Journalists (And Others) Should Leave Twitter. Here’s How They Can Get Started

from the time-to-go dept

Summary: Elon Musk has demonstrated contempt for free speech in general, and journalism in particular, with his behavior at Twitter. He is also demonstrating why it is foolhardy for anyone to rely on centralized platforms to create and distribute vital information. Journalists — among many information providers and users — should move to decentralized systems where they have control of what they say and how they distribute it. And philanthropic organizations have a major role to play. Here is a way forward.

Near the end of 2022, Elon Musk issued an edict to the journalism community. Obey me, he said, or you will be banned from posting on Twitter.

This should have been a pivotal moment in media history — an inflection point when journalists realized how dangerous it is to put their fates in the hands of people who claim to revere free speech but use their power to control it. It should have been the moment when media companies decided to take back control of their social media presence.

A few journalists — principally the ones whose Twitter accounts were suspended or otherwise restricted — understood the threat. And several of the Big Journalism news organizations issued (feeble) protests.

Beyond that, thanks to a combination of journalistic cowardice, inertia and calculation, business as usual prevailed. The journalists whose accounts were fully restored are back to tweeting, though some remain banned and/or restricted. Their organizations never stopped using the platform even when their employees were being restricted. 

Based on current evidence, then, Musk has won this battle: except for a few individuals, Big Journalism has acceded to his edicts.

Many journalism organizations and public entities, such as local governments, believe Twitter is essential because it’s a place people know they can turn to when there’s big news — and find information from “verified accounts” that (barring a hack) ensure the source is who it’s claiming to be. So, they tell themselves, they have to stick around. This isn’t just short-sighted. It’s foolish.

Musk’s antics could easily lead to the worst of all worlds for anyone who’s come to rely on Twitter distribution. If you have the slightest concern for the future of freedom of expression, he’s already shown his hypocrisy, such as his capricious decision (since rescinded, at least for now) to block even links to some competing social media services. And advertisers have appropriately fled a service where right-wing extremism has been given a major boost; where mass firings of key employees threaten the site’s technical stability; and where at least some formerly avid users (like me) have moved on

It will be ironic, to put it mildly, if Twitter disintegrates despite journalists’ refusal to exercise their own free expression rights — forcing a mass, chaotic migration rather than the obviously better answer: Develop a Plan B, and use it as an escape hatch sooner than later.

All of which is why I implore the journalists and journalism organizations, above all at this crucial point, to rethink what they’re doing — and move starting today to reclaim independence. I also ask well-resourced outsiders to help make this happen, especially when it comes to the many journalists and news organizations that lack the bandwidth or money to do this themselves.

Even a “Good” Twitter is Risky

Suppose, against all odds, that Twitter somehow survives Musk’s predations and becomes a clean, well-lit place for respectful discourse. The risks don’t disappear. They’ll only grow. And they’ve been apparent for years. 

The risks are endemic to the mega-corporate, scalable-or-nothing, highly centralized version of the Internet that has emerged in recent years, and we need to keep them in the forefront. At the top of the list: Any centralized platform is subject to the whims of the person or people who control it. This isn’t news to those who’ve been paying attention, and some of them have been warning about the dangers for years. In a way, Musk has done us a favor by making it crystal clear. 

Mike Masnick, who’s been on the case for a long time now, recently spelled out in chapter and verse why it’s crazy to rely on centralized platforms. He looked at the current alternatives, with a major focus on “federated” systems like Mastodon, where many people and organizations can run servers that talk with each other — and, this is key, where users can’t be locked in. In the “fediverse,” we users can’t be controlled because we can move, anytime we wish, to a different server — and take our relationships with us.

I joined a Mastodon server (called an “instance” in Mastodon jargon) called “” — you can find me there at this URL: — and my full username is if you’re already in the broader community. Others in the journalism world have signed onto instances such as “” and “” — and there are many, many more.

It’s way too early to know whether Mastodon and its underpinning, a protocol (technical rules of the road) called ActivityPub, is the ultimate way forward. There are risks with any online system, and the Mastodon community will face their share. I’ve been impressed with, and Mike Masnick’s thorough analysis highlights, the resilience Mastodon has demonstrated already.

But at least two things are clear. The risks of giving up your autonomy to billionaire sociopaths are in your face at this point. And it is not remotely too early for those who rely on Twitter to find alternatives they control.

How Journalism’s Migration Should Proceed

Habits are tough to break. Inertia is one of the most powerful barriers to progress. But we can, and we should, realize that making this transition is well worth the time and effort. The rewards will be so great that we’ll wonder one day how we could have gotten ourselves into a situation that required such a shift.

