The X-odus of the Brussels Bubble

September 3, 2023 Harold Tor-Daenens

The X-odus of the Brussels Bubble

where is the promised land of EU policy discussions?

Twitter, aka X, used to be default platform for EU policy debates. Remember the time when the European Commissioner for Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip held the first #AskAnsip Twitter chat back in 2015? Back in those days, one could ask a question to an MEP on Twitter and expect to get a response.

Fast-forward to 2023, Twitter – now known as X – is seeing a sharp decline in EU policy-related conversations. While many of my contacts still keep their accounts, they are not actively using it as they had in the past. Whether due to one’s personal dislike to its new owner and his peculiar ways of managing the platform, or to the erosion of trust and patience in general of for-profit social media platforms to host healthy, respectful policy debates, the exodus of the Brussels Bubble from X is real.

But where is everyone today? That question is asked by me and almost everyone else in the Brussels Bubble as we scroll through an increasingly irrelevant X timeline. The answer is even more urgent as we draw closer to the European Elections next year.

I reached out to some in the Bubble – from lobbyists, to consultants and officials – to find out where they are right now and what they think will or should be the next place to be, after X.

The Stayers.

Annica Ryng, Public Affairs & Communication Director, Society of Audiovisual Authors

For over a decade EU-workers have been going to the same places. Twitter, initially a fresh and alluring space, quickly became a trendy place where we all squeezed in to chitchat about the latest EU news. Now, X has lost its charm and the new owner makes us feel queasy, but we are regulars so we keep on going, even if less frequent. LinkedIn is a platform for personal branding, while Instagram serves as an eye-catching billboard rather than a forum for debate. Some, like Mastadon, are less mainstream and others, such as Threads, have yet to arrive in Europe. As we await a new venue, we retreat to in-person meetings in the EU quarters.


Tom Moylan, Adjunct Professor and former Adviser to the European Commission’s Director-General for Communication

Twitter/X staggers on and will continue to mostly out of inertia and a lack of viable alternatives. The exodus so far has been among particular profiles for whom the platform has become more hostile (e.g. nearly 50% of environmental activists have departed the platform amidst a rise in climate disinformation). Yet more are hungry for an alternative, though they haven’t found it yet. Instead we see people trying to future-proof their online presence by building newsletters, websites and other “lifeboats”. I’d be open to the idea of Twitter/X pulling off a turnaround, but I think the more likely scenario is that it enters a slow decline without a crescendo. As moderation standards drop and algorithms favour people who would pay rather than develop compelling views of their own, gradually Twitter/X’s real selling point for the EU bubble (influential people working in and around governance, policy and leaders) will find new places to exist. Ultimately those who hang out on the platform to “own the libs” and troll the more moderate user-base will find it a much less interesting place without people to outrage.

The Substackers.

Dave Keating, Brussels Correspondent, France 24

With Twitter-turned-X feeling increasingly like a doomed platform, a lot of people in Brussels are looking for alternative platforms for discussing EU politics and policy. Some have looked to Mastodon, but I find it very unlikely that there is ever going to be a big audience on there. I think it might be a good time to reevaluate the whole concept of ‘microblogging’, as we used to call it, and look for more substantive conversations. That’s why I’ve started writing on Substack. The thing is though, you still need to share your work on a platform where a lot of people will see it, and that means continued use of Twitter/X – at least with links to other places.

The Youtubers.

Jack Parrock, Independent EU Correspondent and Presenter

As a freelancer, Twitter/X has been an important shop window for the work I do for different outlets, and also to build a following and be part of the conversation on EU topics whilst reporting for channels and publications outside of the bubble. Like everyone, I’m not happy about Musk’s changes at Twitter. I signed up to Mastodon, Threads, etc like everyone else but there’s no critical mass there and the great switch, especially for EU conversations hasn’t happened. The truth is that I have very limited capacity to work on building followings on those platforms. And more so, very little desire. I believe Twitter/X has played a really important role in increasing visibility for the journalistic work I do, but I’ve never earned a penny from tweeting. The cash comes from reporting for the media channels I work for. I launched a YouTube streaming show about EU politics as a foray into finding another avenue for conversations which is slowly building traction, but I’ll not be leaving Twitter/X any time soon. A begrudging Twitter remainer.

The Linkedinners.

Katrien Van den broeck, Senior Communications Advisor at Prime Minister of Belgium

Personally, I gave up on Twitter a long time ago. I realized I used it only to rant or join toxic discussions. Who is interested in me ranting, really? And which online discussion ever lead to viable solutions to improve the world? For me, X can continue to exist to find out what’s happening in the world or to connect with people online. Although, there is no reason to believe anything on X since Musk took over, the verification is for sale and there is no more moderation. Professionally, I prefer LinkedIn way more. There are actual human beings out there, not just bots and people paid to tweet or troll. Let’s hope Microsoft keeps it that way.


