Elise Shaffer
Back Sep 28, 2022

So Long, Telepath

It feels weird to mourn the loss of a social networking app. I left Facebook in 2017 because the constant flood of Trump news was overwhelming. I left Instagram a few months later because it had drifted so far from fun photo app I’d loved for many years. And recently I deleted TikTok because I found myself, on too many occasions, being lost in scrolling for hours. I stopped using Twitter on my phone because it’s so toxic. So it’s strange to see Telepath, a relatively new social network, shut down and feel anything but relief.

But, when Telepath announced that they would be shutting down, I found myself deeply heartbroken. I joined Telepath in 2020 after a column in The Verge turned me on to what they were doing. I joined expecting to check it out, find more of the same, and then fall off after a few weeks. But instead, I found a community of thoughtful people engaged in real conversations and an app that let you really make new friends online.

Telepath was founded in July of 2020 by two Quora alums who wanted to tackle the toxicity and propaganda of social networks. The app functioned like a cross between Reddit and Twitter, or a Quora for any conversation. Whereas Facebook and Twitter started by trying to connect everyone and dealt with issues reactively, Telepath built a foundation on a code of conduct and thoughtful moderation. It had a set of rules, like “be kind,” “no identity based attacks,” and “stay on topic and tone.” Users who didn’t follow these rules would receive a ban.

These rules set the tone of the whole app. But, the design of the app also encouraged thoughtful conversation. Threads were sorted into Networks. Some of the networks could be “TechIndustry,” “USPolitics,” or “Movies.” Users could follow people or networks, letting them get an experience that they really wanted. Moreover, users could mute networks or other users that were too noisy. Threads were deleted after thirty days. So conversations were always timely and focused. And you had some safety around being wrong.

I joined the app, followed a few networks and posted an introduction of myself. Over the next few days I watched as threads flowed in. I replied to a few of them and started having some really enjoyable conversations. Unlike Facebook, Telepath was full of thoughtful conversations. Members were critical thinkers. They were kind in their communications. Even posts that would be considers shitposts on Twitter were pretty benign.

Soon Telepath became the social network I checked every day so I could chat with my new friends. Unlike Facebook or Instagram, I didn’t feel angry or depressed when I checked it. I felt like I belonged in a community.

Through my conversations, I made quite a few friends. Like Sara, who shared my deep fondness for all things chocolate. Or Jason, who always had thoughtful responses to my comments. Or Stephanie, who’s sneaker enthusiasm inspired me to be more serious about my shoes. Or Stan, who kept my quiver of dad jokes full.

There are so many people I met and so many conversations that I will miss. The community has resettled on another service and it feels like we’ve kept our usual rhythm.

Still, losing Telepath makes me sad. It was the best version of a social network. And it’s closing indicates that there can’t be a good social network. It’s hard not to feel like the world lost something special this month.

Telepath was a beautiful moment, frozen in time. It was nice while it lasted.