When Musk made Twitter align with WeChat, hundreds of thousands of users “fleeed” to this niche social platform

On October 27, Musk officially acquired Twitter. This is not the dust settled, but the opening of a big drama.

In the next ten days, from big layoffs to wrong layoffs, from hating advertisements to determined to build the most respected advertising platform, the spotlight chased Musk's fickle pace.

Bystanders are expecting or suspecting, what will Twitter owned by Musk look like?

Musk once said that he hopes to make Twitter a "digital city square", open source the algorithm of the platform, drive out the robot army, and allow people to post tweets as they please "within the legal scope".

But the reality is that Twitter has just had a chaotic week, with nearly half a million Twitter users looking elsewhere.

Ideal is omnipotent, reality is chaotic

On November 11, Twitter suspended the $8-a-month "Blue V Verification" feature after making a mess.

Previously, most of the users with blue V certification on Twitter were public figures who had passed the identity verification. But since Musk changed it to a fee-based project for all users, all users can get a certification mark by paying $8.

In Musk's view, paid authentication can reduce zombie accounts and is the "best balancer", but its short career actually illustrates the chaos that can result when anyone pays to become a public figure.

A large number of fake accounts posing as brands, celebrities, and politicians appeared on Twitter. Fake Musk spread information about defrauding virtual currency. What Twitter is selling is not equality, but "authenticity" for sale, and the consequences can be imagined.

The $8 authentication service was once considered by Musk as an important channel for Twitter to increase revenue because it is a subscription service other than advertising. On November 9, Musk mentioned in Twitter’s first all-staff letter:

Without significant subscription revenue, there's a good chance Twitter won't survive the coming recession. We want these subscription revenues to account for 50% of our total revenue. Of course, we will still rely heavily on advertising.

At least for now, Twitter still uses advertising as its main source of income, but now even advertisers don't trust Twitter.

Omnicom, one of the world's largest ad agencies, whose clients include Apple, PepsiCo and McDonald's, is advising clients to hold off on advertising on Twitter for now amid layoffs from Twitter's trust and safety team, the resignation of high-profile executives and a raft of "verified "fake accounts", leading to "excessive brand safety risk".

▲ Picture from: getty images

The chaos of paid authentication is just a microcosm after Twitter was acquired. Since Musk came to power, Twitter has continued to operate in a variety of confusing and even contradictory ways.

While saying that a "content review committee with a wide range of different views" will be formed, no major content decisions will be made before that; while issuing his own ruling, he suspended the Twitter account that imitated Musk himself, and the regulations did not clearly mark "imitation" Accounts that impersonate others will be permanently suspended.

While hoping to allow people to tweet as much as they want “within the law,” while cutting the accessibility experience team and disbanding the team that researched machine learning ethics, transparency and accountability, this may be difficult for users who are often harassed and users with disabilities. is a disaster.

Chaos is chaos, and the road ahead may be bright. In early October, Musk tweeted that the acquisition of Twitter was an "accelerator to create the universal application "X"", and his target may be his role model WeChat. In a recent live broadcast with advertisers, Musk also plans to introduce the payment function into Twitter and launch a function similar to Yu'e Bao.

However, before being acquired by Musk, Twitter, which was entrusted with the vision of "universal application", had long been "dead."

Reuters reported at the end of October that since the outbreak, Twitter’s “heavy users” have been decreasing.

A "heavy user" is defined as someone who logs into Twitter six to seven days a week and tweets about three to four times a week. They account for less than 10% of total monthly users but post 90% of all tweets. Twitter brings in half of global revenue.

The so-called "heavy users" can't send a tweet a day on average. Among them, English-language heavy users are most interested in cryptocurrency and pornography, and their interest in news, sports, and entertainment has weakened, but the latter is the topic most needed by advertisers.

Twitter’s “big community” is also in decline, with interest in esports and streaming celebrities declining, and users interested in fashion or celebrities like the Kardashians may turn to rival platforms like Instagram and TikTok.

▲ Picture from: getty images

At the same time, Musk, who is in charge of Twitter, advocates reducing content review and conducting large-scale layoffs, which may further exacerbate the deterioration of content quality. That put Twitter in a position where it pulled itself, with one Twitter researcher writing: "There seems to be a significant discrepancy between my imagined company values ​​and our growth model."

