The so-called summer is upon us. The final rush of judicial jottings to precede their holidays has abated. The silly season rush of confected immigration stories has begun. The weather is terrible. Time has slowed, particularly for those of us with children off school.
I’m recently back from my annual fortnight away. I used it to sign off from Twitter and have a break from the blue bird. It turned out to be a permanent parting. When I returned it was called “X”. I’ll be referring to “Musk’s X” or “Twitter” depending on past or future context, so as not to tarnish the good name of a perfectly innocent and otherwise useful letter of the alphabet.
I’d be lying if I said I had not occasionally peeked at its various goings-on while I was away, but I have genuinely enjoyed a break from it all. It has also given me a bit of a chance to think. What is Musk’s X actually for, from my point of view? Should I or could I switch to Threads or another service?
I’ve used its predecessor, Twitter, in different ways at different times. That is probably true of a lot of us. Some of those purposes are more useful than others. I’ll starting with the things I consider genuinely useful.
Staying up to date
I used Twitter to keep myself up to date with professionally relevant news, particularly immigration news. I also use email alerts and RSS feeds but the blue bird could be a lot faster. There are a fairly select group of individuals I follow in order to make sure I haven’t missed something. For example, I don’t know how he does it but Jon Featonby does an incredible job of sifting through parliamentary business. While Jon posts exclusively on Musk’s X, I’ll probably have to stay on board.
I’m singling Jon out here but there are several other professionals — academics, researchers, journalists, lawyers — who regularly or occasionally share genuinely important or useful information or analysis. There aren’t that many of them, quite frankly, but in the past Twitter has been the quickest way to be alerted to their new insight or news. I use a list in Musk’s X to keep track of them, although the list also includes quite a few people I’ve added just to keep an eye on what is going on in the sector.
I also set up @immigrationbot back in 2012 to help keep an eye on things and enable others to do likewise. It is automated using the IFTTT service and filtered RSS feeds. It now has a surprising 4,256 followers.
I also used Twitter to broadcast to an audience. I would write content on the site directly or use it to signpost people to stuff I have written or published elsewhere. I did this in three different ways.
The first is that I set up several automations to publish titles and links to newly published Free Movement content using the Zapier and Buffer services. These are triggered immediately on publication, an hour later, 24 hours later and a week later. The repetition is because Twitter and Musk’s X were/are transitory and not many of us keep a constant eye on new posts.
The second is that I personally supplement these automatons with personally-written posts, often with a screenshot of what I consider to be a key point. I’ve been doing this a bit less recently as I was already withdrawing a little from Twitter even before it transformed into Musk’s X.
The third is that I have used Twitter threads to share ideas. I don’t like using numbered threads and generally have limited patience for those who over-use them (get a blog! or Substack! Or Medium!). But I have seen how widely they can be shared and they can be a good way of expressing or explaining an idea — even sometimes a complex one — in a relatively concise way.
If you are writing or publishing original content, the whole point is to reach an audience. There’s no point hiding it under a bushel. Twitter was a good way to reach a wide number of people as well as some influential people, like journalists. On a handful of occasions I think I’ve managed to influence the media narrative on one or two things in this way, although it is impossible to know for sure. Whether this continues to be the case remains to be seen.
As you can see, Free Movement receives a lot more traffic from Facebook than other social media sites. But I’m not sure the readers arriving via Facebook are necessarily our core audience of professionals. Twitter is next. Threads (Instagram) barely register in incoming traffic stats, although to be fair I’ve only used it a little over the last fortnight. The fact that it registers at all seems quite promising, in fact.
I’m minded to put more time and effort into LinkedIn because it is slightly less awful than it used to be. The phase of ‘inspirational’ anecdotes crafted in an irony-vacuum to make the author appear virtuous appears to be over. There’s still a lot of professional boasting but I’m guilty of that myself and am fairly inured to it now.
I’ve always seen my use of Twitter as being in part a service to others. Why would people follow me if it wasn’t useful to them, basically? It’s why I try to stay in my lane and focus on immigration stories: because that’s what people who follow me want and expect.
I hope that my audience is interested in the stuff that I write and publish and which I share, but I also try to share interesting stuff from others as well.
I set up @immigrationbot partly for this purpose. My migration news list is public and a few people subscribe to it. I try to remember to retweet or quote tweet others when I think they have something interesting and novel to report or say. Sometimes I’ll share something myself but with a “h/t” (hat tip) to who spotted it first. I sometimes get this wrong, as when I’m scrolling the timeline in reverse chronological order to catch up. But I think it’s important to be generous on social media, even though I also know I don’t always live up to that.
Again, sharing is something I perhaps do less than I used to because I was already withdrawing a little from Twitter. I ought to do it more.
Expressing approval and disapproval
I have also used Twitter to express approval or disapproval of something that another person says or does. I try to be polite about it but I don’t think this is a useful thing for me to do and I’d like to do it less. It’s not useful to others. But it is all too easy to fire something off.
The exception is where I’m sharing a news story or something like that. It is quite hard to share something you really don’t like without saying so. It’s the difference between a simple retweet and a quote tweet, basically.
Socialising and interacting
I also use Twitter to interact with other lawyers, professionals and users. I know some of these people personally and have never met others. I enjoyed this aspect of Twitter although I did it very little, in fact. I should do it more. But I’d rather not socialise on Musk’s X.
It is impossible to ignore that Elon Musk is obviously unstable and that he is actively seeking to encourage far right participation on the service, which already generates abuse and hate. As a straight white male I get very little of this at the moment but I see what happens to others and I don’t like it.
I’ve recently tried following a few of the more thoughtful conservative thinkers I’m aware of. I find their output interesting but also quite often frustrating. It’s probably good for me to be seeing how others think but its not enough a reason to stay on Musk’s X.
Is Threads the answer?
It might be. But not quite yet.
Switching from Musk’s X to Zuckerberg’s Threads is hardly likely to be a pancea. But Zuckerberg seems more motivated by running a stable service and does not, as far as know, actively encourage far right participation. If what was Twitter simply moved wholesale to Threads then all of the problems with Twitter and Musk’s X would move too. But it looks like there’s a chance some of the more toxic elements might just stay on Musk’s X.
I tried manually sharing Free Movement content to Threads while I was away on holiday and I was impressed with the app as it stands. It also generated a reasonable amount of incoming traffic considering how little I did.
There’s a lot still missing from Threads, though, and my short time back at my desk confirms that I can’t make a full switch yet. Once an API is available and I can automate posts to Threads I absolutely will do. And once a website interface is available I’ll be able to monitor and share to the service much more easily while working.
I probably never will make a complete switch, at least unless Musk’s X completely implodes. As I’ve already explained, Musk’s X drives a lot of traffic to Free Movement and a lot of people I’m trying to influence or reach remain on Musk’s X. For now. I might even take the step of buying a blue tick; if the point of my account is to reach out and influence as widely as possible then this ought to be a no-brainer. I certainly don’t mind the expense, given that I already pay for services that effectively feed off Musk’s X such as Zapier, Buffer and IFTTT.
What I would like to see happen is for “immigration Twitter” and “law Twitter” to move our personal interactions over to Threads, as well as see journalists and others move across as well. Whether that is likely is unclear to me. Once the Threads service has an API and a website, I’ll certainly be using it more myself. In the meantime, you can follow me there now.