Nicholas Whyte, Senior Director, Global Solutions at APCO Worldwide

LinkedIn, that venerable beast, seems to me to be the winner for now of the decline in Twitter, at least as far as my professional interests are concerned. I personally find it rather an annoying platform – you have no idea of how the algorithm decides what you want to see, you get little information about how successful your own posts have been. But on the other hand, an increasing number of stakeholders are posting important content there – not just their own thoughts, but reblogging others. And, again, the tone of discourse is markedly more civilised and professional than on Twitter. Discussions on LinkedIn are very different in feel from Twitter threads, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.*

*Nicholas has in fact published a more complete version of his response on his impressive website which will reward a careful read.

The Instagrammers.

Evan Lamos, Events and Production Lead European Government Affairs, Microsoft

I have to confess – I’ve never felt at home on Twitter. But I’ve always felt obliged to use it. As a communicator, I have a strong preference for visual formats. When I need to write, I feel compelled to take my time to craft something that feels worth publishing. Twitter, as platform, has always seemed more suited to instant sharing and top of mind thoughts. Even though I struggle to communicate that way, I lurked around Twitter for years. I was interested in reading from others who excelled at it. And Twitter did a good job at delivering news and insights that I was interested in. But it doesn’t do that anymore. For the last year or so, I’ve found that my feed is full of tweets from people I don’t know. Half of my notifications seem to be about Elon Musk – and I don’t even follow him. So I hardly use Twitter anymore. I’m sceptical that X will ever be useful to me. But I would love to be wrong. In the meantime, you can find me on LinkedIn and Instagram.

The Mastodonners.

Sebastien Tarnowski, Digital Communications Specialist in European Public Affairs

A lot has been said about Twitter under Musk’s management. There’s even a Wikipedia page on the issue. This subject as every other one on Social Media tends to polarize people. In the EU Bubble, Elon Musk is mainly seen as an egomaniac whose decisions about Twitter/X promotes extremist content and dis(mis)information. Which is mainly true but given the business model on which Social Media lies, as manager he may have taken the right decisions to make Twitter profitable. That context leads many of us to leave Musk’s platform or at least think about it. My main choice is Mastodon partly because it has a dedicated server for people working & interested in the EU Affairs: But to be honest, Twitter will still be there in at least one year from now and remains the best way to reach people inside and outside the Bubble. Also, have you noticed how this “Exodus” made Linkedin “cool again”?


Dr. Jens Jäger, Delegate for the research field Health, Helmholtz Association of German Research Centre

Oh, Twitter of circa 2021, how I miss you. Since that platform has become a refuge for fascistoids and those who appease them, I have been more active on LinkedIn and Mastodon. LinkedIn is a great place to discuss EU policy: It is the more professional network (duh!), and people tend to be civilized over there. While I have seen more aggressive content recently, overall LinkedIn unites many policymakers and lobbyists; and importantly for me many research institutions and their projects have accounts there, so they can be involved in conversations. On LinkedIn, I enjoy the chronological feed and the option to follow hashtags: Both are useful to find ongoing threads of discussion, and to identify new people to talk with. What’s missing? Activity from a wider range of people. So many accounts are using LinkedIn only every couple of years to scout for new jobs that the mere number of accounts deceives — only few engage in actual conversations. Mastodon, on the other hand, has a different vibe: Much less corporate, and without a platform algorithm, we ourselves are the algorithm. Users only see what’s posted by the ones they follow, plus posts containing the hashtags users subscribe to. Simple and effective! Users are overwhelmingly friendly, respectful and willing to help each other. Lots of institutions have opened Mastodon accounts since late 2022 — and just like on Twitter, they rarely interact with other users. While many researchers have joined the Fediverse and profusely share and discuss their work, I have had fewer exchanges on EU research and health policy. Stakeholders from this field either aren’t on Mastodon yet, or cannot find my posts. (Or, of course, they don’t find what I post interesting enough to reply.) Mastodon continuously introduces new functions. With global search now possible and “quote posts” on the way, I think the Fediverse has great potential to serve the EU bubble. If you know what “comitology” is, you can find your way around on Mastodon, too.

Proponents of Public-Private Partnership in a new platform.

Paul Nemitz, Principal Adviser, European Commission

We created the Mastodon instance ( as an alternative to social networks run for profit (such as ex Twitter now X) because we want to contribute to make possible a public discourse on EU policy issues which cannot be captured by the arbitrary will of capitalists like Elon Musk. The good thing about Mastodon is its decentral organisation and non profit nature. We have now over 1000 users mostly from the Brussels EU Policy space. I continue using also other channels like X and Linkedin but I think we all need to engage more and more public money must be spent to create public interest infrastructures for the digital age in the same way that we started financing public TV in the analog age and are still financing it publicly today. We need a mix of public and private infrastructures in the digital space as we have created such a mix also in the media space if we want to keep democracy going. Today more than 50% of people in the US and the EU build their political opinion on the internet. If this space in Europe is only left to the control of powerful private companies and addition all from the US, that is not good for democracy and not good for Europe.