Twitter's sweeping overhaul has only just begun, but people are already looking elsewhere, to potentially better social media.

Would a more "small and beautiful" social platform be better?

Mastodon (originally meaning a mastodon, commonly known as a mammoth in China) is a platform where many Twitter users choose to "relocate".

As of November 7, Mastodon had nearly 1.03 million monthly active users, adding 1,124 servers and nearly 490,000 new users since October 27.

▲ On November 7th, more than 135,000 users joined Mastodon.

Chosen by fleeing Twitter users, Mastodon must have its own uniqueness, and it is often described as a "decentralized alternative to Twitter."

On the one hand, Mastodon's user interface and operation method are similar to Twitter;

On the other hand, Mastodon is different from Twitter, where life and death are highly centralized. It is a semi-decentralized system, not controlled by a single entity, but a community or server created by each user (the platform calls them "instances").

▲ Picture from: getty images

Mastodon's code is open source, and anyone can create their own communities, each running their own servers and enforcing their own rules. These communities are interconnected but not dependent on each other . After you choose your own community, you can also send messages to users in other communities.

Mastodon founder Eugen Rochko likens these communities to email, "You may prefer Gmail, but you can still write a letter to your uncle who stays at AOL (another free email service)".

▲ Different "instances".

This also means that Mastodon’s community has radical, peaceful, popular and niche ones, and can set rules closely following current events, such as "no mention of Musk", or play word games, such as posts The letter "e" is not allowed.

Mastodon, a form of community federation and autonomy, avoids the common problems of Twitter and Facebook, especially in terms of reviewing and regulating speech. Because the former is to make each community responsible for itself, and the latter is faced with millions or even hundreds of millions of users, and the difficulty level of management is completely different.

In addition to community self-regulation, Mastodon users can take advantage of a number of blocking, muting, and reporting tools.

▲ Mastodon's public opposition to the extreme social platform Gab (machine translation).

However, due to the nature of decentralization, the founders cannot do whatever they want, so Mastodon also has very extreme communities. Their existence cannot be erased, but their sense of existence can be reduced. The founding team will block violations of "anti-racism, Many administrators will also make similar moves on their own servers.

Cause and effect are mutual. Mastodon's scale and rules give it a "utopian" quality, and it may not be as strong as Twitter. Eugen Rochko believes that it is difficult for Mastodon to replicate the network effects of other social media. "People go where their friends are, and most people's friends are still on Facebook and Twitter."

It's not just network effects that limit scale, joining Mastodon is more complicated than Twitter, and its reliability depends entirely on the server you sign up for. Recently, Mastodon was clearly not ready for the influx of users.

Many Twitter users complained about not receiving verification emails and unable to activate Mastodon accounts; some communities had to migrate data to larger servers, some communities were urgently recruiting volunteers, and some communities no longer accepted new registrations.

Servers aren't a recent problem with Mastodon. In 2019, Mastodon's servers were unreachable about 10% of the time, compared to even early Twitter, which was offline only about 1.25% of the time.

▲ Mastodon is popular on Twitter.

This is actually a manifestation of the contradiction between large and small platforms: users expect Mastodon to be as stable as the products of large technology companies, but the volunteer-driven network means that Mastodon cannot cope with it freely.

And on a more fundamental level, Mastodon and Twitter aren't a life-and-death relationship; they're fundamentally different. For example, Mastodon can help you communicate more deeply in like-minded small circles, but it cannot help you become famous, and it is difficult for you to make money.

From the beginning, founder Eugen Rochko deliberately set Mastodon apart from Twitter. Before founding Mastodon, he was dissatisfied with Twitter's advertising policies and its failure to solve harassment, so he made products that avoided these problems as much as possible from the root cause.

At present, most Mastodon servers do not have advertisements, but are sponsored by companies or individuals. Even if advertisements are introduced in the future, because most users and content are distributed on their own servers, it is difficult to segment audiences and target advertisements.

In the long run, Mastodon administrators may inevitably run into censorship issues as the number of servers and members increases.

However, when big technology companies frequently disappoint, Mastodon may represent an ideal direction for social media: there is no centralized authority, and under the rules everyone agrees with, users form like-minded groups and say what they want to say .

