Twitter is a place where you could very easily lose your faith in social media or, worse, lose your faith in people along the way. But taming the noise to create a bearable ‘X’ might still be possible…
I recently took a few months away from Twitter and spent a lot of time thinking about the good and bad to be found there.
Returning because I missed the craic from the New and (inexplicably) Unimproved Stormont, I also missed the updates from a huge number of those Twitterers I’ve enjoyed chatting with over the years.
That engagement for the fun of engagement, as opposed to the chore of replying to countless blue tick-emboldened trolls, may be the key to a happier Twitter life IF your reason for being on the platform allows it.
But how to make this happen in an era of countess hate accounts, constant trolling and weird drop-shipping ads? Here’s the Twitter rules I now try to follow…
THE GOLDEN RULES
Rule 1: Lean Into The Echo Chamber
Unless you’re running a professional/ campaigning account or you particularly enjoy endless debate in a nuance vacuum, don’t rule out simply creating a great place to have a bit of craic and a yarn about the news with friends.
A friend uses an excellent ‘three reply rule’: if someone isn’t listening or engaging with the actual topic of your Tweet in good faith within three replies then it’s time to block and move on.
Rule 2: Taking Debate Somewhere Else = A Quiet Life
It might be my Autistic brain, but if someone barged up to me in public and said ‘I disagree with your view’ my response would ‘fine, why should I try to change your mind’. It’s an interaction I’ve never understood.
Despite the urge many have to argue every headline to death on Twitter, I’ve rarely – maybe never – seen a debate of any value on the platform as the format just doesn’t allow it. Plus, there’s that risk of content collapse.
Feel free to try to spark a worthwhile debate if you enjoy a hopeless cause or your work account requires it but, otherwise, why bother?
Rule 3: Watch The Topic (And The Time)
There are some seemingly innocent topics you’ll probably regret mentioning without good reason. One random example from many? Electric cars. The kind of people who descend into a fury at the sight of a cycle lane will now get into a red-faced rage about electric cars. The resulting ‘conversation’ is unlikely to be a good use of your time.
And, in the name of all things good and true, never mention the likes of vaccines, blockchain or crypto unless you want your mentions full of bots, marauding trolls or – worst of all – furiously typing bores with charts.
There are times of day to be mindful of too. For example, weighing into constitutional politics or symbolic issues on a weekend afternoon or at closing time will fill your mentions with flags and shouty amateur dramatics. But rarely anything even remotely resembling a discussion.
Rule 4: Follow People Who Love What They Do
A feed full of Twitter users like people who create things, journalists at the top of their game who kindly tweet constant live updates and charmingly fanatical hobbyists can be a game-changer.
Those people who spend their time hijacking replies with a PowerPoint presentation’s worth of gibberish they saw in a shady corner of YouTube? Not so much.
Follow well and block often.
Rule 5: Resist The Clickbait
Don’t just banish the trolls, starve the clickbait too.
Some local media outlets now produce more and more low-quality clickbait packed with trigger words, trigger people and trigger topics to game their online stats (as an aside, I’m amazed advertisers fall for this). It also masks their lack of investment in actual journalism. To avoid these in your feed, and avoid adding your clicks to their traffic, simply stop putting them in your feed.
Also, Elon’s Twitter loves to drag you into a wheelie bin-load of Trumpy causes and reward your engagement in these with attention. Just look at the stuff in your suggested feed to see the stuff it wants to send your way.
An important note: that algorithm is particularly looking at you, fellow men of a certain age. The ‘likes’ gathered from weird accounts from the across the world are tempting, but it’s drawing you into a conveyor belt of US-influenced takes that’ll leave at the lonely table in the local, ‘real life’ social media world wondering why no one is replying any more.
Rule 6: A Troll is a Troll
If you do join one of the regular drives against online abuse of the NI variety, don’t be tempted to simply campaign against X group doing something that’s sadly widespread everywhere (remember: your own algorithm means you’ll only see it from one ‘angle’). Also, them’unising the issue is a lazy, tacky position.
Twitter undoubtably needs to be cleaned up by the next owner but a broad approach feels infinitely better than pointing a finger across a room.
A special exception to this point should be made for blatant harassment of women in an environment that’s clearly riddled with misogyny.
Rule 7: Get Personal
Having a professional account works for some but, more often than not, these accounts seem to flounder on the fringes.
If your work identity account regularly engages with other people then it can be valuable, and there are some superb examples of this, but this can be tricky and time-consuming compared to using a personal account driven by personal hobbies and interests.
MAKE TWITTER YOUR OWN
If you were standing at a bar, would you rather gather a few interesting people around you for some craic or invite a pointless row with every hallion in the room?
Every friend who has managed to enjoy Twitter during the Elon Spiral has for the time being (a) created a circle of people whose content and company they’ve decided will be worth worth their time, and (b) ignored most of the noise, especially the more belligerent users, beyond their favourite accounts.
Of course, the liberty to treat Twitter as an extended groups of friends will depend on what you need from the place. For example, I cannot begin to imagine the bile a woman journalist’s account, unavoidably dealing in contentious issues with a broad audience, has to face in 2024.
But broadly speaking, and especially for personal accounts, enjoying your Twitter life perhaps means reducing your expectations a fair bit plus, crucially, blocking early and blocking often.
As someone who missed the accursed place for all its faults, I promise you it’s worth a try.
Conor Johnston writes about subjects including mental health, communications, culture, identity and media.