What if Substack is the better Twitter?

  • The twitter chaos is only just beginning. A few months from now, Twitter will still be there, but the bad currency of disinformation and polarisation will win out.
  • We who use Twitter to follow authoritative sources and get information in real time, what alternative do we have? Does it still make sense to be on Twitter? Does it still make sense, in general, to think that a social network is a virtual town square?

I’m a desocialiser in progress.

It took me four years to follow Jaron Lanier´s invitation to close my social media accounts. I deleted Facebook in 2021 and Instagram more recently. I closed those accounts not for the solid reasons listed by Lanier in his book (starting from the enourmous privacy issues), but out of boredom: I was wasting my time looking at irrelevant content, always the same, less and less original, not innovative, often banal. Sorry, old friends who connected with me year after year. Your content sucked, too.

I also had a two-month flirtation with TikTok, but ended it when I realised I was using the app as a skinner box. Fun, true, with lots of clever content: but too addictive. Opened and closed this summer 2022.

Meanwhile, I had moved my media consumption more and more to newsletters and podcasts, desocialising my information needs.  It went well. I am consuming more intelligence content than ever.

With Twitter I had a different relationship.

I am a news freak, a media nerd, always looking for authoritative sources to access directly, not via journalistic abstracts.

During the pandemic and now with the Ukrainian war, Twitter allowed me to connect with experts – real, verifiable ones not needing a blue tick – and I found links to interesting, profound, enlightening, sometimes questionable, however meaningful content.

Honestly: Despite all that said about disinformation and infodemics, Twitter has been a treasure trove for people looking for food for thought. 

But now? What to do if the chaos of these first weeks of Musk´s Twitter reign continues? Leave Twitter too, and for what alternatives?

Many are now looking for alternatives. But the question is: do we still need a Twitter-like experience?

If you haven’t followed the first two weeks of November and the hysterical reporting in the days following the Twitter takeover, here are a couple of links for you.



Since weeks, writers and journalists – many of them on twitter since a decade – have announced moving to Substack. This herunder is the Washington Post technology columnist Taylor Lorenz, whose Twitter username now reads “SUBSCRIBE TO MY SUBSTACK”.


Hamisch McKenzie jumped on the movement and made his explicit invitation to the “Twitter refugees”:


This does not come as a surprise. Substack has long positioned itself as more than a newsletter platform,

“We’ve been saying that Substack is about more than just newsletters and that the communities people are building on this platform are like private social networks. We’re only beginning to execute on an expansive vision of a new media economy”.

Chats, cross-mentions and cross-posts (equivalent of the retweets) are the most recent features that give body to this trajectory.

So, can Substack be the better version of Twitter? Can it be a valuable alternative?

If I think about my personal case as a content consumer and newsletter lover, the answer would seem to be yes. Already now some of my favourite authors are on Substack. And the way I discovered new sources, on Twitter as elsewhere, was often via cross-references, not hashtags.

But something is missing, which is also part of my personal use case: that feeling, sometimes deceptive, of following things as they unfold, in almost real time.

For me then the question is: if I have to choose, can I give up the twitter live feed in the name of more control over what I see? Honest answer, as of now: no, not yet. Unless… my sources – publishers, institutions, experts – they leave the platform at such a pace that they leave it in the hands of those from whom I have already fled, abandon Facebook and Instagram.

Mastodon? TikTok?

I am not the only one who is pondering alternatives. And I am not the only one who is buying time. This is David Frum on The Atlantic:

“I joined Twitter in 2009, and it rapidly became one of the most valuable tools in my writer’s inventory.” (…) “And, as one of its more ambiguous gifts, Twitter offers a virtual community: often rancorous, but also surprisingly open and egalitarian. I’ve heard more original ideas from people I didn’t previously know in a single day on Twitter than in many a month of Washington conferences.” (…) “At the same time, Twitter has always had its ugly and dangerous aspects: mobocracy, groupthink, enforcement of conformity, intentional spread of disinformation.” (…) “My conclusion, after my three-day spell of reflection, is that it’s too soon to decide. I’m returning to the site, if more warily than before. But it will not always be too soon to decide. I’m privately developing plans for how I’ll replace, if I must, the features of Twitter that I would miss: the rapid information flow, the depth of expertise, the experimentation with ideas not yet ready to submit to an editor. There will be no one single replacement for Twitter, but rather plural solutions for different needs”

Frum nails it: we can no longer expect a solution for everything. There are segments like mine that are still passionate about text-driven platforms and near-live news.

But an even larger world now feels more comfortable creating and consuming only video. The mass of creators, even very intelligent ones, of TikTok, is there to prove it.

There is a world that is no longer interested in connecting and growing its social graph: a world of people who are no longer interested in the status updates of others. They are looking for stories, micro-stories, not status.

For this world, the For-You-Page, which an algorithm adjusts on the basis of my reactions and tastes, works much better than the showcase of what my contacts post. This is the world of TikTok.

The good news: platforms decay and probably there will be no more a “winner that takes it all”.

On The Atlantic, Charlie Warzel, calls this evolution a bifurcation between new kind of platforms – centered around the For-You-Page and what he calls “geriatric social media”, where you still find public feeds full of stuff that your friends post, but “if your user base is slowly atrophying due to the network decay I described above, or if your algorithms are pretty mediocre at understanding what your users like, your platform will start to feel a bit like a mall where all the stores have been replaced by weird cellphone-case kiosks”.

The move toward video creation and video consumption is, according to Warzel, the big trajectory that will let our currentl social networks decay, year after year. Not because we do not want have social networks and social media anymore, but because text “as the cornerstone medium of modern society, is dying“.

Conclusion: me and Twitter, me and my desocialising digital life.

The Twitter mess is also an opportunity to review one´s media consumption.

  • I will continue to keep an eye on Twitter, but also – whenever an author I like is on substack – I will subscribe to his newsletter and remove his twitter.
  • I will also remove all sources that I really have little interest in. I will do a reductive maintenance. I will wait for the moment when, on opening the app, I no longer see anything that really gives me value.

Between me and myself, I think that within six months I will be ready to remove Twitter from my life as well. And I will toast then to Jaron Lanier, and to a life less social, but richer in ideas.

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