Dear Twitter. It’s not me, it’s you

Here’s a confession … I’m not as enamoured by Twitter as I used to be. Unlike a traditional break up argument (is this the case, I don’t know?) where one party says to the other “it isn’t you, it’s me”, I am most definitely saying “it’s not me, it’s you [Twitter]”.

Twitter, at its core, is something that merely reflects us, either individually or culturally. It’s a free tool and subject to very few rules and regulations. And I don’t like what I see there these days. A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought I would be in a position anywhere I would be called, or call myself, anything other than Avid Twitter User (ATU), but today I find myself a Reluctant Twitter User (RTU). I still use Twitter because I have made some amazing friends and contacts there, I have some fabulous conversations and networking, and the like. I’ve had ideas, shared them, allowed them to grow, collected and collated articles and books, all from Twitter. And I want to continue that. For the most part my use of Twitter hasn’t changed in the last year. But the way other people use Twitter has. Let me explain.

I have never used the ‘trending‘ or ‘moments‘ features of Twitter. I’m not interested in the latest celebrity news, I don’t care what who said to whom, or which talentless so-called celebrity is on the cover of some over-priced glam-mag, or whatever they’re called. And don’t get me started on the ads … all I’ve learned from Twitter ads is that the more you interact with them (either blocking the accounts or clicking the ‘dismiss’ option) just means you get more. The last time I tried dismissing or blocking the ads I ended up with a ad every 5th or 6th tweet in the iOS app. Now I ignore them, just gloss over them, and I get far far fewer! Annoying, oh yes, but fewer of them.

No, these are mere annoyances. What is causing me to think twice about Twitter is the way, as I said earlier, the way it reflects ‘us’ and how others are using it. In the last year the world has changed, it’s quite difficult to have not noticed. For my UK and European friends, it’s been Brexit. For the US and, frankly, rest of the world, it’s Trump. My Twitter feed is now full of political commentary and all sorts of negative content that wasn’t there before. Don’t get me wrong, and I’m not making a political statement here, the world feels like it’s on the edge of a very precarious precipice, and I feel like we’re toppling into the abyss on the other side we may never recover from. But that’s not the Twitter I want, or rather not what I look to Twitter for … this is why I ignore the ‘trending’ and ‘moments’ features, it doesn’t represent the Twitter (and my network) I want. 

I admire those who are vocal and active in bringing the ‘new world’ to our attention, to bringing the elite few to task for the masses who are not as able or represented (freedom of the press is powerful and ultimately the only thing capable of bringing balance to current affairs, by holding those in power to account for their actions), but I want to read and hear about it when I choose, not somewhere where I go to learn about my work, my network, my interested and passions, etc. Twitter has always been, for me, about learning, learning technology, etc. because those I choose to interact with and choose to follow are also tweeting about that. The world has changed, and all of us with it.

So, here’s what I need from Twitter, in this new world – I don’t want my Twitter timeline/stream to be controlled by algorithms, but I do want more control (note: I want the control, not for it to be done for me) over the kind of tweets that fill my timeline. If the 1,300 or so people I follow on Twitter want to share and discuss current affairs and Brexit and the like, then I am happy for them and don’t want to stop them, or unfollow them either. I just want some way to filter those out, until I want to read them. Twitter is acting against the rise (and rise) of trolls and the nasty side of the internet (some say too late).

Some might say I shouldn’t’ blame Twitter, it’s merely holding the mirror up to reflect society as it is changing, and it’s that reflection that I don’t like, but Twitter has changed – not just how it’s being used but also how it’s allowing itself to be used. Twitter, I believe, has a responsibility to balance how it is used. An analogy would be to not blame the car manufacturer for the people the drivers kill in accidents where their cars are involved, but we still hold them responsible for either false or misleading advertising features or safety they don’t have, as well as holding them responsible for the safety features they ought to have (so your car can go 200mph … how good are the brakes? Good enough, or the best they can possibly be?). So, Twitter needs to hold itself to account and deal with trolls, deal with the abuse of the verified icon, deal with the abuse of the global audience every tweet can have (whether it’s from someone with 3 followers or 3,000,000 followers), deal with (deliberate) misinformation from those who are in a position to affect so many, etc. Twitter has a responsibility. I don’t know how it can do any of this, but hiding or ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away. Inaction to deal with these problems, by association, is the same as allowing them to happen, almost to the level of making it approved behaviour, almost encouraging it?

Am I breaking up with Twitter? No. Or rather, not yet. But I am very conscious of trying hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Oh yes, Facebook. Don’t get me started on Facebook …

Image source: “Twitter” by Pete Simon (CC BY 2.0)

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  • Sue Watling

    Great post David, thank you :-) On a similar theme, have you noticed how the algorithms on Google have changed. The ‘trivia’ returned in response to a query is a fascinating reflection of the social and culture expectations underpinning them – or could be if searching wasn’t so frustrating!

  • Maria Haverhals Andersen

    Try using TweetDeck to filter out the politics. Use the boolean OR between words you no longer want to see in your feeds and the filters will remove the politics, leaving you with the stuff you used to see.