As Eugen Rochko said: "We have come up with a social media vision that no billionaire can buy and own. The ability for people to communicate online should not be the whim of a commercial company."

Twitter cannot do this. No matter how loose the content review is and how arbitrary the rules are, Twitter owned by Musk is still not owned by users.

The Mastodon distributed social network model may not be new either. It is more like a return to the old Internet, like the theme community of Tieba twenty years ago, or even the QQ zone of more than ten years ago, but in the current network environment It is indeed getting scarcer.

Social media wants to become "big and wide"

In written definitions, social media often refers to virtual communities and online platforms that people use to create, share, and exchange opinions, opinions, and experiences. Compared with traditional mass media (newspapers, radio, television, etc.), they allow users to Enjoy more choice rights and editing capabilities, and assemble into a kind of community on your own.

But from the perspective of technology companies , social media refers to a platform that uses user growth for advertiser revenue, because advertising has always been one of the most important sources of profit for social media.

▲ Picture from: unsplash

These social media connect us to each other and make everything seem free. We are here to connect with friends, exchange opinions, enjoy the pleasure of being liked and commented on posts, view advertisements, and leave personal data. Companies pay for these data, which are then used for advertising positioning and provide more relevant goods, services and experiences. .

As the scale of the platform increases and the number of posts increases, algorithms are also introduced and play an increasingly important role. For example, since 2009, Facebook's news feed has been sorted by algorithm instead of chronological order by default. Some argue that this is a driver of extremism, misinformation, hate speech, and more.

The truth is, people are more likely to increase engagement because of anger . Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen said in an interview after his resignation that Facebook has been using algorithms to push posts that make you angry, because studies have found that people are more active in replying, consuming, and clicking on ads when they are angry.

We come and go on these social media channels, and we may often be angry, but they are never ours. Every major aspect of social media is privately owned and operated, as Vice puts it :

The data we generate, the data centers that hold it, the algorithms that process it, the servers that host it, the teams that label, classify, and interact with it, the cables that carry it… none of it is ours.

So in Vice's view, just turning to Mastodon won't solve the problem. The real enemy of social media is all the complex systems that dominate communication networks. Speculators, monopolies, rent seekers and asset managers financialize everything they can .

The reality is indeed the case. Mastodon has always been tepid. It may be TikTok that really makes Twitter, Meta, etc. tremble, because it has received too much attention and useful data.

▲ Picture from: getty images

However, TikTok is more like an entertainment platform than a social media. Its recommendation algorithm is not designed for social interaction between people, but for "passive consumption" – we pay attention to our favorite creators , or passively accept feedings on the "Guess You Like" page, and get caught in a constant scrolling loop.

On the other hand, mainstream social media now has too many negative connotations, such as extreme information, pornographic content, rumors…

▲ Picture from: Simple Psychology

Therefore, TikTok itself may prefer to define it as a broader entertainment platform. Social media industry analyst Matt Navarra once pointed out: "TikTok may be trying to promote itself to advertisers as an entertainment destination and a safer choice than social media."

TikTok has a complex recommendation algorithm behind it, but in simple form, it creates a more addictive app than social media before it, and it is also a centralized platform that also sells attention to advertisers.

▲ Picture from: shutterstock

Under the enduring magic of TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all have a tendency to TikTok.

In December 2021, Twitter announced that it was testing a new feature that would turn the "Explore" page in its app into a TikTok-like video source; in August 2020, Instagram launched the short video feature Reels, which also imitated TikTok.

When talking to Twitter employees for the first time, Musk also said that in the future, Twitter can learn TikTok in addition to WeChat. “We can hone Twitter in the same way as TikTok and make it fun.”

▲ Picture from: Reuters

Coincidentally, similar to Twitter’s vision of the future of the universal application “X”, TikTok also has its own lofty goals. In April of this year, Khartoon Weiss, TikTok’s global agency and customer leader, mentioned in a speech that making TikTok a super app is likely to be a path the company will explore.

When mainstream social media or entertainment platforms become "bigger" and the nature of serving advertisers remains the same, we will inevitably need or miss distributed communities such as post bars, forums, and Mastodon. They are far from perfect, but It is the past of social networking, and it also represents another future of social networking.

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