Fear of the unfamiliar feeds inertia. And Mastodon is — emphatically — not a clone of Twitter. It has some flaws, from my perspective, that I trust will be addressed sooner rather than later; and in part because it’s based on open-source software, the pace of improvement already looks spectacular to me.

Journalists have to overcome their own trepidation. If they give it some time, not a lot by any means, they’ll be more than comfortable enough that the somewhat understandable early-days urge to retreat back into the Twitter comfort zone will go away.

In other words, please just get on with it. You’ll be fine. Here’s a basic plan of action:

First: Organizations with sufficient financial and technical resources should create their own Mastodon instances. At the same time, smaller journalism organizations — especially the rapidly expanding collection of non-profit sites — should set up a co-operative network. (More on this below).

Second: Verify the identities and bona-fides of the journalists. One of Musk’s more ill-considered interventions at Twitter — turning the verified-user system into a giant swamp — made Mastodon an even more obvious refuge. I won’t get into details here, and maybe I’m missing something important, but it appears to be trivially easy to verify Mastodon accounts by connecting user accounts on Mastodon servers to the news organization’s existing web presence. 

Third: For the time being, keep posting to Twitter (and the rest of their social media accounts). But journalists should be actively using those accounts to let their audiences know that the best places to find rapid-response posts also include their Mastodon accounts and, of course, their own websites — and that, someday in the near future, the Twitter feed will be replaced by Mastodon. 

Fourth: Set a date for the cut-over — ideally in collaboration with their peers — not longer than six months from now. And when the day arrives, do it. 

That’s not the end of the process, of course. Journalists will need to help their audiences use Mastodon, just as they themselves learned. Again, while there is a learning curve, and it isn’t the same as Twitter, it won’t take long for people to adjust. (Let’s be real: If people can use their computers after a massive operating system “upgrade”, Mastodon will be a snap.)

The word “collaboration” is key here. This is a job for the entire journalism craft/industry, which created critical mass on Twitter over the years by just showing up randomly and, at a certain point, turning the site into something resembling a central nervous system of news. 

De-emphasizing Twitter, and ultimately leaving it, needs more organization. Musk is surely counting on media companies to stick around on the principle that, well, there’s no other game in town with the same critical mass. This is no longer true, if it ever was. (I’ve been told by news people that Facebook, in the days when it actively promoted news in users’ feeds, drove vastly more traffic to their sites than Twitter ever has.)

Collaboration in journalism is growing, but it should become second nature. If ever there was a time to get together and take back control of the craft’s work, it should be now. Not collaborating will give Musk and people like him leverage to divide and conquer. Even if it was difficult to make this transition, and it isn’t, the alternative is ceding control to sociopaths.

A Major Opportunity for Philanthropic Investment

I shouldn’t have to say this, but the leadership for a migration off Twitter to Mastodon should come from the organizations whose editors complained about Musk’s treatment of their journalists. It’s pathetic that most of them didn’t follow through with actions, not just words. 

So who will? The obvious candidates are major philanthropic foundations and civic-minded wealthy individuals. 

Last month, I sent a note to people I know at several philanthropies. I wrote, in part:

This would be the perfect time to fund what could easily be a self-sustaining cooperative that sets up and operates Mastodon “instances” (servers) on behalf of journalism organizations that could verify their own journalists. That would solve a lot of problems, and restore (some) genuine independence to the craft at a time when capricious media owners like Musk are challenging it.

We can debate whether the co-op business model is best-suited for a project like this, though I believe it’s ideal. What we shouldn’t debate is whether journalism and its defenders need to move, right away, to deal with an immediate problem in a way that would have major long-term benefits. Helping journalism regain the control it misguidedly gave away — and do it in a way that increases the supply of easy-to-find information that benefits the public — is plainly beneficial for everyone but media monopolists and misinformation purveyors.

Foundations, please step up now, while people still understand the need — and before journalists, whose attention spans are notoriously short, settle back into their short-sighted patterns.

Critical Masses

As noted earlier in this piece, it isn’t just journalists who’ve come to rely on Twitter. Birds of a feather on various social and professional topics have flocked together there. We all need to help ensure that “Black Twitter” and “Science Twitter” — and so many more — have a way forward, too. They have become a vital source of information not just for the wider public but within their own ranks (or that relatively small part of the public that uses Twitter, anyway). As Bloomberg’s Lisa Jarvis wrote recently, “Science Twitter needs a new home.”

Meanwhile, countless government agencies also use the birdsite as a vehicle for messaging of all kinds. In situations where people want the vital news — such as forest fires, storms, etc. — Twitter has become one of the default places to check.

