Twitter (I won’t bother linking to it) is like a bar you go to where fights always break out. As a forum for conflict resolution, it is remarkably terrible. However, not everyone in this virtual bar is looking for a fight. There are wonderful people sharing uplifting, creative ideas on the platform that really are worth your time to seek out. But to use the web interface of Twitter using the default settings is a day-ruining mistake. Here are my five tips for toning down Twitter’s ability to enrage you.
Turn Off Retweets
Your timeline in Twitter will be filled with posts from the accounts you follow, as you might expect. However, twitter will also add to your timeline posts that your followers retweeted. I and others have observed that the most outrage-producing content are the ones most likely to be retweeted. This is done, most often, as a sign of support for the position promulgated by said post.
There are at least two additional problems with retweets.
The first is that since it is so easy to retweet a post, the retweeter often does not careful vet the veracity of claims made by the original poster. I can tell you first-hand that retweeting is often done for emotional reasons rather than rational ones. Retweets are the kind of content that makes Twitter terrible. Worse still is that you will be tempted to reshare the retweet and spread the virus further. Wear a mask, er, decline retweets in your timeline.
The second problem with retweets is that usually the reason you are following an account is to see original content. It takes (marginally) more effort to write a tweet than to repost. If you are following smart, diligent people, you will find the original posts of same a lot more interesting, nuanced, and considered. This is the content you should be paying attention to on Twitter.
Twitter knows that retweets prolong engagement with their platform, so disabling them is labor-intensive. Retweets must be disabled per-account. You will need to visit the account page of each of your followers. Near the top of that page (near the name and profile stuff) on the right hand side, are three vertical dots. Click on this to see a set of options, including Turn-off Retweets.
Because this is so painful to do, I suggest first stopping retweets from the accounts that spam you with the most rage-inducing content. Do this for maybe 5 - 10 accounts per day. After even a couple of days, you will find that the fire in your timeline is much reduced. The quality content will start to jump out at you.
There may be a few accounts whose retweets you want to see. Great! These posts will be welcome additions in your timeline and not get lost among noise.
Decline Resharing of Likes
Another way Twitter “helps” your timeline is to occasionally insert posts that your followers merely liked. As with retweeting, “liking” a tweet is a low-quality, intellectually cheap action that is a poor indicator of quality. For example, I like posts all day long that I would not even retweet! Why would anyone care to see the results of my compulsive clicking?
To turn off this behavior in Twitter, find a post in your timeline that Twitter inserted because some of your followers “liked” it. There is an inverted caret on the top right corner. Click that to see more options. One of those options will be “See less often”.
Set Your Timeline to Chronological Order
Twitter has some bogus algorithm it uses to order the posts in your timeline. This algorithm was not designed for your benefit but theirs. You can change the order that posts appear in your timeline to chronological by clicking on the set of stars at the top of your timeline. Change from “see Top Tweets first” to “Tweets as they happen” (or wording to that effect).
Chronological ordering at least grounds you in conversations that are contemporaneous. With top tweets, you could be responding to a post from a few days again, keeping a tedious thread alive longer than it needed to be. If an older post is worth seeing, you will often find it referred to by your friends or others.
Use Muted Words and Muted Accounts
This feature was long-overdue in coming to the platform. Twitter allows you to define a set of words and phrases that will cause posts to be hidden in your timeline and replies. This is a glorious feature that you should invest time crafting. I have a whole passel of politicians, pundits, and attention-seeking knuckleheads in my account’s list. Is this an information bubble? Sure, it is, just like a space suit is an air bubble for astronauts. Not all bubbles are bad.
Sometimes, you want to follow a user, but you do not want to see their posts often. This sounds weird, but the situation happens. For example, I jabber about politics a lot around election time. Some (all?) of my followers do not care to hear my wisdom on the subject. They may choose to mute me for some months until the fever has passed.
Muting an account is like putting someone on probation. It’s not as final as unfollowing, but that can often be the next step should posts not improve.
Block Accounts Early and Without Concern
Finally, Twitter allows you to block accounts of people with whom you wish no further interactions. I have about 100 accounts blocked, most of whom seem to want to argue with me. I do not argue with people on the Internet, since I am a professional Internet user.
Some people fell bad or nervous about blocking accounts. Do not. It is your right to control access to you. If someone even appears to be trouble for you personally, just block them. I have been blocked by comedian Paul F. Thomkins at least twice, although I am not entirely sure why. But the beauty of blocking is that Thomkins has never needed to explain why he did this. Neither will you.
To hijack a sloppy, sentimental expression, “block as if no one is watching.”
I hope you find this tips helpful. Many of them are already well known to long-time Tweeters. Note that some third-party Twitter clients may have even more ways to improve the quality of your timeline, so take the time to learn them.
Many of us spend far too much time on Twitter. I have been on the platform since 2009. Take control of your timeline or someone else will.