Opponents of Public-Private Partnership in a new platform.

Clemens Schuster, Founder of AI-driven EU regulatory monitoring platform SAVOIRR

There are plenty of options to move, may it be Spoutible, Spill, Threads, Post, Jack Dorsay’s Bluesky or Mastodon, the notorious best in class idea-wise but never moved on from being the dingy open source child, and of course back to bad old Facebook blue, vanity realities of Instagram, bragging Microsoft-owned LinkedIn or shortclippy Chinese spyware TikTok, I want to touch a different aspect. You may dislike it but platform economy still brings a “winner-takes-it-all” with it, and so did Twitter regarding their focus in shaping public discussions in real-time, low-threshold, location-independent, accessible. Regulating big tech has failed forward to tackle this issue. As an entrepreneur, I’d never ask for government-run platforms, I’m also quite sceptical about governmental or tax paid platforms. In finding the sweet spot between making the backbone of our democratic nowadays digital discourse infrastructure accessible (public funding), and building, maintaining, and developing such a platform securely, innovatively, there isn’t too much left of a (business?) model. We know them: more or less all public broadcasters around the world suffer from inertia as being an immovable, mostly politically compromised colossus (BBC, ARD, ZDF, ORF, RAI), or irrelevance as they have been financially slashed (NPR, DR), or turned into a dictator’s delight (Hungary, Turkey, Russia etc). In finding the sweet spot between making the backbone of our democratic nowadays digital discourse infrastructure accessible (public funding), and building, maintaining, and developing such a platform securely, innovatively, there isn’t too much left of a (business?) model. Especially scalability at more or less marginal cost while keeping and extending users and their time spent on the platform makes traditional approaches of PPP (public private partnerships) difficult.

All within a sturdy legal framework.

Lukas Mandl, MEP, European People’s Party

The whole discussion stands and falls with the possibility of free expression of opinion within the legal framework. Social media platforms will be an important supplier of content and information if the responsible persons or companies are willing to continue the dialogue in a respectful manner. Additionally, it becomes more and more important to fight every single effort of disinformation which tries to divide our society.

Another 40 years of wandering in the desert

Matthias Lüfkens, Founder of Twiplomacy

Over the past decade and a half Twitter has become the predominant platform for digital diplomacy and X is still the place where governments and organisations share their daily activities. But over the past year it has received stiff competition from newcomers Bluesky, Hive, Koo, Mastodon, Spill, T2 Social and Threads. However, none of the new social media channels will ever be able to replace the formidable digital diplomacy network that Twitter was and X still is. It will take months to emulate X’s features and years to build active and engaged communities on these platforms. Threads which has seen explosive growth in July has been stopped in its tracks. The platform hasn’t reached the maturity of X and it is still not available in the European Union. LinkedIn has profited from the demise of Twitter with activity increasing by 41% this spring compared to the same period in 2021. The future will be a splinternet with smaller networks of like-minded users. Only time will tell whether that will be on Bluesky, Mastodon, Threads, X or all of them…*

*Matthias has recently published an opinion piece about this scenario.

Where art thou, O Platform of Milk and Honey?

Whilst we spend the next years divided across the Splinternet as Matthias has predicted, in my view, we ought to spend time reflecting about what makes the next Platform – social media or otherwise – the most suitable place for healthy, safe, democratic public discourse on EU policies, not just for the Brussels Bubble but for anyone and everyone interested in contributing their point of view.

A new robust platform should possess these properties much like the Ten Commandments:

  1. It shall have a critical mass formed by and with the active participation of all key players, from politicians, citizens and industries to researchers and thinkers;
  2. It shall give users the ability to support an argument, to help spread that argument with an opinion;
  3. It shall be able to aggregate conversations around a single argument so as to provide as much context as possible;
  4. It shall be populated by real, verified individuals who may also represent real, verified entities in order to counter disinformation;
  5. It shall facilitate real-time instant conversations around live events and happenings, yet with a near-instant filter to eliminate extremist language and views;
  6. It shall contain an AI-powered real-time fact checker to verify claims made by any user, and will stop the display of such false claims to stem the spread of disinformation;
  7. Its AI-powered fact checker shall also eliminate any AI-generated images, videos or text to stop disinformation;
  8. Its powerful filter will also remove shared links that contain falsehood and disinformation that may not present in the posts themselves;
  9. It shall NOT allow for any individual or organisation to artificially increase the exposure of their opinions by paying for it;
  10. It shall NOT allow non-national users to influence critical national decisions, such as national elections or referendums;

As mentioned by everyone above, not one of the social media platform have been able to achieve any of the above. Even with a perfect platform developed, we still need a viable long-term business model to sustain it. Until then, in front of us is this long period of wandering around in circles.