The way we use social apps like Twitter is changing forever

new restrictions online pose questions for the future of social networking

“We’ve applied the following temporary limits,” read Twitter CEO Elon Musk’s public announcement over the weekend. Since last Saturday, everyone’s favourite social media app Twitter has been facing temporary constraints and limits due to extreme levels of data scrapping and system manipulation. With Musk’s new limits for the social website, unverified accounts will only be able to see 800 posts per day, and for “new” unverified accounts, just 400 in a day.

The announcement came a day after Twitter’s Friday action to block access to the website for anyone who isn’t signed in as a registered user with an account. It seems like the days of social media being free because users are the product may be coming to an end and we’re approaching a new era where paying a standard fee opens users up to the best online experience. As we watched unfold over the weekend, what was simply a measure put in a place to address third-party data scrapping soon descended into a collective existential crisis on the Twitterverse (and beyond, of course).

For young Africans, Twitter was one of the first springboards for many of us to share our unfiltered thoughts and experiences, safe from judgement from the older generations and in the presence of our peers who shared similar characteristics and traits. Three years ago, when the EndSARS protests erupted across various states in Nigeria, many young people took to social media, particularly Twitter to air out their frustrations at the government. While underway, these young people also masqueraded their pain as memes, jokes and GIFs, which they shared online in a very real way. In the digital age, the stock response to any unfortunate news seems to have become a need to flood social media with memes in attempts to make light a terrible situation. It’s a similar occurrence everywhere else in the world; think WWIII jokes, and more. Self-deprecating humour is a life source for many who are constantly online and in need of side-stepping the heavy news cycle.

As expected, many are dissatisfied with the new changes and have began looking to alternative platforms, which soon may include Meta’s own version of Twitter and Spill—a Black-owned social network formed by ex-Twitter employees which is currently in beta-testing mode. If you’re on Twitter today, you’re likely experiencing an app that is more frequently broken, more random, and more unhinged than the platform has ever been. The site has seen a sustained uptick in outages and bugs for the past year since Musk stepped in as CEO and upended the current system.

Last year November, an anonymous Twitter engineer interviewed by MIT Technology Review shared that after the staff reductions, “Things will be broken more often. Things will be broken for longer periods of time. Things will be broken in more severe ways… They’ll be small annoyances to start, but as the back-end fixes are being delayed, things will accumulate until people will eventually just give up.” Earlier this year, NPR and PBS, two major news outlets, stopped using the platform and deactivated their accounts, saying they had lost faith in Musk’s decision-making after he slapped a “government-funded media” label on the accounts.

For most of Twitter’s history, its value was its community and users, who post, comment, start discussions, spread information on the latest happenings and share opinions, for free. For A&R and music exec, Feyisola Ogunbajo, she joined Twitter over a decade ago, eager to utilise the online platform to share her thoughts and new music. “I grew up on Twitter,” she shares candidly. “It’s a part of my youth. I think this might be the end of the road for me if Twitter continues this way, but deep down, I know I might buckle and pay for the app. I’m attached and I don’t know if another app would feel the same. It does open up a conversation you know, would other apps start making us pay for them?”

Ogunbanjo and many others like her, are starting to realise that Twitter is not just a community; it’s also a business. While it was once a marker of our youthful exuberance, the website’s business needs will always come first, and right now, the company is showing that it needs to make more money and regulate the online experience for everybody. But the long-term effect remains to be seen. Back in March, according to Similarweb data, Twitter had a 7.7% decline in traffic compared to the year before, which marks the third month in a row of year-over-year traffic decline. Similarly in March, there was a 3.3% in Twitter’s unique web page visitor count year over year; while on Twitter’s Android app, average daily active users were down 9.8% year over year.

The drastic decline in online traffic and unique views is alarming for a site which once taught us how to feel and stayed constant through different phases of our lives. However, this writer believes that therein lies the controversy: how does one justify paying for a service that’s been free all our lives when there is no viable competitor? Many tech entrepreneurs have already begun to create alternatives such as ClubHouse, Spill, Substack, and more, which are raking up new users each passing day. For Nneoma Kanu, a multidisciplinary creative and tech founder in DC, pivoting to a new app still seems far off.

“One of the challenges with social platforms today is the involuntary binding they create,” Kanu shares. “Our information, social graphs, and reputation become locked within closed databases, making switching costs unbearably high. After investing years in building a following and reputation on a particular platform, it’s not easy to simply move on to the next one when they aren’t composable by nature.”

Already, there are cracks starting to surface in the new social apps cropping out of the ether. Recently, the co-founder and CEO of Spill, Calvin Benton can be seen sharing in a viral clip that Spill is not exclusive to Black people and professionals. “First, we want to make abundantly clear is Spill is open for everyone. [We want] to build a better experience for folks who drive the most culture, who also happen to get the most hate, is that it will become a better experience for everyone,” he shared.

Given the volatile climate online, it remains to be seen what long term effects will arise from Musk’s latest decisions at Twitter HQ. With the summer rolling on and numerous reasons to be outside enjoying with friends and family, it seems like more and more people will be voluntarily opt out of social networking altogether. “I definitely won’t be pivoting to another social media app. If Twitter does end up being truly unusable, I’m going to use my websites a lot more,” shares music manager, Seunfunmi Tinubu. Nevertheless, we’ll be watching this space to see how things develop in the coming weeks.

Featured image credits/NATIVE

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