Ten Years In: Finding Balance to Enjoy Twitter

Last week saw my 10th anniver­sary of being on Twit­ter (as @stopsatgreen). That’s a long time, but I’m still there and still active because I still get huge val­ue from it. I don’t want to down­play that, for some peo­ple, Twit­ter became very tox­ic and com­pelled them to leave; but for me, no oth­er net­work has come close to match­ing the expe­ri­ence it pro­vides.

Over the course of my ten years I’ve devel­oped a few rules that help me con­tin­ue get­ting the most from Twit­ter; keep­ing my time­line fresh,  inter­est­ing, and valu­able. I’ve shared them here on the off-chance that they’re use­ful to you too, dear read­er.

Rules for Enjoying Twitter

Set a Fol­low­ing lim­it. Keep a man­age­able num­ber of accounts tweet­ing into your time­line. You’ll have to exper­i­ment to find out what that num­ber is (mine’s about 230); increase or reduce the lim­it so that you have enough activ­i­ty to fit your avail­able time—not too much that you’re over­whelmed, not so lit­tle that there’s noth­ing going on.

Main­tain your Fol­low­ing lim­it. If you’ve found your lim­it but want to fol­low more peo­ple, be ruth­less: prune your list. As a first call, try a tool like to remove inac­tive accounts. Then, assess accounts that you get no val­ue from, and cut them.

Don’t fol­low through oblig­a­tion. Don’t feel that you have to fol­low your friends, col­leagues, or pro­fes­sion­al acquain­tances. Assess them first, fol­low if you think they’re valu­able. Some­one might be mild­ly offend­ed, but it’ll pass.

Diver­si­fy your fol­lows. Bring some alter­na­tive points of view into your time­line. The unique advan­tage of the inter­net holds true for Twit­ter: it con­nects the whole world. Fol­low peo­ple whose pol­i­tics you might not agree with, and peo­ple who wouldn’t be part of your usu­al social cir­cles. Mix news out­lets with real peo­ple.

Avoid out­rage. Lis­ten­ing to diverse opin­ions doesn’t mean you should tol­er­ate big­ots, or peo­ple that you’re antag­o­nised by; it’s no fun if you’re annoyed and out­raged all the time. And if you real­ly do get out­raged by some­thing, con­sid­er if there’s a way to take real-world action—write to your MP, donate to a cause—rather than futile vent­ing.

Don’t fol­low Trump. Every­thing he does will get retweet­ed into your time­line any­way.

Don’t feel you must respond. “You are not com­pelled to form any opin­ion about this mat­ter before you, nor to dis­turb your peace of mind at all. Things in them­selves have no pow­er to extort a ver­dict from you.” Mar­cus Aure­lius wrote that in his Med­i­ta­tions about 1,850 years ago, and it’s no less true today.

Wield your pow­er light­ly. Twit­ter gives you the unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to pub­licly abuse politi­cians and oth­er rep­re­sen­ta­tives with­out any effort. Don’t use it. No mat­ter how much you dis­agree, or how awful you think they are, dri­ving peo­ple away from engage­ment in the pub­lic sphere is rarely a good idea.

Don’t try to win argu­ments. Nobody changes their mind if they feel them­selves under attack. If you find your­self in an argu­ment, reply a max­i­mum of twice, clear­ly stat­ing your posi­tion, then move on.

Be mind­ful of oth­er peo­ple. Dis­cus­sions that go on for a while can some­times be inter­est­ing, and peo­ple like to join in. But if some­one isn’t active­ly involved, and they don’t need to know what’s being said, remove their name from the list of peo­ple that are being replied to.

Sim­ple rules, devel­oped grad­u­al­ly (and some­times painful­ly). I’d love to hear any of your own.

Also pub­lished on Medi­um.