The sad and sometimes vicious business of Twitter pruning
I've never felt there was much need to go into any depth about this, since it's my business and mine alone, but I'm in the middle of a particularly long pruning session of Twitter follows (my own fault, I've been putting it off) and I need to take a break and blow off a little steam.
Unlike Tumblr, where anyone can follow me who damned well pleases, I selectively block followers on Twitter. I do this for two reasons.
1. I dislike people who follow on Twitter because they're trying to sell or promote a service. This is actually fairly uncommon and easy to spot, so it's the lesser of the two problems. If I see a follow from "Sprout Financial" or "Growth Hacking," I don't even have to check their stream to know I will be blocking them.
2. I also don't like it when people see one of my tweets out of context and follow for a narrow topic range. This is the bigger issue. What will happen is that one of my tweets will be RTd by someone with an actual following, such as Heather Corinna. Now, Heather is a good friend and I certainly don't want to discourage her from RTing me; I can deal with the consequences. But what happens is--let's say it's a political tweet. Suddenly I get followed by people who assume (or I assume they assume) that I will have many more acerbic political tweets that they will enjoy reading. They are likely to be disappointed.
Anyone who follows me because of a single interest is likely to be disappointed. In this batch I'm culling right now, for example, I see two accounts which very clearly followed me because of a board-game tweet I made. I tweet about board games once every blue moon, so go cultivate your topic somewhere else. Sure, there are certain topics I come back to over and over reliably, but I don't want people following me as a source of tweets on that topic. I don't like being pigeonholed that way, and anyone who does it is quickly going to be discouraged by how much I shitpost and wander all over the map.
Here is what I want from Twitter follows: people who are interested in pretty much everything I have to say regardless of topic range. (Note: interest is not always the same thing as agreement, nor should it be.) Usually that is the same set as "friends" or "potential friends." Twitter is a social network for me; I use it to chatter with friends. Its functions as a news or shiny-object source are coincidental and secondary. Ergo, if I don't think you're a friend or a potential friend, I block you.
One easy test is to check who follows them. If I have followers in common with them, that's a good sign and generally suffices to allow them to stay around. Sometimes it's only one person in common, and sometimes that person is a hub (like Heather Corinna), and if I suspect "this person followed me only because they liked one thing of mine the hub person RTd," I may look askance. But usually, having followers in common is good enough.
I also check the people they follow. What I want to see is at least two or three names I recognize, and I want to see them before I've scrolled down more than a screen's length. If I see one person I recognize amid five screens of political accounts, for example, I'm going to assume that the one person I recognize is how they found me and that they are coming in with incorrect expectations, and they get blocked. But if there are a lot of people I recognize, then I assume this is just a mutual friend, or a future mutual friend, whose identity I can't guess.
Of course the best thing is being able to figure out who you are and say, "oh, yeah, I know you from such-and-such." That's usually an automatic okay.
I think some people don't realize just how easily they can be figured out from their follow lists. I just blocked a (presumably very nice) young woman who listed, among the first couple of screens of follows, Sara Kendzior, Iron Spike, Elon James White, Maxine Waters, Jamelle Bouie, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Lewis, and Ijeoma Oluo. I agree with your causes wholeheartedly, madam, and I support you in them, and perhaps we will see each other on the line when the firing squads come, but I am not part of your political newsfeed.
(She followed me through Heather Corinna. Now, again, if Heather were following her, then that might be different--Heather would, in effect, be vouching for her. I'm happy to farm out some of the judgement calls to my friends, in other words. But Heather doesn't know this person and neither do I, and they don't know me, and the evidence suggests they don't really want to get to know me--they're just hoping I say something else snide about the current administration.)
Some judgement calls are tricky. Here's a young woman who looks like a very interesting person but I've gone through about four screens of her follows and can't find any real people (Twitter-Famous people do not count) I recognize. I suspect, given her interests, that she found me via a RT from either Jette or Lauren Brooks, but I don't have the patience to scroll down through all the 475 people she follows to see if they're in there.
