There’s never really been a shortage of reasons to spend less time on Twitter. Even before Elon Musk’s chaotic takeover, the platform was long plagued by misinformation, hate speech, harassment and other ills that made it less than welcoming.
There’s never been a better time to quit Twitter. The Elon Musk-induced chaos at the company has breathed new life into a crop of alternative platforms, and has inspired a new wave of competing efforts to win over disillusioned Twitter users.
Of all the alternatives out there, none have benefited as much as Mastodon. The open-source service was created in 2016, and first gained notoriety in 2017, when some Twitter users were upset with changes the company had made to the functionality of @-replies. At that time though, it didn’t gain much traction outside a small base of hardcore enthusiasts.
That all changed from the second Musk announced he wanted to buy Twitter. Mastodon saw an immediate spike back in April and the momentum has only increased, according to the nonprofit. “Mastodon has recently exploded in popularity, jumping from approx. 300K monthly active users to 2.5M between the months of October and November, with more and more journalists, political figures, writers, actors and organizations moving over,” founder Eugen Rochko wrote in a recent blog post.
The service isn’t a perfect analog to Twitter. Its platform, which runs on thousands of servers, can make signing up a bit confusing. And a couple of the platform’s most popular servers, like mastodon.social, have at times halted new sign-ups due to surging demand.
But, as Rochko points out, the decentralized platform has become one of the top platforms of choice for some of Twitter’s most influential — and most followed — users. Tellingly, when Musk briefly imposed a ban on accounts promoting alternative social networks, Mastodon’s official Twitter account was the only social app to be suspended.
Mastodon is far from the only previously-niche app to get a boost from turmoil at Twitter. Other apps like CounterSocial, which has a Tweetdeck-like interface, and Tribel, which describes itself as a “pro-democracy Twitter alternative” have also seen an uptick in sign-ups.
There’s also a wave of competition from fresh upstarts. Post News, a new service from former Waze CEO Noam Bardin has also tried to capitalize on Twitter’s dysfunction. The service, which is currently invitation-only, rushed to launch an early version of its beta in November in hopes of drawing away disillusioned Twitter users. Post, which bills itself as a place “to discover, read, watch, discuss and share premium news content without subscriptions or ads,” has more than 610,000 people on its waitlist, according to Bardin.
Another app that’s emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, is Hive Social, an image-centric platform with a feed that looks more like Instagram than Twitter. The service was founded in 2019, and hit 1.5 million users in November, according to the company. The site has had some notable security issues, which it claims to have fixed, but has still managed to make an impression with Gen Z Twitter users.
Legacy platforms are also trying to seize the opportunity created by growing apathy for Twitter. Tumblr claimed to see a surge in new and returning users, according to Matt Mullenweg, CEO of parent company Automattic. The site has also made a habit of trolling Musk and his new policies for Twitter, including with the addition of a $7.99 “Important Blue Internet Checkmark” for users’ blogs. Mullenweg has also said Tumblr will adopt ActivityPub, the protocol powering Mastodon, to make the two services interoperable.
Meta is also keen to challenge its longtime rival. The company recently launched a new “Notes” feature within Instagram that allows users to share status updates at the top of their inbox. At 60 characters, it's hardly a full-fledged Twitter alternative, but it might not be the last such feature we see from Meta. The New York Times reports that the company has discussed several ideas to go after Twitter’s “bread and butter.”
The future for Twitter Quitters
It’s hardly the first time that unpopular decisions within Twitter have sparked an interest in alternatives. But in the past, surges to outside platforms have been relatively short lived. And most would-be competitors are still only a fraction of the size of Twitter.
Even with an influx of new users, Mastodon, Post News, Hive Social and Tumblr are still substantially smaller than Twitter. And, as unpopular and autocratic and Musk’s policy decisions seem, the idea of starting over on a new platform can feel daunting. Not everyone can easily rebuild their social graphs on alternative sites, and some may find the growing crop of Twitter clones to also be unwelcoming (this is especially true if you rely on accessibility features, as many of the newer platforms haven’t invested much in these features.)
Still, this particular moment feels different than other times when Twitter has struggled to keep disgruntled users around. For one, there are more choices than ever before for those looking for a reason to leave. But it’s also unique because there are more people actually active on these alternatives than ever before.