Breaking Bird Brain

Chip Stewart
4 min readNov 9, 2022

Tuesday was my first election since 2008 without Twitter on the brain. It was, all in all, a pleasant experience.

Mind you, I can’t pretend to be pleased with the results. I live in Texas, after all, so there wasn’t a single candidate I voted for who won, either locally or statewide. That’s just the way things are around here.

But what was missing was the anxiety, the frustration, the anger, and the constant, constant scrolling. Twitter had fueled that for me for years. So much out of my control, yet so much attention devoted to what even its most avid users call only half-lovingly the “hellsite.”

In 2020, I couldn’t sleep the night of the election. Last night, I said the serenity prayer, knowing that regardless of what was going on over on the Birdsite, the results were going to be the same in the morning. And I actually got a decent night’s sleep.

How did I get here? Earlier this week, I quit Twitter. After a week of the new Twitter owner sharing anti-gay conspiracy theories, hurling insults like a petulant teenager, and general bumbling about until finally using his platform to endorse the sedition-curious party, it was time to leave the platform I’d built most of my online presence and community on, not to mention one that had been the subject of research articles and books that have been significant steps in my academic career.

BTW, new edition of Social Media & the Law came out in October! It’s got a lot about Twitter in it.

It’s a real loss. And it hurts. But I also couldn’t stand being held captive by a legit bad person as the cost of accessing my community and platform. Cory Doctorow has some thought and advice about this very problem.

And, like when I quit Facebook a few years ago (I’ve since reactivated and deactivated several times, but very rarely log in and use it), one of the reasons was I couldn’t morally justify being a part of the volunteer content-creating engine that makes the place money. The only language they speak is money, and the only action I have that may remotely affect that is depriving them of my labor and attention.

But, then, what? Well, I’ve been trying out Mastodon. It’s had some ups and downs, but a lot of the Twitter community is starting to reconstitute over there. And what we’re learning is — Mastodon is a different place. And that can be a very good thing. My friend Jeremy Littau has a good explainer (“the n00b’s guide to Mastodon”) on what it is and some advice on how to make the place work if you’re coming in from the culture of other platforms like Twitter.

I’m not going to rehash all of it, but a lot of folks — journalists and academics like me included — are finding out about the new community, what they expect, and what makes people want to keep participating. It’s not just a Twitter clone, by design. Content warnings, text captions on photos, and politeness are expected. There’s no algorithm to promote the things getting mass shares and attention, which are often driven by anger and hate. Dunk tweeting just doesn’t happen because quote reposts aren’t allowed. I unfollowed two journalists and a political science commentator yesterday who mostly wanted to make their feed outrage shares about the crazy things they’re saying on Fox News or copying the most awful things going around on Twitter at the moment.

Yesterday, I shared a few things on Mastodon. A bit like my Twitter feed, it’s a mix of the things I do — media law, the academic life, some cooking. So I posted a photo of a couple of my students out covering election day for a class assignment. In the evening, I posted a recipe for sausage and apples brushed with maple syrup, a stupid easy midweek meal. I avoided politics because nobody on there wants to hear it from me, and that’s a real curb on posting about it. My other posts got a few likes and a few comments of support.

It was pleasant. It was fine.

When I woke up this morning, I went to the Texas Tribune to check the unsurprising statewide results, and to the Fort Worth Report (our local news nonprofit) for the unsurprising local results, and to the Washington Post for the somewhat surprising national results.

What’s next? I don’t know. I’m going to keep playing around on Mastodon and see if it works for what I want. I almost wrote “need” there, but as I learned from dumping Facebook, we don’t need any of this. Maybe it’s better for our brains, too.



Chip Stewart

Lawyer. Journalist. TCU professor. Viewer discretion is advised.