Thinking of breaking up with Twitter? Here’s the right way to do it

Thinking of breaking up with Twitter?  Here’s the right way to do it

After a chaotic few weeks, it is clear that Elon Musk intends to take Twitter in a direction that is at odds with the prevailing cultures of the various users who call it home.

Musk has now begun reinstatement of high-profile users – including Donald Trump, Alex Jones and Kanye West – who had been removed for repeated violations of community standards.

This comes amid a mass exodus of Twitter employees, including thousands that Musk unceremoniously fired via email. The latest wave of layoffs came after an ultimatum from Musk: employees would have to face “extremely harsh” working conditions (to fix the mess Musk created).

All this points to a completely different experience for users, who are now decamping the platform and going to alternatives like Mastodon.

So what threats are we likely to see now? And how do you go about leaving Twitter safely?

#TwitterShutDown

With so many experienced employees leaving, users face the real possibility that Twitter will experience significant and widespread outages in the coming weeks.

Enterprise software experts and Twitter insiders have already sounded the alarm that with the World Cup underway, the resulting spike in traffic — and any increase in opportunistic malicious behavior — could be enough to bring Twitter to a standstill.

Apart from the site going dark, there is also the risk that user data could be breached in a cyber attack while the usual defenses are down. Twitter was exposed in a massive cyber attack in August this year. A hacker was able to extract personal details, including phone numbers and email addresses, of 5.4 million users.

One would be forgiven for thinking that such scenarios are impossible. However, common knowledge in the technology community is that the internet is held together by chewing gum and duct tape.

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The apps, platforms, and systems we interact with every day, especially those with audiences of millions or billions, can give the impression of being highly sophisticated. But the truth is that we often ride on the edge of chaos.

Building and maintaining large-scale social software is like building a boat in open water while being attacked by sharks. Keeping such software systems afloat requires designing teams that can work together to bail out enough water, while others reinforce the hull, and some watch for incoming threats.

To stretch the boat metaphor, Musk has just fired the software developers who knew where the nails and hammers are kept, the team tasked with deploying the shark bait and lookouts on the masts.

Can his already stretched and exposed workforce plug the holes fast enough to prevent the ship from sinking?

We’ll likely find out in the next few weeks. If Twitter manages to stay afloat, credit more than likely goes to many of its now-ex-employees for building a robust system that a skeleton crew can maintain.

Hate speech and misinformation are back

Despite Twitter’s claims that hate speech becomes “softened”, our analysis suggests that it is on the rise. And we are not the only researchers to observe an increase in hate speech.

The graph below shows the number of tweets per hour containing hate speech over a two-week period. Using a peer-reviewed hate speech lexicon, we tracked the volume of 15 hateful terms and observed a clear increase after Musk’s acquisition.

Volume of tweets containing hate speech;  the trend increases over time.
Volume of tweets containing hate speech.

Disinformation is also on the rise. After Musk’s swift changes to blue tick verification, the site descended into chaos with a wave of parody accounts and misleading tweets. In response, he issued yet another stream-of-consciousness edict to remedy the previous ones.

With reports that the entire Asia-Pacific region has only one working content moderator againfalse and misleading content is likely to spread on Twitter – especially in non-English-speaking countries, which are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of uncontrolled misinformation and disinformation.

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If all of this sounds like a recipe for disaster and you want out, what should you do?

Pack your luggage

First, you may want to download an archive of your Twitter activity. This can be done by clicking on to Settings > Settings and support > Settings and privacy > Your account > Download an archive of your data.

It may take several days for Twitter to compile and send you this archive. And it can be up to several gigabytes, depending on your activity level.

Lock the door

While you’re waiting for your archive, you can start protecting your account. If your account was publicnow might be a good time to change it protected.

In protected mode, your tweets will no longer be searchable outside the platform. Only your existing followers will see them on the platform.

If you plan to replace Twitter with another platform, you may want to signal this in your bio by including a message and your new username. But before you do this, consider whether you might have problematic followers who will try to cross-follow you.

check out

Once you’ve downloaded your Twitter archive, you can choose to selectively delete any tweets from the platform that you want. One of our colleagues, Philip Mai, has developed a free tool to help with this step.

It is also important to consider any direct messages (DMs) you have on the platform. These are more cumbersome and problematic to remove, but they are also likely to be more sensitive.

You must remove each DM conversation individually by clicking to the right of the conversation thread and selecting Delete the conversation. Note that this only deletes it from your page. All other members of a DM thread can still see your historical activity.

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Park your account

For many users, it is advisable to “park” their account, rather than completely deactivating it. Parking means you clean out most of your data, maintain your username, and have to log in every few months to keep it alive on the platform. This will prevent other (perhaps malicious) users from taking your disabled username and impersonating you.

Parking means that Twitter will retain some details, including potentially sensitive data such as your phone number and other bio information you have stored. It also means that a return to the platform is not ruled out, should circumstances improve.

If you decide to deactivate, please know that this does not necessarily mean that all your details will be deleted from Twitter’s servers. In his Terms of UseTwitter notes that it may retain some user information after account deactivation. When your account is gone, you can also retrieve your old username.

Reinforce the locks

If you haven’t already, now is the time to use two-factor authentication on your Twitter account. You can do this by clicking Settings > Security and account access > Security > Two-factor authentication. This will help protect your account from being hacked.

Additional password protection (found in the same menu above) is also a good idea, and it’s also a good idea to change your password to something different from every other password you use online.

Once that’s done, all that’s left to do is sit back and pour one out for the bird spot.

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