twitter at a time when I desperately needed to collect and refocus my attention. It was not hard for me to do. Elon gave me the strength.

But Andy’s post reminded me something I’ve learned countless times and still forget: that my experience is not the same as everyone else’s. People have meaningful connections on Twitter, different feelings about the role it’s had in their lives. Some people actually have a relationship with a brand or followers that I don’t have and don’t want—different but not inherently good or bad.

I have to hold that in one hand when I firmly disagree with this statement:

I absolutely will not support [Elon Musk], but I don’t think posting on Twitter does that — mostly because they’ve lost like 90% of their ad revenue and over 50% of the company value lol.

Giving Twitter your attention is feeding it. Talking about Twitter is feeding it.2 Showing up and being an active user and putting characters into it, just bothering to like or retweet things, gives the platform air. It doesn’t have to be a sustaining nourishment to be a form of nourishment. I don’t want to give it air, and I don’t think we should.

To argue otherwise seems like an excuse, similar to TikTok where advocates may simply be the ones enjoying it.

Maybe the pressure for people to defend themselves is the bigger problem.

Maybe people stick with Twitter and TikTok because there’s something meaningful for them in those places. And maybe it’s important to temper our contemporary outrage du jour with a sensitivity to that if not something more like respect.

I’m not here to decide what we should do any more than you are. How we express ourselves and treat one another seems more important. If I was going to make an impassioned, urgent appeal to you from my corner, it certainly wouldn’t be about whether you use Twitter.

Andy said it differently:

Also, you might be having the best time on Mastodon and hell yeh, that’s great. I’m really happy for you. Don’t use that to minimise other people’s less-positive experience though!

It’s possible to disagree without trying to diminish or invalidate someone else’s experience. I’m not really telling you as much as reminding myself. Again.

I want to live in a world where I can register respectful disagreement and make room for another person’s experience without being a dick. I also want to invite criticism of shoddy or inconsiderate thinking I’ve introduced from my soapbox.

It’s not about where you use your words as much as what you’re doing with them.


  1. And if we did, my first act would be to chase everyone writing “Github” instead of “GitHub.” It’s rampant and I’m sure I’m one of three people on the planet that notices and cares. 

  2. I’m aware of the irony, yes.