(As an aside: How do some of you follow so many people? I have to assume you don't bother staying up-to-date. I do--I hate missing anything--and it takes me more time than I care to admit, and I only follow 91 accounts.)
Here's a person, conversely, who only follows ten accounts: Two real people I know (Jette and Beth), one Internet Celebrity (Wil Wheaton), three Amazon accounts, one of which is Amazon Video Games (very telling), three accounts for Las Vegas events, arts, and entertainment, and one person in Vegas whom I don't know who is apparently also a gamer. Deductions, Watson: This person plays video games heavily, and may possibly also be involved in selling or marketing them. They live in Vegas. They don't use Twitter very much, and don't think of it as a social tool. They have tweeted exactly twice, both times to RT Amazon giveaways (the kind where you have to RT to get a chance of winning). They have an egg avatar. The question isn't whether I want this person to be able to follow me (obviously not), the question is how the hell they found Jette and Beth.
I have to tell you, sometimes I wonder when I encounter a Twitter account that doesn't say much and follows almost no one. I am not biased against lurkers, but even lurkers read where they lurk. If you don't follow people and you don't post, what did you make a Twitter account for?
Also, of course, though I don't usually have the time or patience to look at someone's posts as a means of assessment, if you're a person who doesn't say much on Twitter it makes the judgement call harder. I have here a person who has followed a number of people I know well, including my spouse's public account and both of my sister-in-law's. The question becomes: is this a friend (or a friend-of-a-friend) whom I don't recognize? Or is it someone who has followed one of my friends, found some of my other friends through them, and so on? The person lives in Tampa, and I don't know anyone there. At a time like that, I do turn to their actual Twitter stream to help me decide--and hers is almost devoid of anything; thirteen items and all but three are reposts of random shinies.
In other words, while it's not absolutely required that I know you, in the absence of that, I need to be able to know that you are a real person who is using Twitter as a general social mechanism and not just as an aggregator for your various interests. This is a peculiar, small, ineffective bit of behavioral feedback for me; I'm trying, in my own little way, to groom Twitter into what I think it should be, which is a giant, chatty party-line communications device, where friends share information and gossip and jokes with their friends; not a means for you to monitor your seventeen astronomy accounts. Put that crap on a list.
That last example is brought to you by my biggest struggle in today's pruning. A gentleman who I don't know, who mostly follows space stuff--NASA, astronaut accounts, astrophysics, etc--plus a mix of political accounts and other "not a person" accounts such as national parks, the National Weather Service, the ACLU, so on. Very few real people among his 302 follows. I went down the whole list. Not a single actual friend in common; I can't even spot how he found me. The problem is, he's RTd several of my items--two or three times now. I hesitate to block someone who is apparently finding enough of interest in my shitstream to RT bits of it. So, congratulations, young stranger! (I know he's young because I went to his web site; he's a college senior.) Getting to stay is probably not much of a prize (I know how little my garbage is worth), but you've won it anyway.
Sometimes I wonder if I'm being too harsh. After all, surely letting new people in is how one grows and cultivates a social network, right? But in practice, I think the people who are coming in for a highly-focused purpose aren't really interested in a social network, at least not on Twitter. Today I blocked, for example, a guy who runs a film website. He's probably a good guy and it's probably a good website. But he followed me because of one film-related remark I made which Lauren Brooks RTd. That's not a good starting point. Nor will he miss me; he follows 1308 accounts, which means he won't even notice that I've blocked him, nor will he care. This pruning is strictly for my own sake, and I know it.
The easiest blocks are the ones with locked accounts. Unless I'm absolutely sure I know who you are--and sometimes it is nearly impossible to guess--if you're locked, you're blocked. I understand why people lock accounts on Twitter, but I don't play that. I won't even request to be added to one. I just assume you don't want me to see what you have to say, whatever your actual reasons, and write it off. (And I think following someone when you have a locked account is kind of unfair; my mind says, "Oh, so you want to see what I have to say but I can't see yours?")
Short version is that, as usual, I have the one right way and all other ways are wrong, and if you don't do it my way, I block you. I am petty, judgemental, and mean. The end.
I blocked nearly forty people today.