They, too, can and should migrate to services like Mastodon. They should plan collaboratively to cut over to their own verified instances, in an orderly way that gives their constituents notice and time to get adjusted to the new system. 

The federal government could lead, given its greater resources, but it will take a lot of work by a lot of people to get smaller governments and agencies to turn off the “free” websites they now support and migrate to places that have setup costs, however modest, and maintenance requirements. 

Which makes the need for collaboration just as great, if not more so, when it comes to public agencies. Happily, governments at all levels have associations which they sometimes call “conferences” — such as the National Conference of State Legislatures — that might be appropriate organizers and hosts of collaborative Mastodon instances.

Philanthropies — especially community foundations — could play a vital role in re-creating critical masses beyond journalism. It would be a dazzling display of civic spirit, for example, if the Silicon Valley Community Foundation funded Mastodon installations for local governments and agencies. And what if American Association for the Advancement of Science offered support for moving that community, and its burgeoning audience, from the risky, centralized Twitter to more decentralized environs? 

Get Started, Soon

The best time for journalists and others to have recognized the threat of centralized systems run by unreliable, untrustworthy dictators would have been years ago. The next best time is tomorrow.

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Comments on “Journalists (And Others) Should Leave Twitter. Here’s How They Can Get Started”

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Anonymous Coward says:

We’re already seeing what a federated system leads to – a recapitulation of middle-school, with the tables of cool kids, goths, outcasts, sports geeks, and nerds, and canyons of isolation between them, and then feuding splitting the tables more and more finely.

The fundamental misunderstanding here is that journalists aren’t looking for a place to speak. They’re looking for a place to be widely heard, become famous, and turn that into a good living. Setting up a soapbox in some lonely corner is easy – just have an e-mail subscription list – but it doesn’t achieve notoriety the way posting on Twitter can.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Matthew M Bennett says:

"Journalist" is not a special class of person.

They don’t know more than anyone else, nor are they more qualified nor more neutral in indentifying “the truth”. There’s nothing to verify.

Remember when Techdirt hated Gatekeepers? Pepperidge Farm remembers.

At least you’re transparent about hating Musk. You liked the censorship under old twitter (often at government direction) and now you’re upset it’s gone.

Twitter is much, much freer under Musk, and that makes you angry, cuz you don’t actually like free speech. You can disagree with his decisions if you like, but at least the FBI didn’t tell him to make them.

It’s a private company, it can do what it wants. (For real this time)

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:


“Journalist” is not a special class of person.

Neither are you.

They don’t know more than anyone else, nor are they more qualified nor more neutral in indentifying “the truth”.

Yet since you’ve arrived, you constantly insisted that you’re the only one who knows what’s truly going on.

Twitter is much, much freer under Musk

Everyone has certainly been freer to go elsewhere.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Drew Wilson (user link) says:


Twitter is much, much freer under Musk, and that makes you angry, cuz you don’t actually like free speech.

By that, you mean more free to post hate speech, spam, threats of violence, harassment, botnets artificially inflating Russian propaganda, and more. Basically, Twitter but worse.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Rocky says:


How to spot a stupid person shooting his own argument in the back:
1. The person excuses “censorship” of journalists by Musk on Twitter because they aren’t “a special class of persons”.
2. Claims that Twitter is now much freer under Musk.

How to spot a stupid person who project his childish irrational outrage on anyone not agreeing with his hysterics:
1. He thinks critique and ridicule is the same as anger or hate.
2. Accuses someone for hating the first amendment while calling for the same to shut the fuck up.

That’s you Matthew, a quivering emotional lump of flesh lacking all rationality and thought.

It’s a private company, it can do what it wants.

And no one has said otherwise, except you and your ilk. If Twitter before Musk wanted to act on reports from the government or not, it was their fucking choice.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2

In your time posting here, you’ve given us bad faith arguments, incessant insults, and claims you can’t (or won’t) back up with credible evidence from credible sources. You’ve come looking for an argument rather than a discussion⁠—a chance to “own the libs” rather than to expand your thinking (or help us expand ours).

You can blame other people for flagging your comments. But the person most responsible for your comments getting flagged is you. Acting like an edgelord contrarian, regardless of your reasons why, will do you no favors here.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4

You literally never say anything of value.

Take a look at the Most Insightful/Funny Comments of 2022 article and see how that argument pans out for you.

Comments get flagged because you have your own mini-cancel culture here.

We can’t “cancel” you. But we can tell you that we don’t want your speech around here and show you the door⁠—which is what the flagging is for. None of us here care about what political party you align with or what political ideology you express. We care that you’re an asshole who uses bad faith arguments, faulty reasoning, and a shitload of insults to reinforce the idea that you’re always right and it’s the libs, the freaks, and the Repugnant Cultural Others who are wrong.

