By Nicole Thompson in Toronto
Having tweeted more than 60,000 times and amassed upwards of 6,000 followers in the last decade, Dan Seljak is a self-described Twitter “power user” — one with complicated feelings about the direction the site has taken since it was purchased by Elon Musk last year.
In addition to political differences with Musk, Seljak has encountered usability issues since the company changed hands, most recently when it temporarily limited the number of tweets each user could see per day in an apparent attempt to relieve the company’s overloaded infrastructure.
That was part of the impetus for Seljak to join Threads, Meta’s new Twitter competitor. He’s among the 100 million users who signed up for the Facebook owner’s new microblogging site in its first five days, including celebrities such as Ryan Reynolds, Simu Liu, and Jay Baruchel.
It’s the latest in a slate of options for would-be Twitter emigres, including Bluesky — which is by invitation only for now — and Mastodon, where one toots instead of tweets.
Seljak, who works in marketing, has tried them all, but so far, none has been able to pull him away from Twitter.
“My brand on Twitter is being mean about urban issues and municipal politics. Or, not mean — snarky,” he said. “It is a tone that is not particularly one I would adopt in a professional setting or even at a social function. It has very much been crafted by the social norms of Twitter. So I can’t use that voice exactly on Threads.”
That’s in part because Threads makes it easy to import your Instagram following to the new app. The audience of Toronto urbanists Seljak has cultivated on Twitter over the years is very different from the co-workers, family and friends who follow him on Instagram and now Threads.
Bluesky, meanwhile, has more of an insular feeling since it’s not yet open to the general public, he said. That means it lacks some of the positive attributes of Twitter — namely that he can engage with a large audience about issues that matter to him, such as Toronto’s recent municipal election.
As for Mastodon, which emerged as an early alternative to Musk’s Twitter last year, Seljak found the fragmented social network so difficult to use that he abandoned it after a mere three days.
So for now, Twitter remains Seljak’s home base.
Some notable Canadians appear to be taking a similar tack. Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh are both still active on Twitter, but have also publicly joined Threads. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, has not.
Goran Calic, an associate professor of strategic management at McMaster University, said all of the various Twitter alternatives — including Parler and Truth Social, which drew a far-right audience when Donald Trump was kicked off Twitter before Musk bought the platform — could stand the test of time.
But will any of them replace Twitter? He’s more skeptical about that.
“If you’re talking about a social media platform that is extremely broad-based and established that has these strong social network effects of being used by most world leaders, most business leaders, most journalists, Twitter is going to be very difficult to unseat,” Calic said.
“This is just the nature of the fact that Twitter was the first and everybody is on Twitter, and people are getting good at and used to using Twitter.”
As for Threads specifically, he said the app’s close link to Instagram means it could have a different audience than Twitter.
People go to Twitter for information, he said, whereas they go to Instagram for inspiration.
That image-loving Instagram audience will affect the tone of Threads, Calic said, unless it draws a large contingent of Twitter expats.
But rebuilding an audience, curating a news feed and learning a new platform is a daunting task, so it may take more than the occasional flub from Musk to drive people away from Twitter altogether.
Crystal-Rose Madore, who has more than 7,000 followers on Twitter, is among those holding out on signing up for Threads.
“I’m not interested in having another platform connected to Meta,” she said. “I already have Facebook. I don’t use IG. It’s superfluous from a company that isn’t doing a great job with the one thing I do use from them, so I’m not going to sign up for more.”
Instead, she’s mostly sticking to Twitter. She signed up for Bluesky when Twitter was limiting the number of tweets users could view, and now she sees it as a bit of an “insurance policy” in case Twitter becomes unusable again.
But so long as the site remains free and operational, Madore doesn’t see herself leaving.
“It’s an established network built organically from years of idle jokes and serious conversations with people I otherwise would never engage with. It’s provided me opportunities and perspectives I otherwise wouldn’t encounter,” she said. “Why would I leave if not forced?”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 12, 2023.
Banner image via The Canadian Press