As Twitter descends into chaos, VTubers question social media future

Phone with twitter in the darkUnsplash / Twitter

Twitter has had a tumultuous first few weeks under Elon Musk. From mass firings to Twitter Blue’s controversial implementation, the future is uncertain. For VTubers who have made the platform their home since the beginning it’s a very worrying sign — but it’s not all doom and gloom.

Twitter is the main social media platform for VTubers. While creators may stream on Twitch, YouTube, Bilibili, and other various sites, they all unite on Twitter to share more personal messages and thoughts in the “public square”.

“There’s no site quite like it that becomes a central hub, mixing pot, and versatile medium for content creation,” VTuber artist ‘Keyokku’ told Dexerto.

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“Imagine any other platform like Pixiv or DeviantArt, there would be nothing to post in between your long art process. Instagram or TikTok has to be a well curated video format that artists can’t often do. Or communication-focused platforms like Discord where no one will stumble across you randomly.”

However, that public square is potentially at threat following the purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk. The $44 billion deal has given the Tesla and SpaceX CEO the keys to one of the largest social media platforms, and the first weeks under his reign have been tumultuous, to say the least.

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Immediately following the deal, Musk pushed to give verification to all via Twitter Blue. The subscription service, which once offered ad-free viewing and various other perks, would become the only way to get the coveted blue checkmark verification (it has since been shelved for the time being). That led to a slew of issues as users took advantage of the lack of moderation to impersonate big brands and names, as well as devaluing previously verified accounts.

“As a content creator I feel like [Musk is] doing us a disservice by not offering a secondary way to measure credibility like all the other platforms, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, [and] Twitch,” Cloud9 VTuber Vienna, who was verified before Blue’s implementation, said on Twitter.

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“I used to get accused of pretending to be in my organization or being a fan. Verification for the last year or so curbed that for me significantly, but I now no longer have a way to display legitimacy.”

For many content creators, that wasn’t the biggest concern though. Musk had bluntly stated users should pay up if they wanted their posts to be more visible in replies and search as the algorithm would change to be heavily weighted to verified users. “Trolls and bots” would be relegated to the bottom of results ⁠— on the assumption everyone had the $8 a month to buy Twitter Blue.

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It led to abject panic within the VTuber community before its implementation, and then total despair afterwards. When it soft launched on iOS for users in select countries, there was immediate concern. Would posts now be relegated out of the algorithm? Would VTubers have to pay up to stay visible on Twitter? What if you didn’t live in one of the few countries offering it?

Some VTubers did end up coughing up the $8 a month for various reasons. One was popular indie ‘Senz’, who didn’t beat around the bush with their reasoning: “I honestly just wanted to see if I’d get the check mark,” he laughed. “I canceled my subscription immediately anyway, though I will say the features that came with it were pretty cool.”

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Others were more scared about missing out on the visibility the algorithm changes could have invoked.

“I was going to wait and see how it affects the algorithm,” Keyokku said, although they never bit the bullet in buying the subscription.

“We were anxious it would prioritize verified posts but it also didn’t say anything about the main home timeline. My concern was also with the impersonation and deterioration of quality across the platform as anyone can abuse these powers. and we saw that happen.”

Twitter Blue’s poor implementation is only one subset of problems that has VTubers looking elsewhere for their future though. Many who spoke to Dexerto cited other forms of mismanagement at the company since Musk’s acquisition at the end of October. The mass firing of employees, the reduction in moderation, user safety and privacy taking a back seat to profits. While Twitter Blue is the scapegoat for now, the trust is eroding fast.

“I don’t mind them taking [Twitter Blue] away, but I would say don’t trust Twitter right now because they are under new ownership and everything is a bit erratic at the moment,” Senz said.

“We are already seeing the decay and entropy of Twitter,” Keyokku added. “According to devs, Twitter will literally go down in a week’s time until it is unusable. The platform along with my livelihood is disappearing due to one person’s hubris.”

