Many educators have wondered whether they should be leaving Twitter and what social media platform might emerge in its place since Elon Musk completed his purchase of the company at the end of October 2022.
Several researchers who study social media use by educators and within education are still looking for the answers to these questions, which is still an evolving situation.
Are Educators Leaving Twitter?
No studies have yet been conducted on Twitter patterns among educators since Musk’s takeover, but certainly some individual educators are leaving the platform in search of less toxic pastures. However, this does not seem to be happening en masse, at least not yet.
“I’ve seen a lot of talk about leaving,” says Jeff Carpenter, Professor of Education and Director of Teaching Fellows Program at Elon University (which has no relation to Elon Musk). “There’s a lot of concern about what's going to happen with the platform, and will there be a point at which I need to leave?”
This concern is two-pronged for many educators. “There's that real and important concern about the platform and its ethics in the decision-making since the leadership change,” says Carpenter. “Then they're also just weighing what's going to happen with my people. Because a lot of teachers feel that they have meaningful sort of connections to other teachers on Twitter. And so some of it is coming down to where will other people go? And will they go?”
Will Educators Leave Twitter for Mastodon?
Mastodon is probably the most talked about potential replacement for Twitter. The open-source and free software offers a decentralized, self-hosted social network.
“Mastodon is something that some of the education students I know have mentioned,” says Christine Greenhow, an educational psychology professor at Michigan State University. “But I think they're just in startup mode. It's very new. It's very niche.”
One potential obstacle Greenhow sees to the app taking off with educators is that Mastodon requires users to choose a server. This process can scare off less tech-savvy users, even though adherents of the platform say it is much less involved than it sounds.
Questions about the sustainability of Mastodon are also viable. “I like the ideas behind open source and free, and not tying into these capitalist structures,” Carpenter says. But success stories with that type of model, such as Wikipedia, are rare.
What about Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and Reddit?
Educators who leave Twitter may end up spending more time on other familiar social media platforms. “Facebook is the most studied social media among K-12 teachers,” Greenhow says. “We know that the majority of educators in the last few years are still using Facebook to network.”
Many teacher-centric Facebook groups are very active with large memberships. “I wouldn't be surprised if some people are trading in their Twitter for Facebook,” Greenhow says.
Teachers also frequently use Reddit, TikTok, and Instagram. However, none of these existing social networks perfectly recreate what drew some educators to Twitter. Instagram and TikTok tend to be more influencer-driven and less of a networking spot, while the closed nature of Facebook groups can create a barrier to networking opportunities, Carpenter says. Reddit has a norm of anonymity, which can have value but also makes it a very different place for educators to connect on than Twitter was at its best.
Future Social Media Use Among Educators
Going forward, if the situation at Twitter does not improve, finding a good replacement will be difficult. “I think that the big issue is that there's not some ethically pure platform out there, with all the right features that teachers want,” Carpenter says. “It's interesting to think of Reddit as a place that people might go to from Twitter because of Twitter being messy, because Reddit is plenty messy.”
Facebook and Tiktok also have their issues, Carpenter adds.
Joshua M. Rosenberg, a professor of STEM education at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who studies social media use at schools, predicts that if teachers do leave Twitter in large numbers there will be more than one replacement for the social media site. “My guess is that Mastodon won't be the platform that teachers or others in education turn to but that there will be a greater proliferation of different spaces, social media and others, that teachers turn to achieve the same goal, but with maybe less of the downsides of some of these massive platforms that are pretty well-documented,” he says.
On Twitter a teacher’s post might be seen by a relative or friend who is not an educator and that can sometimes be good because it widens the conversation, but it can also lead to unproductive debates and toxicity.
“Social media is not a good place to engage in a nuanced debate,” Rosenberg says. “These different spaces could lead people with more niche interests to stay within those groups, and at least at the current margins, that seems like a good thing.”