I share links to things I write on Twitter but, really, I hardly ever Tweet. I'll like posts or retweet something poignant or funny from time to time, but wading into comments? No thanks.
Why? Because conversations don't happen on Twitter. They don't really happen on any social media platform. They're mostly broken and you should probably #NeverTweet. At least no one should ever tweet in the immediate aftermath of a controversy.
That said, I'm a proponent of reflective engagement with technology so I won't be closing my Twitter account anytime soon. By reflective engagement I mean the practice of carefully considering and, if necessary, re-evaluating how to engage with 'the latest thing.'
There’s a lot to be said about taking the posture of a “loving resistance fighter” when it comes to the disruptive power of new tech. The phrase was coined by Neil Postman in Technopoly (1993) and calls people to consider technological “progress” with both eyes open. Uncritical praise and uncritical condemnation are not in the best interests of the mass of people effected by technological changes.
What does this have to do with Twitter? It means users don’t have to use Twitter exactly as it’s designed to be used. Users ought to form Twitter more than Twitter forms users. Therefore I propose 3 changes to improve your Twitter experience:
- Turn off retweets
- Curate lists
- Clean your feed
Turn off Retweets
Quote tweets are kinda the worst and are also an example of tech companies prioritizing “engagement” (advertising impressions) over healthy discourse.
Some apps let you shut off Quote Tweets but the best that can be done on the web client is shutting off Retweets for individual accounts. At the very least this allows users to squelch reflexive signal-boosting. You know, for those people who retweet Occupy Democrats, Breitbart, or mindless memes.
If you know what a Developer Console is here's a guide to nuking all the Retweets on Twitter, if you want to go scortched earth.
Twitter as a live, information firehose has some utility for journalists, although I think it’s overvalued. Those who aren’t contractually obligated to live on the platform can definitely do better. Enter Lists.
I use Twitter Lists to continue following accounts I don't necessarily want intruding on my feed whenever they please. I like to avoid online filter bubbles and regularly follow accounts I don't agree with; that doesn't mean I give them to key to my house.
So, I make lists like Bi-Partisan US News, Evangelical Twitter, Video Game Makers, and Canadian News. If I want to orient myself to the theological debate du jour I'll head over to Evangelical Twitter and dive in -- I can jump out just as easily.
Curating lists takes a little effort but it's worth it if dumping Twitter wholesale isn't an option or just something you can't bring yourself to do.
Tidy Your Feed, Marie Kondo style
I don't know much about Marie Kondo but I know she inspired a great tool for tidying up Twitter feeds.
Tokimeki Unfollow guides you through your Twitter feed, presenting tweets from each account you follow and asks: "Do these tweets still spark joy?" (Tokimeki means 'spark joy' in Japanese.)
Along the way the tool will let you decide to keep following an account, unfollow it, or move it a list and unfollow from your main feed (see #2 above).
The process will take a while it you follow hundreds or (gasp!) thousands of accounts (Pro-tip: don't follow thousands of accounts). Again though, it's worth it. Move important or useful -- but unessential -- accounts to an appropriate list and take control of how you experience the platform, afterall, Twitter is more interested in the platform's health than yours.
If curating and maintaining multiple sounds like a terrible time you could try this idea I just came up with. Use Tokimeki Unfollow as described but move all the valuable yet frustrating accounts into one list called Unwashed Twitter, or Barbarian or Wild West Twitter (get creative). This'll keep the main feed civil, maybe, and still give you access to the evidence of Total Depravity that is Twitter.
Great, Twitter is less terrible now. It's still Twitter though, so... go meet a friend for coffee, I guess.