You probably wouldn’t get flagged on sight if you cared to try having an actual discussion with us and accepting new facts and opening your mind to new ways of thinking. As it is, you’re not even a step above the rest of the longtime troll brigade. Reactionary edgelord contrarians like you are everywhere; nothing you’ve said or done here separates you from them.

It’s not just me

Then look at the common denominators between you and the posters whose comments get flagged on sight. I promise that any political identity you may have is not, in and of itself, the sole reason for your treatment here.

and I definitely was not seeking your approval.

And yet, you keep whining about your comments being flagged.

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Chozen (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Bad Faith

“you’ve given us bad faith arguments”

Using a feature that says “Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam” to hide any speech you don’t like and/or posters you don’t like regardless of is the comment is “abusive/trolling/spam” and then bragging that you do it to get people to leave is “bad faith” and abuse of the system. If Mike had any integrity he would do something about it.

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Chozen (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7

I’m pointing out the Mike is a hypocrite. I’m not “forcing” you or anyone to listen. Mike writes long dissertations on how “bad faith actors” force BigTech to write ambiguous terms of service while he turns a blind eye to bad faith use of his own flag feature on his own blog.

You and the rest of your cohorts admit that you use the feature in bad faith. If Mike had any integrity he would do something about it because it makes his “bad faith” argument an absolute joke.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Chozen (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5

“flagged on sight”

Exactly the feature says ““Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam” you and your cohorts admit it using it to target individuals regardless of the comment. You openly admit it using the future in bad fait. If Mike hand any integrity he would do something about it. Mike cant write articles about “bad faith” then not do a god damn thing when his own users openly abuse a feature in bad faith.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6

you and your cohorts admit it using it to target individuals regardless of the comment

Pattern recognition is a hell of a thing, ain’t it. 😁

The reason I admit to flagging your bullshit on sight is because I’ve only ever known you to post bullshit. You have spent years trolling this site⁠—and trust me when I say that you wouldn’t get flagged on sight if you were looking for actual discussions instead of preschool playground slapfights. But you continually reject information that doesn’t fellate your biases, regularly insult everyone who tries to educate you on the facts, and do everything possible to make yourself seem like a complete asshole in both cyber- and meatspace.

You can blame the system, the commenters, or even Mike himself for your shit getting flagged. But blame is not the same as responsibility, and the responsibility for your comments getting flagged lies with you⁠—because you’re the one who posts them.

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Chozen (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7

It aint just me you lair. You flag anything you don’t agree with. I’ve seen multiple posts form people other than me and even ACs that “aren’t abusive/trolling/spam” but are still flagged just because you don’t agree with them.

You have repeatedly admitted to using the feature in bad faith. That Mike hasn’t done anything about hit makes his “bad faith actor” arguments meaningless.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:8

You flag anything you don’t agree with.

No, I don’t. I flag bad faith arguments, bigotry, and the kind of preschool playground name-calling horseshit you’ve given us since you first started posting under the name “Chozen”. I’ve seen plenty of comments I’ve disagreed with that didn’t have any of those things; I didn’t flag them because mere disagreement isn’t a good enough reason to click the flag.

You, Koby, Hyman, Matty B, and all the other regular trolls get flagged on sight because you have proven to be nothing but trolls⁠—whether it’s because you’re bigots, assholes looking for a fight, or dumb enough to believe you’re always right even when you’ve been proven wrong. If I fuck up, I do my best to acknowledge it. When you fuck up, you tell everyone else to shut the fuck up.

I don’t flag you because I disagree with you, Chipolte. I flag you because you’ve never made an attempt to have a discussion instead of an argument or a slapfight.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3

You flag because you can, and that’s all you can. As we’ve seen with Raspberry Pi and, when you can do more, you will do more. The “fediverse” is going to be the equivalent of every commenter here running their own site and cutting off others in fits of rage and spite, the usual woke ideologue circular firing squads that drive away normal people in disgust.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2

You post comments like that and wonder why you get flagged?

Horseshit. You know damn well why you’re getting flagged and that it ain’t some grand conspiracy against you.

It’s just lots of people independently deciding you aren’t worth their time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2

Honestly, you’re not worth the time, effort or energy I’d expend to push a joke too far… for my own amusement.

You’re the one on a one-man harassment campaign, not me.

Ypu’re the one defending a White South African (by birth) manchild billionaire who turned Twitter into a worse Truth Social, not me.

And you’re definitely going to continue harassing Mike, fail, and cry to your “conservative” peers to keep the victim act up, not me.

