Discover more from The Mule by Milli Hill
Shout out to my X
Is my love affair with twitter over?
I love the summer with my kids. Each year I get off the hamster wheel of 6am-wake-up - chaos - school run - kitchen table with laptop - make dinner - kids arrive back - chaos - 9pm-bed - repeat. Getting out of this endless cycle also gets me off social media a bit, and this year we also did a different sort of family holiday (and yes I am going to write about it - next week!) which involved several long stretches off wifi, and broke my dependency even further.
Like many of us, I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I fell for it as a new mum - I joined facebook in 2009 when my first baby was one - and in the isolating experience of motherhood in the Somerset countryside, it felt like a lifeline. Here was a way I could keep in touch not just with friends, but with the wider world, with news, fashion, politics and more. I loved it so much that I harnessed its power for the good into a global movement to improve childbirth - The Positive Birth Movement, which launched in 2012 and which used Facebook to connect women from all over the world to ‘meet up, link up and shake up birth’!
Social media brought me all of that, and more. It helped me to get known as a writer, giving me a place to share my blog posts on the original ‘Mule’ blog, and then my articles for Best mag and the Telegraph, which often went viral. Editors loved the traffic I drove to their publications, and kept commissioning me because of it. If I had started writing in the nineties, the experience would have been completely different - I don’t think I would have had even a fraction of the chance to make a name for myself in the same way. Even now, it enables me to boost my book sales - again in ways that would not have been possible just a few short decades ago.
But then of course, there is the dark side. Social media is a bully’s dream come true. It’s a virtual playground where there are no supervisors, no consequences, and even guaranteed anonymity if that’s your bag. It’s a place where you can start little fires, and then sit back as others fan the flames for you - destroying reputations and careers easily and effectively. Some of you reading this will know what happened to me in November 2020, when a small group of doulas (who had already been keen to knock me down), dragged me through the virtual streets in what can only be described as a modern day witch hunt. Social media enabled them to be very successful in their frankly quite weird and pointless aim - to get me out of the maternity world for good.
We are all learning and evolving in this strange new landscape. One thing that I don’t think many of us realised in the first heady few years of facebook was that we were the product. A service that initially seemed ‘free’ clearly couldn’t work like this - so our presence on the site, and our attention to our screens, was being sold to advertisers who were getting to know if we liked caravans or kitchen-aids or luxury undies just from the links we clicked. And if like me you were a prolific ‘content creator’, creating viral articles or campaigns or tweets that were getting retweeted thousands of times, you weren’t just the product, you were the promoter and marketing executive and ad campaign and brand ambassador all rolled into one. And you did all this for free. To Zuck and his ilk, you were an absolute gift.
This is all fine, of course, until you start to realise that, just like any other contractural work, the rug can be pulled at any moment without apology. Nothing has brought this into focus more strongly in recent months than the takeover of twitter by Elon Musk. He seems to have some of the right ideas about freedom of speech - for example he’s reinstated some unjustly ejected tweeters like Meghan Murphy, who was kicked off the site in the dark days of 2018 for ‘misgendering’ Jessica Yaniv, the Canadian trans identifying male who took a series of beauticians to court for ‘gender discrimination’ because they refused to wax his balls. But in spite of Musk’s noble aims of creating a “digital town square”, as he puts it, at the same time he’s making twitter almost unrecognisable to those of us who’ve spent years in a complex love affair with the platform.
Twitter was my favourite social media. As a words person, I loved that it was ‘just words’. In fact, I loved it best when tweets were restricted to 140 characters (they upped it to 280 in 2017), because of the almost haiku-like challenge this posed of expressing everything you needed to say in only a handful of letters, where every comma counts. But, like many a lover, Twitter was never going to stay the same forever. Now it’s not even called Twitter any more, it’s ‘X’. The little blue bird logo has gone. The blue ‘verification’ tick, which as a mid-lister rather than a true ‘celeb’ made me happy and gave me a bit of clout and leverage in terms of getting work etc, got taken away and now simply signifies a person who has paid, rendering it meaningless to all except Elon and his accountant, really. And ‘tweets’ - now boringly called ‘posts’ - can be massively long essays, but only for those who pay.
I don’t want essays, and I don’t want to pay. I want the twitter I fell in love with back.
Sometimes I guess you just have to accept you’ve drifted apart. Elon says he’ll change and be just what I need, eventually. I’m willing to give him a bit more time, but meanwhile I’m not hanging around. And like other word-lovers, someone new has caught my eye - substack. For the past few months they’ve been quietly setting up a social angle - ‘chat’ and ‘notes’ - both places that look a fair bit like twitter used to do, and where word-lovers can hang out and exchange ideas. Coupled with the writing freedom we oldies used to associate with blogger, substack is offering something we’ve all been missing - a community based on shared interests, without the toxicity.
Added to this, substack seems to work for you rather than vice versa. If Elon pulls the plug on twitter tomorrow (and no I’m not calling it X) I’m left with nothing - all my nearly 40k followers I’ve built up over more than a decade are gone. But with substack, those of you brilliant people who are on my subscribers list are mine to keep - I can export your email addresses and we get to continue elsewhere. The work that I’m putting in therefore actually has a translatable value for me rather than just lining the pockets of others who can bin it on a whim.
So with the hamster wheel of back to school on the horizon, I’m resolved to maintain my new found distance from twitter, and start putting some of the hours I’ve wasted on the bird into substack instead. I’d highly recommend you download the substack app and start checking out chat and notes, and, if you can afford it, supporting some of your favourite writers with paid subscriptions. The cost of this is usually low (mine is £1.25 a week, or less if you take out an annual sub), but collectively, each sub adds up and means individual writers can actually produce some authentic, unrestricted, uncensored content.
Old habits die hard, and Elon may yet tempt me back, but for now, I’m excited by the simple thought of actually writing for the sheer love of it, for people who genuinely appreciate me. I’m not leaving twitter, but I’m definitely beginning to think of it as an X.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Next week I’m going to tell you all about my road trip holiday. Until next time xx
The following are Amazon affiliate links to purchase my books - it doesn’t cost you any extra but I earn a small commission.
If you don’t like Amazon, you can use this affiliate link to bookshop.org, who support small book sellers.