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Opinion Quitting Twitter is the new moving to Canada

Elon Musk speaks at the Satellite Conference in Washington in March 2020. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)
4 min

Quitting Twitter is the new moving to Canada.

A plan by the richest man in the world to blow some spare change on a perennially troubled social media platform has prompted plenty of users to claim they’re logging out — for good. Yet, their threats not only do little to intimidate a billionaire chief executive intent on colonizing space; they also ring familiarly empty.

The intention to pack up and leave a place to protest its leadership has become almost a cliche. If Barack Obama wins, Republicans said in 2008, we’re marching north. If Donald Trump wins, Democrats echoed in 2016, across the border we go. Few actually acted on these indignant commitments.

Why? Well, moving is hard. Relocating across the street already requires some heavy lifting; living somewhere truly new involves as much nostalgia for old stomping grounds as excitement at exploring untrodden territory. It’s one thing if you’re leaving because you really like the place you’re headed, and another entirely if you’re tearing yourself away from somewhere you still love to make a statement.

Statement-making is precisely what’s at stake in a promised post-election move to the land of mounted police and over-apologizing. We’re upset because the country might change — which means that at least to some extent, we’re happy with (and happy in) the country as it is. Or at least, we’ve gotten used to it. We’re not saying we want to leave. We’re saying that if the wrong team wins, we’ll have to.

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And then, of course, we don’t.

The same is true of Twitter.

Elon Musk, much like a despised politician presenting an ominous vision for the nation’s future, has sworn to transform the platform into a haven for free speech — which many fear means a sanctuary also for abuse. But abandoning the site in response isn’t like abandoning, say, Costco or SoulCycle. Twitter is the people on Twitter, in a way Costco is not the people who shop at Costco and SoulCycle (despite what the instructors tell you) is not the people who pedal their brains out there.

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Ditching the site these days isn’t even like the exodus from Facebook, because Twitter is in its modern-day form much more of a community: It is where the conversation and sometimes even the news of the day emerges from a constant back-and-forth of tweets, retweets, replies and ratios that needs everyone’s input to gain energy. These things aren’t happening only between friends or among families. They’re happening to a far vaster universe of loggers-on. The ever-intersecting communities within that bigger community, too — such as left Twitter, Black Twitter, gay Twitter, sure, even redistricting Twitter — can each feel like lands unto themselves.

Maybe there are things we hate about Twitter. No, definitely there are things we hate about Twitter, such as harassment and hate and viral lies, or, less gravely, the instinct of prolific tweeters to try to churn out the hottest possible take on any given subject. We blame the service, too, for drawing us in to long afternoons and late nights of what’s known as doom-scrolling — browsing our feeds ad infinitum to soak up an endless supply of depressing stories and ill-informed opinions.

But when people call the platform a “hellsite” — and they do — it’s used as a term of endearment.

You can see the misery, the merriment and the mayhem that comes from putting hell and heaven together in the collection of tweets related to this week’s acquisition: Where else, for instance, can you see Monica Lewinsky of all people sharing a screenshot, essentially the equivalent of a chain email, that urges people to repost an invocation of the Rome Statute to avoid “Mister Musk” stealing all their data? Where else would parody accounts dedicated entirely to the concept of an Italian Elon Musk (“I send a the calzone into space!! I don’t pay a the taxes!!”) even exist?

All of this is absurd, yet somehow it’s also endearing, because it’s so very Twitter, the same way hot dogs and college sports and ice in drinks are so very American. (Does Canada have these things? What kind of American has any idea?) Quitting Twitter wouldn’t be easy for the scrollers and tappers addicted to having all this messy humanity at their fingertips. Quitting America is a lot to bear even for those frustrated with its failings — so long as they’re still enchanted by its idiosyncrasies and inspired by its ideals.

America is good, so we stay, and America is bad, but we stay anyway. The same goes for Twitter, all of which is to say: Farewell, hellsite. See you tomorrow.