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  1. The Staggers
6 July 2023

We are heading for social media burnout

With Meta’s Twitter rival Threads comes yet another online profile to maintain. Exhaustion will ensue.

By Chris Stokel-Walker

As a journalist, sharing my stories with the world used to be relatively simple. Before October 2022, I would log on to Twitter – the place that most of my peers in the industry inhabited – and would share a link. Then I would wait for the responses to roll in and engage with the comments. That was easy.

Fast forward nine months and things are trickier. Elon Musk has managed to torpedo Twitter’s reputation, and engagement and users have dropped precipitously. Nevertheless, decision makers remain on Twitter, and we have to show willing – so I have to post there.

However, as the deathly drumbeat for Twitter’s future has become louder, alternatives have cropped up; around a dozen of them with varying backgrounds and likelihoods of success. Of those, three are now front-runners.

Mastodon was the first lifeboat we all moved onto – though it turned out that only around 1.6 per cent of those who threatened to make the leap to Mastodon actually did so. The decentralised app still lives on, as does the fediverse, but with a niche, nerdy audience.

Then came Bluesky, the trendy alternative to Twitter. When people decamped en masse to Bluesky after Musk made a move that appeared to blow up his own platform, it appeared like it had captured lightning in a bottle. It was cool, weird and exciting. And the user base matched much of the audience on media Twitter.

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But it could soon be eclipsed by Threads, the latest Twitter killer – this time produced by Meta, the parent company behind Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Launched overnight, Threads gained 10 million users in seven hours. The experience is… fine, and given Meta’s financial backing and big reputation, it’s more likely to succeed than most.

The problem is, it’s the fourth such app you now have to engage with. The race to replace Twitter has four horses. And there are enough potentially fatal flaws with each that it’s impossible at present to back a sure-fire winner. The favourites are undoubtedly Threads with its billionaire backing, and Bluesky as the crowd favourite. Mastodon is trailing behind. But Twitter is like the old nag that still has life left in it. It could find its form again, and pip the others at the line.

In the meantime, users are trying to ride all four at once – even as they pull in drastically different directions. The time spent curating your digital presence on one platform is now spread across four. For the hyperconnected who need – either for their well-being or their professional life – to keep abreast of everything happening online, there are four times as many posts to read.

It’s tiring. And it has worrying echoes of the way that professional content creators – influencers – have been stretched to add “just one more” platform to their digital presence in the last five years. Adding another platform and then another platform resulted in mass burnout for many YouTubers as they struggled to salami-slice themselves for their audience.

We run the risk of the same thing happening here for a wider online audience as we try to keep on top of all the apps vying to replace Twitter. Keeping track of four different platforms, four different audiences, and four different conversations is impossible to do for a prolonged period.

We’ve had plenty of new apps. And now the 500lb gorilla – Meta – has entered the room, it’s time for new Twitter alternatives to stop appearing. In fact, it’s time for some horses in the race to drop out – for the good of our sanity.

[See also: How does Britain build a “good” digital society?]

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