Sheer chaos has surrounded Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter over the last few weeks. More than half of Twitter’s employees have been fired or have resigned. The verification system no longer means much. And some users have reported problems with security features. So if you have an account on the social network, what do you do?
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. But this continuing spectacle presents an opportunity for us to learn how to have healthier relationships with social platforms so we are not dependent on any one of them.
First, it is important to understand what is happening at Twitter. Threat experts told me they were concerned that the turmoil at Twitter, including the sudden lack of cybersecurity leaders and many community moderators, would cause parts of the site to stop working and, at worst, that security holes might lead to compromised accounts. But deactivating a Twitter account also poses risks because an impersonator could then more easily manipulate a person’s followers.
What’s more, those who have already left Twitter quickly realized there was no real alternative. Apps such as Mastodon, the open-source site that involves posting on a social feed similar to Twitter’s timeline, are tricky for most people to set up. Reddit is more siloed by topics. LinkedIn is work-focused, Pinterest is centered on hobbies, TikTok is video-centric and Meta’s Facebook — well, let’s just say it has its own problems.
“Usually when we have an exodus, we’re going from one place to another,” said Zizi Papacharissi, a professor of communication at the University of Illinois-Chicago. “Here, the problem is, what is the other?”
Yet there is a silver lining. This tumultuous situation with Twitter, according to social media consultants and security experts I interviewed, can serve as a template with valuable lessons for everyone, including casual tweeters and celebrities, on how to safely navigate any social network.
The first lesson is to always have an exit strategy — a plan for what to do with your data and contacts — in case things go awry. Lesson two is to avoid overinvesting time and energy on any one social media site; hedge your bets by posting on multiple platforms that serve your needs.
And finally, remember that there was life before any of these social media apps, including Twitter. That will make it easier to forge a path forward.
Let’s unpack how to do all of that.
Plan an exit strategy
With any tech service, I always advise having a plan for pulling out your data, including your old photos and musings, in case something changes that makes you unhappy.
For Twitter, follow the steps listed on its site to download a copy of your account data. You could then take actions like deleting sensitive information, such as direct messages. Bear in mind that if you delete a direct message, it will disappear only on your end; the other people in the conversation also need to delete it. Once all parties involved have deleted the conversation, Twitter is expected to purge it from its servers within about 10 days, according to a person familiar with the product, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. Musk did not respond to a request for comment on whether he would continue that policy.
Twitter, which laid off its public relations team, did not respond to a request for comment.
Your Twitter timeline is simpler to manage. Tools like Semiphemeral automate the process of purging all your tweets from a specific period, such as those that are older than 30 days.
Whatever you do, though, resist deactivating your Twitter account, several security experts said. In the past, Twitter gave public figures a blue check mark once they had shown the company proof of their identities. But the new system allows anyone to pay $8 a month to get a check mark, making impersonation easier.
Influential people such as politicians and celebrities are most likely to be impersonated, but this could also be harmful for anyone who uses Twitter to follow friends and family members. Imagine a scenario in which an impostor creates an account with your name and persuades a relative to wire you some money in an emergency, said Casey Ellis, the chief technology officer of the security firm Bugcrowd. This is more likely to be a problem if you have deleted your real account.
“It’s a cheap attack that could affect anyone,” Ellis said.
Another part of an exit strategy should be a plan to bring your followers along. You can advertise where else you reside on social media on your Twitter bio, for example, or even write a post about it.
Anil Dash, a tech entrepreneur, listed his Mastodon username on his Twitter profile and said he had used a web tool, Fedifinder, to search for his Twitter contacts on Mastodon. He now has about 11,300 Mastodon followers, a small chunk of his 500,000 followers on Twitter.
Spread your bets
Another way to not be too invested in one site such as Twitter is to have an active presence on multiple platforms.
Joseph Rothstein, CEO of the digital marketing agency Social Media 55, said to search for overlap between platforms to make it efficient to cross-post on multiple networks.
For example, TikTok creators could easily post their video content on Instagram’s Reels, a TikTok clone. They could also repurpose some of their content on YouTube. Those who like design or home renovation photos might enjoy both Pinterest and Instagram. People who regularly write about their field of work on Twitter, which is text-focused, could consider cross-posting on LinkedIn, the professional networking site owned by Microsoft, or on Mastodon.
Whatever you post about, make sure to use multiple platforms if you care about sustaining a strong social media presence, Rothstein said.
Then if you need to make a shift, he said, “it’s not switching over to something else more than it is turning the intensity on some of the other platforms.”
Learn to let go
If you ultimately decide you want to leave Twitter, you can make your exit by following the steps to deactivate your account, which is done through your account settings.
Being OK with letting go is a valuable lesson that we can apply to any of the social networks, which are all in flux. Papacharissi, the communications professor, said it was important to remember that if people left Twitter, that was Twitter’s problem.
“Unless you have people who are sharing meaningful information, then you have nothing,” she said.
As long as we have a solid exit strategy and a diversified social media presence, users of these platforms don’t need any one company.
As for me, I recently invited my Twitter followers to follow my posts on LinkedIn. I also created a Mastodon account (mstdn.social/@bxchen), where I plan to start posting soon.