My Twitter Following Strategy
Posted in Web on Apr 8, 2018
I have a deliberate strategy that guides who I follow on Twitter, and the tools and techniques I use to curate my feed. I’m not sure how unusual it is; perhaps many of us do the same types of things but don’t share our thinking with each other. I wrote this post in case my thinking is useful to others.
My goal on Twitter is to broaden my horizons and help me to see the world through other peoples’ eyes. I explicitly do not use Twitter to learn about what’s happening in the world, stay in touch with friends and family, share photos, or discover articles or other content I value control over what I consume, and I value quality over quantity.
To achieve that goal, I balance carefully whom I follow and how, to create a high signal-to-noise ratio in my feed. This article is a set of principles and opinions I’ve developed over time, some fundamental and some in response to circumstances that arise.
First, my choices related to whom I follow and how:
I’ve seen various counterpoints to these principles as time has passed. For example, someone tweeted me to tell me I could follow my friends but mute them. That way, presumably, I wouldn’t feel guilty or risk offending my friends by not following them. I disagree; first of all, where does one draw the line at who’s enough of a friend to follow? There’s no right answer if following is about friendship and trying to make someone feel good about themselves, so I choose not to do that. Secondly, if I mute them, I won’t see any of their tweets, which isn’t what I want. It’s better to unfollow and rely on mutual friends to retweet their best to me. Again: I believe following is much better used as a curation and filtering mechanism. Trying to intersect that with a social signal is a losing game.
Another person agreed with my “follow more women” advice, and said he tries to follow roughly the same number of men as women. But he misunderstood me. I don’t try to do that. Women don’t get an equal voice in our society. I need to follow far more women than men to equalize their voices to the level they should be at. Check who I follow and see. If you’re having trouble figuring out how to follow more women who deserve to be heard, perhaps start with a list such as this and go from there.
Here’s an example of why putting into action many of the points I’ve made thus far is working well for me. Someone once tweeted “I wish following was a spectrum, so I could follow @pmarca at 25% and get only his top-quartile tweets.” Well, here’s some unsolicited advice: if you unfollow him and follow thoughtful people who will retweet his best, you’ll get that. But in this specific example, because @pmarca is actually not a nice person at all, what you’ll get instead is an education on why a lot of what he tweets is narcissism and hatred. You’ll get your perspective changed. That’s what you should want, instead of the top 25% of his most skillfully-worded bigotry. Forgive me for being opinionated, I guess?
It’s not all about who I follow: it’s also about how. There’s a number of technological and other factors at play (such as political and business interests), and I need to negotiate these with care. Here’s how I do that:
This sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it! It is, but it’s my responsibility. And it works: I no longer lack control over what I read. (Or at least I have the illusion of control). Put another way: I completely empathize with this tweet from Asya:
Dear @Twitter I follow more than 700 people. That means I want to see what they share in my timeline and not what some people I don’t follow (but they happen to follow) share. If what those people share is so cool, my friends will retweet it and I’ll see it then. Thx.— Asya (@asya999) April 8, 2018
The solution I found to that problem is purely technical, because the problem is purely technical. If I couldn’t use Tweetbot or something equivalent, I’d just stop reading Twitter. (I’d probably continue writing on it, though.)
Why go to all this trouble myself, instead of letting Twitter’s algorithms do it for me? Isn’t that what Big Data and Machine Learning is for? Ostensibly, yes, but as we’ve seen, absolutely no. There’s a deeper point here: I either take responsibility for my own consumption and learning, or I abdicate it to machines. And I believe that abdication to machines is amongst the most pressing dangers facing our society today. We have a President that was elected by foreign powers who figured out how to manipulate millions of people through the algorithms that they allowed to control what they see, hear, and believe.
Those algorithms are built and influenced by the inexorable demands of the company’s business model. I think the company is mostly helpless to understand, let alone overcome, the vulnerabilities to which their business model exposes them. If this doesn’t scare you, maybe it should.
My solution to this is purely non-technical: I built my own algorithm, so to speak, by following people with sound judgment, and a variety of experiences and worldviews. It’s old-fashioned, but I think it’s better than the new-fangled technologically generated news feeds that dominate the Internet today.