My Twitter philosophies: a manifesto

Many people have no use at all for Twitter, and good for them. But for people like myself, who are basically sitting at their computers all day, Twitter is an excellent way to stay connected to the world, to keep up with friends and colleagues, and to try out one-liners.

There are many different ways to use Twitter, however, and it’s disheartening when people expect everyone else to do it their way. Specifically, it’s aggravating when Twitter becomes just another tool, like Facebook, to apply social pressure to one another.

Here are my Twitter philosophies. I won’t say that this is how everyone should think, just that it’s how I think.

– I’m selective about who I follow. This is out of necessity. If I follow too many people, my Twitter feed becomes a torrent, and I can’t keep up with it. On Facebook, you can be “friends” with someone but make it so you don’t actually have to see all their updates. Twitter doesn’t have that feature. If you follow someone on Twitter, all their tweets will show up in your feed.* Therefore, I only follow people whose tweets I actually want to read.

I know not everyone does this! Some people follow hundreds and hundreds of people, apparently indiscriminately. Maybe they use the “lists” feature extensively to sort them all. I don’t know. I’m not that way. I only follow you if I want to read your tweets.

– This is not a reflection of how I view you as a person! Good grief, some people have made Twitter into a social minefield. They take it as a personal grievance if someone they know doesn’t follow them. You shouldn’t do this. It ain’t healthy. Don’t make it out to be more than it is.

I take back the part where I said I’m not going to tell you what to think. I am going to tell you what to think.

There are several people I know (and like!) in real life whom I don’t follow on Twitter. Some only ever tweet links to things they’ve written, and I follow their writing anyway, so their Twitter feed is redundant for me. Some get into fights almost every day with someone on Twitter, and I don’t like to see all the arguing, so I don’t follow them, even though I enjoy hanging out with them in person. Some people tweet too dang much, and they drown out everyone else I follow, so I have to unfollow them. (This condition is known as Twitterrhea.)

In no case is this a comment on how fond I am of that person. I can like you and not have to follow every damn thing you do in your life. I love my dad, but I wouldn’t want to watch him work all day. For that matter, he loves me, but he doesn’t read my movie reviews. Why? Because they don’t interest him. It has no bearing on his love and support for me.

You say, “But if it means that much to someone for you to follow them, why not just follow them? What’s the harm?” And I return to my first point: If I follow someone, that means their tweets are going to show up in my feed, and they are going to get in the way of the tweets I actually want to read. Again, you can add friends on Facebook without it having any impact on your Facebook experience, but you can’t do that on Twitter.

– Some people adhere to the Facebook philosophy: I follow you, so please follow me back! To this I say: No. I’ll follow you if I’m interested in what you have to say. I’ll follow you if your tweets tend to be amusing, enlightening, or otherwise useful, or if you’re a close friend or associate whose life I am interested in. If you’re the kind of Twitter user who follows hundreds and hundreds of people, that’s cool, but you can’t expect everyone else to be the same way.

This brings me to my next point:

– I don’t care who follows or doesn’t follow me. Neither should you! I mean, I hope people who use Twitter will find me worth following. But if they don’t, that’s OK!

There are sites that will help you track which of the people you follow don’t follow you back, or that will alert you when someone unfollows you. This is an excellent way to feel bad about yourself. I don’t know why you would do it.

I see people all the time saying, “Please follow me!” or “I wish so-and-so would follow me!” or “Oh, no! So-and-so unfollowed me!” And I think: Is your life so empty of legitimate concerns that you must go looking for new things to worry about?

Why do you care whether a particular person follows you? Keep in mind what you’re saying when you ask someone to follow you. You’re saying, “Please let my tweets show up in your Twitter feed, regardless of whether they interest you, and regardless of whether you know me. Please follow me for my sake, even if you get nothing out of it.” Kind of presumptuous, isn’t it?

More to the point, what good is a follower who’s only doing it because you asked them to? What kind of satisfaction is that going to give you? You don’t need pity followers. You’re better than that.

Sure, it’s cool when I notice that someone whose work I admire follows me. But the reason it’s cool is that they chose to follow me. I evidently tweeted something they liked.

If you want more followers, be a better tweeter. Tweet more things that are funny, entertaining, informative, useful, or otherwise interesting. Doing so gets you retweets, which exposes you to a new audience, which gets you new followers.

If you want more followers simply because you’ve attached some significance to your follower count, and you just want to boost the numbers … well, don’t. That way lies madness. That way lies neurosis.

Basically, you want followers? Earn them, mofo.

Even better: don’t worry about how many followers you have. You probably have your core — your friends, family, colleagues, etc. — and you use Twitter as a means of communicating with them. What else do you need? If you want to be more of a “public figure” tweeter, with lots of followers who are strangers to you, you have to do something worthy of gaining more followers. You can’t just ask for it.

– Someone used to follow you, but now they’ve unfollowed you? This means nothing. You are still a good person. Why are you poking around trying to see who follows you, anyway? It’s like reading someone’s diary. No good ever comes from it.

Now, if they unfollow you on Twitter AND unfriend you on Facebook, then maybe you’ve got a problem. You should definitely fret about what you may have done to offend that person, then maybe pass a note to a mutual friend during math class to ask what’s up.

Here is what it boils down to: Follow whomever you want! If you don’t like the way they tweet, don’t follow them anymore! Allow everyone else the same privilege of following or unfollowing whomever they want! Don’t feel obligated to follow anyone, and don’t expect anyone to feel obligated to follow you! Live and let live! This is the one area in life where libertarianism actually works!

*Twitter does have “lists,” and you could put all the people you’re following solely out of duty onto one list, and everyone you actually WANT to follow on another list, and only ever look at that second list. But come on, that’s dumb.