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 untweeps.com 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.