Twitter (renamed to X but still widely known as Twitter) has been a seemingly essential part of the world of public affairs, digital discourse and communication for more than a decade. As with other social media platforms, it is often used ‘by default’, without much consideration for ethical issues.
NICW has a Twitter account; with 510 followers, it has proved to be a useful tool for us to extend our reach to an online community that is – perhaps – not generally well engaged with issues of infrastructure.
The changes made by the new owner of Twitter, Elon Musk, means that we have taken another look at our uncritical adoption of this platform.
The organisation is a private company headquartered in the USA. Like many other large digital platforms, the model consists of users providing content for free. This content is then distributed across the platform, along with advertising that is highly targeted to the individual based on forensic tracking of online activities.
This business model depends on keeping users using the platform. Generally speaking, this is achieved most successfully by algorithms that promote ‘shock’ or ‘outrage’ content, largely at the expense of moderate tone and discussion. This has a polarising effect on public discourse, at precisely the time when we need to work more collaboratively in finding common cause to solve society-wide problems.
In a world without a viable alternative, most organisations would accept these negatives as the price of being able to communicate with a wide audience.
However the recent rise of open-source, not-for-profit alternatives such as Mastodon gives us the opportunity to participate in the rich world of social media, without many of the down-sides of the traditional platforms.
Open source products, by their very nature, are more aligned with the ‘Future Generations’ approach, as they are effectively a product of the Commons. The most popular Twitter alternative, Mastodon, has no advertising, and the developers are consistently committed to moderation against racism, sexism, and transphobia. This comes as a welcome relief when compared to the failure of Twitter to police the proliferation of hate speech, and the recent announcement that far-right commentators are being paid directly for their content.
Noting the recent decisions by the Australian Public Broadcaster and National Public Radio in the USA to stop posting on Twitter, we have decided to follow suit in winding down our use of Twitter. You will be able to find our social media content on a variety of platforms, including Mastodon, Pixelfed and LinkedIn.
In posting on the Welsh instance of Mastodon – toot.wales – we have a ready-made Welsh audience for our content. We will be supporting an open source project. And we will be lessening – to a tiny degree – the influence of Twitter on public discourse. We believe that our decision is well aligned with the Goals and Ways of Working of the Well-being of Future Generations Act.
We are keen to share our experiences of open-source social media with other publicly-funded bodies in order to accelerate the move towards a kinder, better informed and more sustainable model of public discourse. If our decision sparks some interest in your organisation, don’t hesitate to drop us a line.