Social Quitting

Forthcoming in the January, 2023 issue of Locus Magazine.

Cory Doctorow
7 min readNov 15, 2022

The Phillip Medhurst Picture Torah 397. The Israelites collect manna. Exodus cap 16 v 14. Luyken and son.jpg

As I type these words, there is a mass exodus underway from Twitter and Facebook. After decades of eye-popping growth, these social media sites are contracting at an alarming rate.

In some ways, this shouldn’t surprise us. All the social networks that preceded the current generation experienced this pattern: Sixdegrees, Friendster, MySpace and Bebo all exploded onto the scene. One day, they were sparsely populated fringe services, the next day, everyone you knew was using them and you had to sign up to stay in touch with them. Then, just as quickly, they imploded, turning into ghost towns, then punchlines, then forgotten ruins.

This didn’t happen to Facebook and Twitter. Both attained a scale and durability that exceeded the networks that preceded them. For many people, it seemed like the operators of these services had cracked the nut of making eternal social media. Maybe it was their access to the capital markets, which let them hire better engineering teams? Maybe it was the singular genius of their founders and leaders? Maybe it was luck?

Today, it’s getting harder to believe that these networks will last forever. In the blink of an eye, they’ve gone from unassailable eternal mountains to shifting sands that might blow away at at time. Users are scrambling to download their data and tell their friends where they can be found if (when?) the service disappears.

How did these systems go from permanent to ephemeral? How did it happen so quickly?

Here’s my theory.

When economists and sociologists theorize about social media, they emphasize “network effects.” A system has “network effects” if it gets more valuable as more people use it. You joined Facebook because you valued the company of the people who were already using it; once you joined, other people joined to hang out with you.

Network effects are powerful drivers of rapid growth. They’re a positive feedback loop, a flywheel that gets faster and faster.

But network effects cut both ways. If a system gets more valuable as it attracts more users, it also gets less valuable as it sheds users. The less valuable a system is to you, the easier it is…

Cory Doctorow

Writer, blogger, activist. Blog:; Mailing list:; Mastodon: