As it happens, less than two months after I published this, Elon Musk bought Twitter and subsequently made it awful to use in virtually every way. Awkward.
I no longer post on Twitter, rendering quite a lot of this post redundant. Find me on the Fediverse instead.
I originally joined Twitter in July 2007, slightly more than a year after the service first launched. These were the heady days when it was almost exclusively used by tech workers, when the site still went offline for maintenance (remember the Fail Whale?), and where you were expected to tweet mostly by text message (and yes, I actually did that a lot).
I’ve never stopped using it in the fifteen years since.
There’s no denying that Twitter has had a massive impact on the world. Hashtags are everywhere, news breaks faster than on 24-hour news channels, and it’s never been easier to complain to a supermarket about the salad you just bought having frogs in it.
But like much of social media and Big Tech™, that impact hasn’t always been for the better. Twitter has made lots of questionable decisions over the years (NFTs, removing tweets from LGBTQIA+ activists, the simultaneous failure to flag or remove disinformation from far-right sources, Elon Musk, and more).
It’s come close at times, but I can safely say that Twitter has yet to piss me off enough to stop using it… though I’m also on Mastodon. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
These are the rules of engagement I’ve developed over the years.
Managing my experience
I have two primary Twitter accounts: @batbeeps is public, @sudo_batbeeps is private.
This allows me to separate my followers into two groups: any Tom, Dick or Harry can follow @batbeeps, whereas @sudo_batbeeps is reserved for friends and family. This, in turn, allows me to share tweets only with those I’m comfortable seeing them.
Twitter has recently introduced a ‘Circles’ feature (like the one Google+ had back in the day) which lets you limit who can see and interact with particular tweets, but it’s new and fairly limited, so I’m sticking with the multi-account methodology for now.
Third-party clients have been shafted by Twitter over the years, either not receiving new features added to the platform or getting heavily nerfed versions of them (e.g. polls).
Regardless, clients are, I think, the best way to use Twitter. You don’t have to deal with ads, you don’t have trending topics pushed in your face, and you don’t get random likes put in your for-some-reason algorithmically sorted timeline.
Instead, you get the pure, original Twitter experience. Tweets, in chronological order, in a list. Amazing.
I primarily use Tweetbot on both iOS and Mac, although sometimes post via TweetDeck or the Twitter website.
Who I follow
I try to follow a relatively small number of accounts to avoid my Twitter experience becoming too overwhelming.
Currently, @batbeeps has a self-imposed informal limit of 420 follows. (Nice.) If I go over this, I’ll go through the list of accounts and unfollow any that appear to have become inactive.
Because of this limit, I tend to be fairly picky over which accounts I follow. I use Twitter at work, so I especially avoid following accounts that post significant amounts of NSFW content.
Please don’t be offended if you followed me and I didn’t follow you back. Feel free to reply, like, retweet and interact as you would normally, it’s still appreciated—and getting to know me through those little interactions makes me more likely to take the leap and follow you back!
Follows are never endorsements.
You’d think, with following so (relatively) few people, that I wouldn’t have much use for Twitter lists. Not so! I maintain two Twitter lists: one permanent, one situational.
My ‘Express’ list is a subset of accounts I follow belonging to good friends and content that I don’t want to miss, such as breaking news. It’s relatively slow-moving, and come morning, I’ll usually scroll back to see what I’ve missed on Express.
My other list, ‘Contextual’ is used when I’m at an event of some sort. If I’m attending a conference, for example, it may include accounts associated with the conference, the transport companies I’m using to get there, and the accounts of speakers, staff and other attendees. It’s a little bit of up-front work, but it often proves useful!
What I post
There aren’t really any specific topics or interests I post about consistently; they fluctuate over time with interests, feelings, what’s on telly, and similar influences.
Some recurring topics include bats (cute), robots (also cute), Formula 1 (when it’s the season), web development (front-end-y) and technology (Apple, mostly).
What I like
If you use the website, Twitter has the (frankly, quite annoying) feature of displaying things that have been liked by people you follow.
This is not a great feature to have if you have friends who are horny human beings.
When it comes to Twitter likes, I follow pretty much the same rules as what I tweet. If I wouldn’t tweet it, I won’t like it.
I include alternate text with images where the option exists. Sometimes I forget. Please be nice.
I don’t use ‘styled’ Unicode characters and neither should you. They’re awful for screen reader users.
The standard disclaimer
The things I post on Twitter do not represent my employer or anyone affiliated with them. I use social media in a wholly personal capacity and the views shared are my own. Good? Good.
What I don’t post
I do not post, like or retweet explicit or NSFW content on any public-facing account. Ever. Good? Good.
I work as a civil servant in a politically-restricted role. It is a requirement of my job that I follow the Civil Service Code and remain politically impartial in public spaces, including on publicly accessible social media.
As a consequence, I cannot tweet or retweet party political viewpoints; political party media or press releases; criticisms or praises of specific politicians, parties or policies; or respond to any queries relating to these topics, as much as I might have an opinion about them.
Note that issues relating to civil liberties (such as LGBTQIA+ rights), union and workplace activity (such as strike action), and impartial political activity (such as encouraging people to vote) are not covered by the Code and I can discuss these freely.
Sharing views about current affairs from outside of the UK is, in my interpretation, acceptable, though this depends on the nature of the news.
I share some politically partisan information on @sudo_batbeeps, as that isn’t a publicly accessible account.
Content and trigger warnings
I avoid posting topics that are likely to be sensitive to a significant number of people on @batbeeps.
If I do, I aim to place a content warning before it, by starting the tweet with either “CW:” or “TW:”, followed by the nature of the warning. Doing this causes the contents of the tweet to be hidden if you use an extension such as Better TweetDeck.
If the post contains a relatively niche trigger (for example, triggers relating to specific people, media, or phobias) then it probably won’t get tagged. Sorry.
Posts relating to physical health, mental health and medical matters will be restricted to @sudo_batbeeps and will usually not come with a content warning unless graphic imagery is present.
Signal boosts and callout posts
I do not share posts that ask to be reshared for “signal boosting” or “callout” purposes.
Whilst I am sympathetic to people struggling to pay bills, find work, and escape abusive living conditions, there are an awful lot of these around at the moment and it would be easy to completely flood my timelines if I actually shared every one I saw.
Similarly, tweets calling out individuals or organisations for being shitty cross my path incredibly frequently. I don’t want to flood my timelines and those of others by sharing them all, especially as the content of these tweets can often be triggering.
I may make occasional exceptions for people and causes close to my heart, but otherwise, I prefer not to share these types of content.
This post was inspired in part by “How I use Twitter” by Hidde de Vries. Good? Good.