Twitter now has a new owner (yes, I know you knew, but it does bear repeating), and the social network (not to mention most other media outlets that follow popular culture and tech) is awash in speculation of what Elon Musk will do with it. Some Twitter users are declaring that they plan to find an alternative rather than stick around and find out — and some have already left.
So if you want to continue following social networking but no longer want to deal with Twitter, where do you go? We’ve looked around and found several possible alternatives. Most don’t have the size and scale of Twitter, and it’s hard to say if any of them will attract enough followers to give it a run for its money. Some of them ape the real-time feed of Twitter, but most provide a different take on what a social network can look like. Depending on what you get out of Twitter — perhaps you use it to broadcast your work or maybe you use it to keep up with news events, or maybe you use it to connect with other Twitter users — you might prefer some of these options over others. But take a look, and see if any of these seem worth checking out.
Mastodon is sort of a decentralized version of Twitter. You don’t join Mastodon per se; you join a specific server run by an organization, individual, or group of individuals. The moderation policies are determined by each group (although there are basic moderation policies that apply to all the servers). You’re not limited to a single server; you can follow people or have followers from other servers, and you can change servers — or create your own.
On Mastodon, you post toots (rather than tweets) with a 500-word limit per post; you can attach images, a video, or an audio file. Hashtags are encouraged to help people find your toots, and there are apps for iOS and Android devices. (There is also a beginner’s guide to Mastodon and a site with a bunch of tips.
To sign up, you go to https://joinmastodon.org/ and click on the Servers link at the top of the page to choose which server you want to sign up for. You can choose to search by topic and / or language. Some will let you join immediately; others have waiting lists. You might want to start with one of the more populated ones, such as mastodon.social (which at last count had about 779 thousand users).
Reddit is a well-known network that has been around for quite a while. The site is modeled off of classic message boards, and so doesn’t look or act the same as a Twitter feed — instead, it is divided into subgroups, known as subreddits, and you can join whatever subreddit piques your interest — anime, crochet, Star Wars, sci-fi literature, or whatever flavor of politics, religion, or social topics you may want to chat about.
There can be more than one subreddit handling a different aspect of a topic or that has a different type of moderation. Each subreddit has its own rules, and the moderator can kick you out if you don’t adhere to them. You start a topic, and the discussion on that topic is threaded; you can upvote or downvote a topic or one of the entries in a topic. Because the interface is threaded, there can be discussions in which an author answers questions about a book or a tech expert helps with problems. But Reddit is big, so expect to spend some time exploring before you find your communities.
Cohost is a new social network that is still in the beta phase. Anyone can sign up, but if you don’t have an invitation, you will have to wait a day or two before you can actually post; you can, however, look around. (It only took about 24 hours for me to be activated.) As with Twitter, you follow the posts of other people; however, posts are always shown in the order they were posted rather than via any kind of algorithmic listing. Pages are created around specific users or topics; you can follow a page or follow a topic (indicated by a hash mark). If somebody wants to follow you, you must approve them first.
Tumblr — which launched in 2007 and has gone through its fair share of corporate owners — is more a series of blogs rather than a discussion social network per se. You can easily scroll through the latest entries of all the people you follow; click on the entry to see (and participate in) any discussions. Each entry offers text, image, or video-based; followers can then discuss the entries via attached notes. You can also reblog (in other words, put the entry into your feed) or share the entry to other services.
Unlike the previous services, Tumblr does have advertising, although you can get rid of the ads for $4.99 a month or $39.99 a year.
Discord is more an invitational discussion service than a free-for-all social network. It is made up of separate servers that allow participants to participate in text discussions, video and voice calls, and exchange files; the interface can be heavily tweaked by the administrators depending on how they want to handle permissions, discussions, icons, etc. In other words, Discord can be a very useful tool, especially in the hands of someone who is reasonably tech-savvy.
When you download the Discord app (which is available for both desktops and mobile devices), you can list as many of the groups you belong to as you like on the left side of the screen. For example, if you’ve got a server from your company, a fan club, or a group of friends, you can easily click from one to the other.
CounterSocial is the first social networking app I came across that also includes a VR aspect (which it calls Counter Realms). But if you want to keep to the basics, then this social network boasts on its front page that it doesn’t allow trolls, ads, or fake news — and in fact, it currently bans several countries for being “origin points” for bots, such as Russian, China, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, and Syria.
Its UI works via a series of columns rather than the traditional feed; if you’ve ever used Tweetdeck, you’ve got a fair idea of what CounterSocial looks like. You can use each column to follow different hashtags or user lists. You can pin columns in their place or move them around the interface; arrange notifications for replies or new entries. There is also a chat link for support and conflict resolution. The social network is free; a Pro account costs $4.99 a month and includes additional security, access to other feeds such as traffic radio and news videos, and entry into Counter Realms.
WT.Social is a fairly straightforward social network that advertises itself as non-toxic. WT stands for “WikiTribune,” which was apparently a previous iteration of the site; it is hosted on GitHub. The interface is very Facebook-like, with a central feed; you can follow people (“friends”) or topics (“subwikis”), and if you don’t find a subwiki that deals with a topic you’re interested in, you can create your own. You can add images or videos to your posts; the site is still said to be in beta.
If you are looking for an alternative to Twitter, you probably don’t need to be told about Facebook, and if you’re not on Facebook, that’s likely intentional. But as my colleague Monica Chin mentions in her how-to on quitting Twitter, “there are a lot of horrible, terrible, no good, very bad things about Facebook. But if you miss the ability to keep up with family and friends on Twitter, you can do that on Facebook, too.” It is true that despite the algorithm-powered feeds, the frequent advertising, and the possible privacy violations, there are still a lot of people — often family members — who still use Facebook. And there it is.
There are a number of other social networking resources out there, of course; we’ve only touched on a few here.
- While most of the networks listed above predominantly depend on the written word, there are some quite popular social networks that use video as their main means of communication, such as TikTok and BeReal. If you’re comfortable with using video — or even prefer it to text-based social networking — those are a couple of places to go.
- There are, of course, other networks that focus on specific needs or communities. For example, LinkedIn is geared toward business and job hunts (and thinkfluencing, of course), while DeviantArt is a place for the visual arts community.
- There are also networks that are still in the works. One that is often mentioned but whose future may be in question is Bluesky. This experiment in creating a decentralized social network is funded by Twitter, so it will be interesting to see what happens over the next few weeks.
- And, of course, there is the traditional blog — which is still a way to communicate with friends, family, and (if you’re a creative) fans. Which blogging service and / or software you use depends on what you want to do, who you want to show it to, and how comfortable you are with the technology.
The point is — no social network is forever (such as the late lamented Compuserve, the pre-MySpace Friendster, and the yes-it-is-still-there-sort-of AOL). Twitter has definitely had a strong influence on community discourse over the last few years; we’ll have to see whether it will retain that influence under this new chapter and, if not, what will replace it.