7 Tips for Wiser Twitter

5 minute read

Update Nov 2022

In the wake of Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter and the shitshow that has ensued, this post is looking a little dated and obsolete. To be honest, it’s by no means obvious to me that Mastodon is the clear way forward for most people. I’m much minded of the Great WhatsApp Exodus, when Facebook changed the WhatsApp Ts&Cs: Much noise, not much light, Signal was supposed to replace it, but most people are still using WhatsApp.

Meanwhile, for my own sanity and satisfaction, I’ve moved my own social-network presence over to Mastodon because it’s now something that’s actually feasible and workable. (I’ve been on Mastodon – various instances – since 2017.) What held back my activity on Mastodon was a shortage of interesting people to interact with around the topics that interest me. The Great Twitter Exodus has largely solved this problem, and for that I’m happy.

So: my Twitter account remains a thing, but will be inactive. If you want to chat, come over to Mastodon to find me.

It’s fashionable to rave about how terrible Twitter has become. “It’s a cesspit. It’s a dumpster fire. There’s a lot of it about.

And there’s some truth there. Certainly the Powers That Be at Twitter don’t appear to be making much effort to improve the quality of discourse or signal-to-noise ratio. I suppose they’re trying to make it pay, or something. What happens when you take millions in VC money…

On the other hand, when it comes to fast-breaking “news” — stuff actually happening in the world — Twitter is probably one of the best places to hear about it in real-time.

It’s also a great way to connect with other people, no matter where in the world they might be. People who’ve influenced you, affected your life in a good way with their stories, their music, their clever thinking, their teaching.

So it seems there’s something in there that’s worth trying to reach.

Clearly @jack and his Merry Band of Twits won’t do anything about cleaning up about the place, so it’s up to us to become more clever at how we use that platform. We can’t change how Twitter works, but we can certainly change our own behaviour. We can certainly change how we use the platform and cultivate a mindfulness about how it uses us. (And, who knows? If enough of us begin to interact more intelligently on Twitter, perhaps it will begin to follow us.)

So I wrote down some guidelines for using Twitter better, and for getting used by Twitter less.

I assume you are an ordinary (real) person who wants to “be on Twitter” as a way to engage in dialogue with other real people, and not a bot, troll, shill or emptyhead. If you’re on Twitter for some other reason, please reach out so that I can block you from my timeline, saving us both any misconception.

  1. Don’t follow: corporate accounts, political advocacy groups or news organisations. Their reason for being on Twitter is not to keep you informed, but inflamed. In general, favour real people over any organisations at a ratio of 4:1 or better. You’ll get enough of the organisational/groupthink press-release voices through retweets anyway.
  2. Be quick to unfollow. It’s no big deal. One of my most-frequent reasons for unfollowing someone is because they tweet/retweet too frequently. I might like what they have to say, might think they’re funny or wise or whatever, but if they click those Tweet/Retweet buttons too often… they’re gone from my timeline. I don’t need constant noise drowning out the worthwhile voices.
  3. Favour following people who tweet their own thoughts over following people who retweet. This is probably my second-most-frequent reason for unfollowing people. If someone’s tweet-to-retweet ratio falls too low, they’re gone from my timeline. No hard feelings, only… I’m following you to hear what you think and feel, not to get echo-chamber reverberations. There’s nowt wrong with sharing the stuff we find funny, thought-provoking or wise through retweets, but perhaps it’s worth following-up with what we found retweetworthy about it.
  4. So it follows then: Don’t retweet too often. Keep retweets to an average of no more than 1 retweet per original tweet from your heart/brain/whatever body parts motivate you to share. This is a rough guide, not a rule chiselled in stone. The point is, if you look over at your last 10 or 20 tweets, were they your thoughts, or were they someone else’s. If there’s a preponderance of Other Peoples’ Thoughts and a paucity of your own, you might want to stop and reflect a bit about what you’re doing. At any rate, save the Retweet button for the crème de la crème of what moves you.
  5. Make sure you select “Latest Tweets” for arranging your timeline, and not the “Top Tweets” Twitter wants to show you. You’ll need to keep an eye on this — Twitter will randomly, repeatedly and silently keep switching your timeline back to “Top Tweets”. It’s part of their Dark UI Evil. Just keep an eye on it and flip back to “Latest Tweets” every time. The idea is that you want to interact with Twitter’s other denizens in a bubble of your own making, not inside Twitter’s algorithmically-curated bubble which might be hilariously (or annoyingly, or even dangerously) wrong about your likes, dislikes and world-view. If Twitter is to be believed, I love Hiphop and Rap and Football (whether that’s American Football or Soccer is never clear). Could hardly be more wrong. How much more harmful if I allow them to shape the bubble of my political and social conversations?
  6. Those “Who to Follow” suggestions that Twitter keeps shoving in your face? Learn to ignore them. (If you are possessed of cunning browser-scripting fu that can hide/delete them, I’d like to hear from you.)
  7. Speaking of Who to Follow: DO follow a smattering of people you disagree with. Just because you disagree with (some of) their worldview doesn’t mean they’re disagreeable or stupid. We all need to pay attention to what’s going on outside our personal belief bubbles. But do pick the more intelligent and coherent ones and not the raving nutjobs. (Remember what I said about not following politicians earlier..?)

Bonus Tip: I don’t see many ads on Twitter… My browser is fully equipped with Industrial Grade ad-blocking. On the rare occasion I do see an ad in my timeline, I instantly block the account belonging to the ad: Never see ads from that crowd again. Might this hurt an ad-supported model for making money? Probably. Not my problem. Do I care? Not one tiny little jot or tittle.

Disagree with me? I’m @mikro2nd. Reach out.

Post Script: I’ve tried Mastodon, and… it’s hard. I like the federated model, and suspect it may be a lot more resistant to corruption and gaming due to the hands-on nature of hosting a node in the network. The discoverability is terrible, though, so it’s really hard to find people to converse with. Try me there if you like: @mikro2nd@indieweb.social