How Twitter works

When I punched the clock for the last time on my previous job, I noted that I would no longer pen articles about technology. And I’ve held to that promise for almost two years. But, based on recent Twitter replies, I see that I left some work undone. Let me rectify that now before ducking back into the shadows.

This all began after a long series of humorous political tweets (reluctant to tweet about tech, I mouth off about politics a lot these days). Similar to a few other replies I’ve received, came this unsolicited criticism from a Marylander who, from his Twitter feed, seemingly enjoys killing fish. Said fish-killer wrote:

Wow, so much respect for you and the work you’ve done, you've turn into a angry arrogant person. Sad for you. Really.

Apart from the grammatical errors, I think this nicely distills many people’s misunderstanding of what Twitter is and how to use it. Let’s break it down.

Twitter is opt-in

Obvious though it seems to some, it apparently bears repeating:

You are under no obligation to follow anyone. 

If you like what I tweet, great. If it angers you, follow these steps:

  1. In whatever Twitter client you use, access my profile.
  2. Locate the Unfollow button.
  3. Click/tap it.

I’m entirely cool with that. I don’t care how many followers I have—1 or 100 fewer won’t ruin my day. I don’t benefit from loads of followers or thrill to a little blue checkmark. And my Twitter personality isn’t tied to a commercial operation—I make it very clear that my tweets have no relationship to my work life. 

I do care, however, that I’m ruining someone’s day with something I’ve tweeted. I don’t have a direct line into each follower’s fragile feelings, so please take on the responsibility to remove yourself from a situation that displeases you.

Mute and block are your friends

I follow a number of people who go off on one jag or another—a new Star Wars movie, an awards program, or a sports ball team that doesn’t interest me. Much as I love these individuals, I have no desire to read such tweets and so mute their feed for an appropriate period of time. I’ve been known to mute particular hashtags as well.

Muting is also a good technique when you don’t want to see someone’s tweets, but you take a certain grim satisfaction in knowing they’re entirely unaware that you can’t see the streams of invective they’re attempting to heap upon you.

Blocking can be useful as well. In the case of the fish killer I offered to show him where the Unfollow button was and then blocked him, figuring that future conversation was futile. (And to alert him to that idea by disallowing any attempt to respond.)

You don’t get to tell me how to use Twitter

Because Twitter is entirely opt-in, save me the break-up tweet. As I said, unfollowing me is entirely your right. You chose to follow and you get to choose to stop. Easy.

But when you follow me, you do so with the understanding that you won’t know what you’ll get. I’m thrilled that you’ve found some of my work helpful—being helpful makes me happy. But there are other aspects of life that interest me—music, photography, my friends and family, humor, and, yes, politics—and I tweet about them. A lot.

Imagine going on a date and demanding that your partner only talk about those things that interest you—fish killing, for example, or your interest in promoting the Fifth Reich. Unless you’ve paid for your date’s time, this almost entirely ensures that first date is also the last.

Rather than selfishly force the conversation into a particular path, find a date who shares exactly those interests and nods agreeably at your every utterance. Barring that, track down the Mirror of Erised (or, for some of you, Fox News), and have your greatest desires reflected back at you.

In short, if it doesn't work for you, leave. But please shut up about it.

Summing up

  • Follow if you like.
  • Unfollow when you want.
  • Understand that people have multiple interests, not all of which may align with yours.
  • It’s only Twitter. Relax. Kill a few fish if that makes you happy. Even tweet about it. I don’t care.

And neither should you.

You can unfollow me @BodyofBreen