Christmas Day this year marked the ten-year anniversary since I first joined Twitter. In many senses, that single act changed the course of my life.
If it wasn’t for Twitter, I’d probably still be working as a highly-paid corporate shill. Instead, I’m scratching out an existence as a writer in the gig economy. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Polite and not-so-polite exchanges on Twitter taught me to challenge my own views on a whole range of issues, to distinguish what I really thought from what I’d been told to think, and to find better ways of explaining these views to others.
And in a round-about way, Twitter led me back to writing. It was someone on Twitter, with whom I was having a ‘vigorous’ discussion, who suggested that I should blog about the contested subject. At the time I didn’t read blogs, let alone have one, so this was an almost completely foreign concept to me.
However, I did start the blog and the rest, as they say, is history. These days, I post on the blog infrequently. It’s more a repository for posts and columns that were published elsewhere. Most of my current writing is either for The New Daily, the Despatches newsletter or on my Patreon page.
But given it’s my tenth anniversary on the twits I thought it might be worth sharing a few thoughts on the blog about how to survive Twitter.
Mute and block: If you do nothing else, at least take control of your interactions on Twitter. Your experience can be improved considerably if you curate your tweetstream. The easiest way to do this is to mute and block. If you hate reading cricket tweets over summer, mute the hashtag that most sports fans use. If there’s a troll or bully who won’t leave you alone, but you don’t want to give them the satisfaction of being blocked, then mute them.
I tend to use the mute button if I don’t want to see someone’s tweets, and the block button if I don’t want them to see mine. It’s not a perfect system, but it does the job most of the time.
Use lists: An even better way to improve your Twitter experience is to create a list of your favourite tweeps and follow their tweets instead of everyone that you follow. Make the list private (you can do that in the list settings) so that no-one can see who’s on it (not even the people who are on it). Every time someone new engages with you in a friendly or interesting way, put them on the list too.
Before long, you’ll have a little community of interesting and engaging tweeps to chat with. Remember to avoid creating an echo chamber though, made up only of tweeps who agree with you. Be sure to include people who civilly disagree with you too. They’re the ones who will help you to improve your own thoughts and arguments. I owe a great deal to people like that on Twitter.
Snark alert: I don’t need to tell you how tempting it is to post a quick snark to someone or about someone on the twits. Most of us get a little thrill when the post gets retweeted or faved, which only serves to reinforce our nasty streak. It can be equally tempting to jump into an argument that has nothing to do with us, or to participate in a juicy little pile on.
None of us are perfect, but if we all thought twice before posting such tweets, the Twitter experience might be a lot more pleasant for everyone. Be nice, it won’t kill you, and ask yourself whether you really need to buy into/create that war. Yes, I know there are exceptions, when people are ‘asking’ for it by being total arses themselves, but perhaps even in those cases it would make more sense to ignore the tweep than give them the attention they clearly seek.
Similarly, don’t fall into the trap of arguing with bots (their Twitter handles often end in a list of numbers), megaphones (usually political partisans) or sea lions. They’re just not worth the emotional energy.
Two glass rule: My final tip for surviving Twitter is to embrace the two glass rule. This is a carryover from my time as a media adviser, when I would never answer a phone call from a journalist if I’d had more than two glasses of wine (I pretty much exclusively drank wine in those days). That way I’d avoid saying more than I should.
The same applies with Twitter – if you’re going to enjoy more than a couple of glasses of your favourite beverage, invoke the two glass rule and leave Twitter for the evening. It will still be there in the morning, I promise. And you will have avoided saying more than you should!
Those are my top tips for surviving Twitter. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments.
And if you’re into making new year’s resolutions, this might be a good place to start.