This poses the question though: where can these online communities rebuild? If existing platforms don’t meet the needs, there has to be compromises made, or new homes built. That’s led to the rise of Mastodon, a platform which poses itself as a decentralized Twitter-like platform.

While it launched in 2016, the VTuber community was one of the first adopters following Musk’s acquisition. There’s various communities built onto the platform ⁠— which isn’t so much a singular site, rather an interconnected web of instances within a ‘federation’ which can freely communicate with one another.

vt.social is the biggest of such spaces on Mastodon for VTubers. Since the very-public crash of Twitter Blue, admins ‘Luna’ and ‘Asahi Lina’ from the nullptr::live cooperative set out on making a space for virtual content creators on Mastodon. They are now handling hundreds of requests to join the space every day as more users diversify their social media presence.

“The same day Musk took office we were already playing with the idea of starting our own Mastodon instance,” Luna told Dexerto.

Luna was grim on Twitter’s future, saying it won’t last “for long with how Elon [Musk] is mismanaging it.

“A lot of people who knew what they were doing are no longer at the company, and it’s up to engineers who don’t have the deep knowledge of the systems to put out the fires.

“Whoever’s left are forced to work their asses off, even to the point of sleeping at the office while Elon Musk tweets whatever toilet thought he has which can rapidly change product direction at any moment.”

Mastodon is not a perfect Twitter replacement, Luna and its users, which include Keyokku, admit. There are definite upsides to the platform that negate some of the issues Twitter are now facing, but it’s not without the flaws that come with something being decentralized.

“The platforms have more stability as one company going down won’t knock out the entire network,” Luna said, detailing the positives. “The platforms have varying degrees of user control when it comes to determining what a user wants and doesn’t want to see.

“[However] Federation means that some servers are made by people who explicitly want to harass others,” they continued. “We have tools to deal with them, but how and what is dealt with very much depends on the host of your server.

“A lot of ‘fediverse’ servers are not made for discoverability, which means we have to pick up that issue ourselves and hopefully get it contributed back upstream.”

vt social mastodon sitevt.social
vt.social is the biggest VTuber instance on Mastodon, but it’s not the only one.

It’s also small fry compared to what Twitter and its hundreds of millions of monthly users can offer. The vt.social Mastodon site only has a few hundred users at the time of publishing, and the site as a whole has 1.5 million monthly users. That’s decent, but nothing close to Twitter.

The reach of Twitter is undeniable, and content creators might harm themselves by jumping from one site to another full-throat.

“I don’t know if it can replace Twitter and build such reach and influence, but it does have its perks,” Keyokku said. “It does feel like a closer knit community because of the instances and there’s no algorithm to understand which is a weird experience. I believe there is a future, and familiar faces are popping up as I continue to advocate for it.”

However all agree the chaos of Twitter since Elon Musk’s acquisition has highlighted the importance of not relying on a sole site too much. Mastodon isn’t the only social media platform users are trying to establish a presence on: Inkblot has become a favorite for artists, especially since DeviantArt announced their new AI art generator.

Tumblr has seen a resurgence. TikTok still exists, and legacy platforms like Facebook and Instagram could be potential new homes. There is uncertainty ahead, and Twitter may end up stabilizing. But with the water rushing in, many aren’t taking chances and are looking at diversifying their reach in case it all hits the fan.

“I already had plans on diversifying and was slowly working on it: I’ve had Twitch, Pixiv, Patreon, Discord brewing for ages, but I thought I had more time,” Keyokku said. “It’s almost like mortality ⁠— just thinking there’s always more time and never thinking it could be the next day you suddenly can lose so much.

“I think content creators should try and grow an audience on every platform at once,” Senz added. “It raises your chances of being noticed and growing on all, which usually ends up with them being intermixed and sharing numbers, and having backup media where if one becomes irrelevant you have those others there for you as a safety net.”