A while back, I took a close look at how I was interacting with Twitter, and set some ground rules to see if I could make Twitter work better for me. It's been a little over a month, and the rules haven't been super helpful—I still found myself getting frustrated or annoyed at my timeline most of the time.
The blanket rule of "don't retweet or engage with politics" has helped lower my frustration level a bit, and kept me out of potentially fraught conversations, so I'd count that as a small improvement. But it hasn't been enough; I've still seen a ton of things in my timeline which made me angry.
That's partially because I haven't been able to unfollow anyone that is primarily political. This hasn't worked out because most of the people I follow post a mix of politics and other stuff I care about (what's going on in their lives, etc.). I would be missing out on a ton of that stuff if I just unfollowed everyone that posted something political.
So I took a different approach: a couple days ago, I turned off retweets entirely. I no longer see anything that anyone retweets. The Twitter FAQ says it's not possible, but you can do it if you're willing to go through and turn retweets off for each and every account you follow.
The result, while not anywhere close to perfect, has been a much more pleasant experience overall. Since I only see original content, I now miss most of the viral outrage that's been going around, but I still get to hear what's going on in my friends' lives.
Moreover, I'm more likely to pay attention to those purely social tweets, since I'm not searching for them amidst the noise of retweets. And, if someone has an earnest, original political thought they want to share, I still get to hear that too (which is way more relevant to me than "U SHOULD BE MAD AT THIS ONE COP IN LOUISIANA").
I also feel generally more informed, because I've been getting most of my news from reliable RSS sources instead of Twitter. That means more fact-checking, and more in-depth analysis. Sometimes there is a delay (often of a day or more), but I think accuracy and depth are more important than timeliness—timely information is actually harmful if it isn't accurate, or is incomplete.
Yes, I miss out on cat pictures and some of, "I thought this thing was cool so I wanted to share it", but I think it's a reasonable tradeoff. I care more about keeping my timeline free of non-actionable outrage that will make me angry to no good end, than I do about missing out on cat pictures or dog ratings.
It's still only been a couple of days, but the results are encouraging—I've been finding Twitter to be a more friendly, engaging place. All of my earlier guidelines are still in effect, though slightly modified:
- Don't make retweets. Make signal, not noise—if retweets are mostly noise, I shouldn't be making them.
- Don't read retweets. Turn them off, by default, for everyone.
- Start or move deeper conversations elsewhere. This rule has been working well so far; nothing to change here.
- Continue consuming news mostly through RSS. Accuracy and depth are more important than timeliness, which means Twitter is not the place for news.
Let's see how this goes; I'm optimistic these changes will help.