Last week, Elon Musk’s Twitter denied 3rd party Twitter apps access to the Twitter API. No reason was given. No-one from Twitter mentioned it or offered to look into the issue. Something clearly happened though, and a week later we were told that 3rd party Twitter clients were breaking a long-standing rule. Which rule? Well, we had to wait until Twitter added the long-standing rule to their Terms & Conditions for us to find out. When they did, it was clear that the time of 3rd party Twitter clients was over, as Twitter did not want people making substitute services.
Why is this a big deal? 3rd party Twitter apps came first, before Twitter even had one. They shaped the modern Twitter experience. To be cast to the side in a blunt, cowardly, rude way is quite the statement. The bird icon, the Retweet, @someone replies, #hashtags, all came from the community. That community has been well and truly burnt by Elon Musk and is now off Twitter. I depended on those apps for various reasons, which means that I’m now off Twitter too.
I could use the official Twitter app, except that it is awful. The main page is a “For you” page. How is an algorithm supposed to know what I need at any moment during the day? Can it account for sensory moments, ADHD spikes or general browsing? Having someone / something else chose the content for me is like having someone chose my meals. Your tastes are not my tastes. No matter how good you believe something to be, you are not in my body, so you cannot know how it will react to such things. No to algorithms.
The second page is “Following” and in theory that is content I want to see. Except when it isn’t. How are people still using those personal newspaper services? Paper.li for example. No. Just no. 3rd party Twitter clients allow you to block/mute by client ID. You can follow someone for their thoughts while blocking automated posts from Paper.li or IFTTT (If That Then This) for example. In doing this, you can distill the Twitter experience down to what people are actually saying, rather than perhaps marketing or repeating on a day by day scheduled post basis.
Another great feature of 3rd party apps is muting of retweets by others I do not wish to see. On default Twitter you can mute someone but if someone else retweets them, they pop up into your timeline. That is not good for me. I can easily be triggered by ghosts from the past. If I mute / block someone, I never want to see them again. What usually happens is someone retweets a muted account and my depression takes over. “Oh, but they’re all still friends. They clearly chose them over you. Remember that time that thing happened?” You can never move on from a bad time in your life. I’m still trying to process stuff from 13 years ago. I need to feel OK on Twitter, but I can’t now.
To prevent autistic overload, anxiety creeping in and depression taking hold, I relied on 3rd party Twitter apps like Tweetbot and Twitterrific. I could set my main timeline to a list rather than the main feed if I needed to focus on a subject or found the default Twitter timeline too overwhelming. I had control over my Twitter experience. It’s a key reason I dislike Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. They want you to see certain things and will happily discuss mental health, but they cannot offer you full control over your experience because their actual clients are advertisers. It is a massive shame.
I have switched to Mastodon for my microblogging experience, and I am enjoying it. A service built by queer trans autistic folk with a strong belief in consent and accessibility. That is home for now. I will still, reluctantly, promote my work on Twitter, but it will be more of a business account now. The hardest part is seeing people I still use the service, as if I’m standing alone outside a Weatherspoons holding on to a bag filled with principles in the rain while my mates are inside enjoying beer and friendship. Unfortunately, that in itself is a trigger for my depression, but is it a bigger trigger than using Twitter? Time will tell.