Twitter Politics for the Innocent, the Eager and the Damned
When anyone joins Twitter, they are gently lead into the Twitterverse by seemingly simple instructions on the main website. If those people are joining to participate in political discussions, that is quickly followed by a dramatic leap into chaos. And if they happen to be conservatives, they will likely get pulled along into the various existing Twitter-rivalries and nonsense. Maybe they’ll ride it out, and stick around for the long haul – maybe not. Twitter does a good job explaining the mechanics of tweeting – this is about the social side.
The following are a few suggestions for new folks (and veterans that are getting weary of the craziness):
1. Trust your instincts – Twitter is a quick ride, and can get heated. If you want to engage in arguments with people for sport, so be it. You will find no shortage of folks that enjoy doing the same. However, if you don’t want that, go with your gut, nothing else. It doesn’t matter if the user that’s offending you, (or even scaring you) has 10 followers or a million. It’s your choice what you read, who you follow, and what content you want to see on Twitter.
2. It’s Just Twitter – If you find yourself thinking that what you see on Twitter is “life”, it’s probably time to step back for a while. There are many users in the political realm that seem to literally live on Twitter. Some do, but the vast majority are probably taking advantage of one or more means of auto-tweeting to get their messages out. There are also many “pros” out there – journalists, writers, bloggers, politicians, political consultants, etc. Usually they act professionally on Twitter, but sometimes they don’t. Again, go with your gut, and your brain on this one. If they’re giving you links or other content that is actually useful to you, re-tweet, and even try to engage with them. But don’t take it personally if they don’t respond. They might not actually be online, might have many followers, or just plain be busy. Yes, there are some that don’t respond because they only interact directly with a select few. But, if they’re giving you good information, that’s no reason to stop following them. Just think twice about whether or not you want to take the time to try to engage with them.
3. Help! They’re Coming to Get Me! – Like anything else in life, Twitter has its dark side. There are people out there that find it necessary to threaten people in 140 characters or less. They also might call others names, threaten to get everyone to stop following them, and many other crazy things. Sometimes they’ll act like they are super-hackers that can get every bit of personal information they want about anyone. Unfortunately, many times these users will have many followers, and will enlist some of them to assist in bullying others. Again, like from the beginning here, go with your gut. If you feel that they are an honest threat to you (maybe they managed to figure out something about you that you didn’t share in your bio, or anywhere else online), by all means, block them. It may seem counter-productive, since these people usually wear being blocked by almost anyone as a badge of honor. That’s fine. Let them. However, before you block them, do make copies of the offending posts, and if nothing else, paste them into a text file. Once you’ve done that, use “block”, not “block and report spam”. You may choose to contact Twitter with your concerns, and if you are truly afraid that someone online is going to hunt you down offline, you should contact local authorities. (Do not do that, unless you are certain that the individual is actually capable of tracking you down.)
Admittedly, the previous advice is not for those that are sporting for a fight, at least not until they get in deeper than they intended. However, it is sound advice from someone that has been rattling around the political world of Twitter for about four years now. It’s not about doing it right. It’s about getting what you want out of Twitter. There are no “laws”, contrary to what anyone might say. Sure, it’s nice to think about having thousands of followers, but the reality is that unless you’re a corporation or public figure looking to broadcast your message to the masses, less is more. Quality wins every time over quantity, if you’re looking for real interactions with others. Pay attention to posts from folks you like, and see who they interact with most. Build who you follow slowly, and don’t feel guilty about unfollowing folks if they start to annoy you, or no longer post anything that interests you. It is your Twitter, not anyone else’s, when it comes to determining who to follow and attempt to interact with. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.