A Twitter Exodus Could Mean the End of Some Online Magazines

Photo:  Uncanny Magazine (Facebook) / Susan Walsh (AP)
Photo: Uncanny Magazine (Facebook) / Susan Walsh (AP)

Since Elon Musk bought Twitter last Friday, he’s changed his Twitter bio to “Twitter Complaint Hotline Operator” (cringe), haggled with renowned authors on the price of blue checks, and fired some of the social media site’s top executives. As a result, celebrities have threatened to leave, with figures like Shonda Rhimes being one of the first to ditch the platform entirely. While chaos continues to brew, many users are joking about where to find them (LinkedIn, Goodreads, and Quizlet to name a few) once Twitter is in the rearview.

But for some, simply migrating to a new platform isn’t just a minor annoyance. Online publications that depend on the social media site for their community’s longevity worry that a potential Twitter shutdown could be a fatal turn. “We could lose like a third of our readers right there,” Uncanny Magazine co-publisher and co-editor in chief Michael Damian Thomas told Jezebel. Thomas had originally expressed their concerns in a tweet from earlier this week, arguing that “the death of Twitter would decimate the science fiction and fantasy short story ecosystem.”

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Uncanny is a science fiction and fantasy (SF/F) publication that features poetry, fiction, and non fiction by writers from around the world, which Thomas runs with their partner, Lynne Thomas. Since its start in 2014, the publication has won a number of awards, including the esteemed Hugo Award, which they won six different times. Unlike the print magazines that dominated the 90s and early aughts, the online publications that gained traction in the 2010s worked to democratize the literary publishing industry, shirking exorbitant printing costs and widening accessibility and circulation to wider reaches. “[If you] have a community, and people love your idea and support the concept behind it, you can find people to make that thing come true,” Thomas told Jezebel.

That accessibility only grew once sites like Twitter gained unimaginable traction. “As social media and Twitter grew, suddenly, it’s not just that we could publish these stories, but thanks to the nature of Twitter, readers could find the stories,” they explained. Right now, Uncanny has over 29,000 followers on Twitter, while its site brings in roughly 50,000 unique readers each month, some of whom financially support the publication. Uncanny relies on Kickstarter donations for close to half of its monthly income, 20 percent of which are made by people who clicked a link on Twitter. But these funding streams for online magazines—which are concentrated on platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo—could all go away if and when the platform collapses.

These potential financial troubles have much larger implications for online publications, especially those that focus on science fiction and fantasy. One of Uncanny’s predecessors, the fantastical fiction zine Strange Horizons, is the model for the genre’s ability to challenge the monotonous, often white, cis-hetero narratives that saturate works promoted by publishing giants, offering fresh, subversive, and often feminist perspectives in their writing. “They were able to [feature] the community of science fiction [and] fantasy writers and readers who felt that their marginalized communities weren’t being represented well in the major magazines,” Thomas said.

Without the visibility and circulation that Twitter garners, the intentional diversity that Uncanny puts forth—from its managing editors all the way down to its first readers—could similarly dissipate, as would the audiences that they’ve drawn in over the years. The writers that the magazine features range in popularity, and the platform that Uncanny has provided them with has been crucial to their careers’ growth. Especially for writers who are just starting out, circulating their work on Twitter—and the snowball effect of retweets and quote tweets—has practically determined the success of their stories. “[Readers] certainly won’t get excited about [a] story the way that a viral tweet about a story can roll,” Thomas told Jezebel.

Without the community building power that Twitter—when utilized for good—does possess, sci-fi and fantasy readers and writers run the risk of being siloed to their smaller communities or left in the dark completely. “Once you lose the magazines, you lose this vibrant culture of gorgeous stories that have been globally growing from all these different points of view,” Thomas explained. “It’s going to be hard to get the word out. I think the big loss is the idea that we have this global community where there are very few barriers for people to discover it.”

For readers and writers of marginalized identities, the loss of this community is far more than just having one less site to scroll through endlessly every day. Thomas noted that with the increase of classroom book bans nationwide, online magazines like Uncanny might be the only time some students see their own narratives and experiences reflected in literature. When they go into classrooms to talk about Uncanny, students will often walk up to them and say, “Thank you so much. I read a story and I saw myself in it.”

That’s something no social media site should ever be able to take away.

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