andrew burke





News Is Breaking Threads and BlueSky

Posted on: 2023-11-06

The theme of the second half of 2023 has been rebuilding my social media and general online life after the collapse of Twitter.

I've now got a pretty solid set of RSS feeds in Feedly, and accounts on Mastodon, Threads, and BlueSky. I generally read (or at least skim) every article in Feedly, and every post in my strictly only-people-I-follow-in-chronological-order timeline in Mastodon, but I dip into the algorithmic "For You" timelines in Threads and BlueSky every so often to see what's going on.

And I think the last week or so has broken them.

Since it was invite-only, BlueSky managed to build its own distinct culture pretty early on: it seemed to be where the quirkier more entertaining Twitter users migrated and got serious about shitposting. For me, coming quite a bit later, I've found it to be home to a lot of the Halifax people I used to follow on Twitter.

Threads went for fast growth by making it very easy to simply import your account from Instagram, and quickly grew to 100 million users, some of whom even occasionally post. Being owned by Meta/Facebook, it has a more top-down culture, and CEO Adam Mosseri is on record as trying to avoid making it too much about breaking news and debate on it.

But world events have derailed all of this.

I've carefully avoided saying much about the late 2023 Israel/Hamas situation, since it's terrible in so many ways and nobody needs to hear my groundless uninformed opinions about it. Israel/Palestine has been a source of bad takes for nearly a century, and the latest events have made it much worse. Also, US politics is heading into an election year, as the GOP House caucus is being hijacked by even weirder extremists than usual, and Donald Trump is heading to court. Meanwhile Canadian politics is coming up with a new government scandal every week or two, with the main opposition leader and potential next Prime Minister having built his platform mainly on smarmily "owning the libs" and generating clickbait outrage.

The algorithms in Threads and BlueSky just can't handle the current volume of bad hot takes. My algorithmic timelines are full of furious grandstanding about genocide (in multiple directions simultaneously), fundamentalism, impending fascism, and occasionally climate collapse - almost entirely from people I don't follow and would never want to. It makes me long for the early days of Threads when the we're-still-figuring-this-out algorithm mostly just showed corporate brand accounts, lifestyle hustle bros, and OnlyFans girls sharing bikini selfies, all sharing bland engagement-pandering prompts like "Wow another Monday already. How are you handling it?"

I already get news from multiple sources. I know what's going on, and that much of it is terrible. I already get relatively well informed opinion from people who actually think deeply about current affairs. I much prefer occasional thoughtful deep dives into complicated situations than lots of knee-jerk hot takes. I used to spend hours flipping through Twitter. Now I didn't even install it on my new phone, and can only put up with a few seconds of the new algorithmic-feed replacements.

I guess I'll see you on the blogs and maybe Mastodon.

UPDATE: After posting a link to this in, naturally, Mastodon, Threads, and Bluesky, someone I follow pointed out that Bluesky doesn't really have an algorithmic feed per se yet. On further poking around I see that this is true. While Threads keeps showing me lots of popular heavy-engagement outrage from various people I don't follow (and won't!) all the trouble in Bluesky is from people I follow.

On further reflection, I think the problem with Bluesky right now is two-fold: first, the current situations encourage a lot of holding forth and arguing, even for accounts that have previously been more pleasant and/or measured; second, it looks like Bluesky doesn't have the feature where I can hide a person's shares (retweets, boosts, whatever they're called) - I've found this to be essential on other platforms, as there are certain accounts I follow that have essential insights when they post directly, but who also seem to spend a lot of their time sharing posts from other people, often much more student and/or apocalyptic. If Bluesky can add this feature, it would make it a much nicer platform. I'm still leaning towards Mastodon though.

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