For those of us who were on twitter in the early days, we saw a lot of the “failwhale”. It was a cute comic of tiny birds trying to lift a huge whale out of the water, and it showed up any time twitter was overloaded. Which was … a lot. Any conference full of people we’d now class as “terminally online” would crash it. “Social media strategies” still included faux-translucent-plastic buttons for myspace, but rarely twitter. It was confusing and weird and just … different from the other early social media sites of the day.

In fact, I’d gotten so tired of explaining twitter’s promise at the time that I wrote blog posts in 2008 and again in 2009 about how powerful twitter was as an outreach tool to convince people about its value.

2009 was also the first year of “twitter revolutions” around the world. My 2009 post from June of that year highlighted how twitter delayed some planned downtime to work around Iranian protests leveraging twitter. This would be the seed of many many things to come - Tunisia’s revolution, #Jan25 in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, and the “Arab spring”, the Moldovan #pman Twitter Revolution, and countless cracks in the control of traditional, often state-controlled, media.

2009, not coincidentally, also was the year of Clinton’s famous speech on Internet Freedom, launching investment in anti-censorship, digital safety, and digital rights support that continues with substantial impacts to this day.

As Twitter changes to X, cementing its new form of existence, I reflect on my writing from that decade with a deep sadness. We had this glimpse of hope around people using the Internet - and often Twitter specifically - to connect, build, and organize to improve their lives and their countries. Truly, this was the scaled, more equal and global promise of the Internet that I grew up with.

That energy and excitement is gone, and as I (unfortunately) predicted at the time, the SMS/twitter honeymoon ended and the authoritarians caught up. The world has become a darker and more divided place. We have seen a metastasizing spread of digital authoritarianism worldwide, and the tools we saw as liberating are just as often now surveilling or censoring us.

The world has changed, and our approach needs to evolve and adapt. The core promise of an open, interoperable, resilient and secure Internet still exists. In fact, the community-run, interoperable fediverse feels particularly well-aligned with this vision.

So as we say goodbye to Twitter, which captured the world’s imagination and opened so many doors for us in advancing an open and global Internet, We need to be thoughtful in our next steps.

How we achieve an open Internet is deeply tied to the goal of an open Internet itself. As an Internet Freedom and Digital Rights community, it’s time to move over to the fediverse. It’s imperfect - much like the 2009 twitter – it is confusing, weird, and just different. Unlike the 2009 twitter, it’s open source, non-profit, and community-run. It both needs - and can actually benefit from - our hands-on help. (A huge thanks in particular to some community members who have built instances specifically for the NGO / rights community )

Better worlds are possible - but sometimes it is us who have to do the work. Let Twitter’s end turn into a better - and different - beginning.