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How to leave Twitter but keep your followers

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Thanks to Elon Musk’s rather shaky approach to free speech, employee relations, subscriptions, parody, and disinformation, many people have taken to Twitter to declare they’re quitting. They will find it difficult.

This is not because Twitter is addictive. Not so for most people. Because Twitter offers something you can’t get anywhere else: a series of connections with other users and the ability to stay in touch with them. If you only have one supermarket, it’s not ‘addictive’. You would describe it as a local monopoly.

Like many people, I set off for new pastures. Mastodon (You can find me on Mastodon Econ Twitter server). But he has nearly 200,000 people following me on Twitter, so I’m sure I’ll keep tweeting. it’s annoying. I wish I could take it all to Mastodon. A colossal failure of inconceivable public policy.

To understand this more clearly, imagine that you decide you don’t want to stick with your mobile operator. After minimal paperwork, I was able to move to another network. My friends didn’t even realize what I did. You can keep the same phone and the same phone number.

even if it it wasn’t Admittedly, my phone is already much better than Twitter in another way. That is, you can call people whose phones are connected to different networks. Completely seamless. You might be using EE, Vodafone, or O2, it doesn’t matter. A world where you can only call people who use the same phone network as you is a proverb. It would also very likely be a world where the biggest he-one or he-two networks would dominate and many would feel he had to carry two phones. For social media power users who hop between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn, all of this may sound familiar.

The difference here is that unlike Twitter, the phone networks are interoperable. It’s not just the phone network. Apple and Google make software that reads and writes Microsoft Word files. You don’t need an Outlook account to email an Outlook friend, and you don’t need a separate Gmail account of hers for a Gmail friend. Even if your bank is different from mine, I can send you a bank transfer.

In some cases (as with email), this interoperability is by design. In some cases (like banks and mobile phones), it is enforced by regulation. There may also be compatibility issues with competitors. Apple decided to create software that worked well with Microsoft Office, but Microsoft couldn’t do much to stop it.


as Rebecca Giblin and Corey Doctorow explain in their new book chokepoint capitalism, there is no technical reason why such portability cannot extend to things like Twitter and Facebook. A short essay Doctorow wrote for the Electronic Frontier Foundation outlines what it looks like.

First, alternatively, sign up for the Mastodon server. Enter your Twitter password. Twitter will confirm that you are authorized to connect and that you are not a hacker. Then let your friend know you’ve moved to his Mastodon and ask if they’re happy with the tweets being forwarded to you. (Alternatively, they may refuse if you move to the crazy towns of Truth Social or Parler.)

Why did you move to the new service? There are any number of reasons. Maybe blue ticks are free over there, and maybe advertising doesn’t rely on creepy surveillance. Maybe content moderation is more muscular. Or maybe there is no content moderation and that’s your preference.

The bottom line is that if Facebook and Twitter could interoperate with their rivals, it would be easier to transition and bring the digital network with them. If your friends prefer the old social network, they will be happy to stay there while keeping in touch with you. And the whole arrangement will trivially encourage new competitors to enter the market while upping their game for existing players.

Interoperability often works best with some regulatory authority behind it. One approach (but not the only way) is to legislate to establish broad defenses against interoperators. If I, as a Twitter user, want to sign up for a new interoperability service that allows me to use my password to send posts from Mastodon to Twitter and pull tweets from Twitter to Mastodon for viewing, Twitter would like me to It cannot be prohibited. Or sue the interop service to do so.

The world of interoperable social media can be intimidating to some. That could boost struggling right-wing platforms like Parler and Trus Social. It will arguably become much more difficult for social media companies to act as arbiters of what speech is unacceptable. But giving social media companies the power to monopolize what they can and cannot say was never a good idea. It was an even worse idea.

Tim Harford’s new book “how to add up the world

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