Ypu’re the more disgusting one.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Just look at how your response is hidden from view.

It’s hidden as a function of voting by the community. Do you have demographic data on everyone who has voted to hide the (low quality, trolling) content?

Of course the left hates free speech. They wouldn’t hide any responses if they truly believed in free speech for all.

Free speech is the right to speak without the government punishing or preventing you from speaking. It doesn’t have anything to do with a private website or Twitter. And even the 1st Amendment right doesn’t protect any and all speech. Fraud, libel, slander, threats of violence, and perjury are all types speech not covered by free speech.

You say the left hates free speech, but you don’t even know what it is.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Once again, time to trot out xkcd 1357

Just look at how your response is hidden from view.


Public Service Announcement: The Right to Free Speech means the government can’t arrest you for what you say.

It doesn’t mean that anyone else has to listen to your bullshit, or host you while you share it.

The 1st Amendment doesn’t shield you from criticism or consequences.

If you’re yelled at, boycotted, have your show canceled, [have your moronic comment flagged and hidden], or get banned from an Internet community, your free speech rights aren’t being violated.

It’s just that the people listening think you’re an asshole,

And they’re showing you the door.

(hopefully Mr. Munroe will forgive the addition)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Just look at how your response is hidden from view.

I know! Just look at it! Hidden from view like that!

Now you be you, but leading off with that pitiful self-righteous indignation, going straight to “victim” was a bit clumsy.

Are they sending in the B-team of complainers now because this is just bush-league, amateur-hour crap. This is what I’d expect when troll farms farm out their work.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2

Th days of the “good trolls” like Jhon boi and “totally not the email guy”

“Good”? Matthew and Chozen are two cunts cut from the same tampon, sure, but let’s not kid ourselves that John Smith and Hamilton were good quality trolls. average_joe/antidirt and bob at least put in the good old college try to justify shitty behavior based on law. John was a fantasy that revealed the misogynist that was behind the wheel of MyNameHere and his neverending deluge of pseudonyms.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Samuel Abram (profile) says:


[Twitter is] a private company, it can do what it wants. (For real this time)

Where in the article did Dan Gillmor say he wanted the US government to crack down on Twitter (for its speech, FTC consent decrees notwithstanding)? I don’t see it anywhere in the article. If anything, he’s using his free speech to advocate that people on another platform use their free speech to join another social network. Isn’t that free speech in a nutshell?

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Anonymous Coward says:


I’m in the third camp. It brings a smile to my face whenever censors find their way to the unemployment line, no matter whether they were formerly private or public employees. To the degree Musk lets Trump’s coup cabal talk in public again, that’s a good thing, because they discredited themselves amply when he was president and they all had the microphone, and can only flourish when persecuted by small-minded liberals. Nonetheless — I welcome the growth of Mastodon, as a last-ditch effort to get people out from under the thumb of a monopolistic corporation. I just wish they were coming for the freedom and not because they’re having a fit over somebody getting unbanned.

But I’m really in a fourth camp, because despite desperate hope I know better. In the end this computer technology is just fascism run from the top, one guy with a computer deciding what it does, and all the pretense of freedom or privacy is just mousetrap bait. Mastodon has big instances taking over small; it has a central “compact” enforced over instances that want to be found; and it is infested with people who strongly believe reason can’t prevail over naziism in an open debate. It’s not mysterious what happens next.

Anonymous Coward says:


If they didn’t, USENET would still dominate discourse.

Tell me you have never managed a USENET server without telling me you never managed a USENET server.

How many times to I have to tell you fucking idiots, USENET could easily be filtered by whoever runs the USENET server you connect to.

The first thing I did when I ran an ISP back in the mid 90s was filter out all the CSAM binary groups from our server.

USENET was not as open as you think it was because any admin could filter out whatever groups they wanted that fit within their T&C.

Mmlvx says:


Aw, dang. I miss Usenet.

Loving Mastodon though.

I guess news orgs will need to update their header / footer templates with a little tusky icon next to the Reddit and Twitter sharing icons. TBH, that seems like the hardest part of the migration, technically. (At least at first. Standing up an instance – save for next week.)

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anon says:

do whatever you want, but....

By any definition of ‘understood’, this statement is incorrect and misleading:

“A few journalists — principally the ones whose Twitter accounts were suspended or otherwise restricted — understood the threat.”

It wasn’t a threat, it was a warning. It obviously wasn’t understood by the users who’s accounts were ‘suspended or otherwise restricted’.

Perhaps Musk should buy a 2nd jet, or even a 2nd and 3rd jet so that only one aircraft crew know where he’s going?

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