Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sometimes, I Want to Quit Twitter

When someone asks me what Twitter is all about, I say this: Twitter is like a giant room where everyone talks and anyone can hear, unless you "whisper" to someone in a private chat. What you say in this big room is witnessed by anyone who follows you or who is "listening" for a key word that you might use. If anyone who follows you likes what you have to say, they may repeat it to those that follow him or her, and so on, and so on.

You may earn more followers based on how your words spread, and that's what builds the Twitterverse.

However, when you put something out there on Twitter, you open yourself to whoever is following you or whoever retweets your tweet. Everyone is on a level playing field in Twitter, so if you don't want to have someone—anyone—respond to something you throw out there, it's best to keep it to yourself.

That's Twitter, in a nutshell.

I follow more than 1,000 people on Twitter and almost 1,100 people follow me. A modest amount, and I am thankful for those who follow and engage me. Those who I follow, I follow for many reasons:
  • I know the person.
  • I know of the person and I like what he or she has to say.
  • I'm a fan of the person.
  • I'm a news hound and that person is a trustworthy source of news.
  • I'm a beer lover and that person is associated with beer (brewer, brew blogger, and so on).
  • The person makes me laugh.
  • A person who I follow has retweeted this person enough times for me to want to follow her or him.
Sometimes, if I tweet something that my followers like, they will retweet it and I may gain new followers, and if they engage me, I may follow back. And if they engage me, I almost always respond. I usually respond to a kind tweet with a kind response. I respond to a thoughtful tweet with thoughtful intentions. I tend not to respond to tweets of criticism, unless they're critical in a way that opens up a conversation where there is mutual respect (if it's an attack, I tend not to respond).

That's how Twitter is supposed to work. It's how social media is made social. And I've made some great friends through Twitter, people that I have come to know well in person as well as online.

If I follow someone, he or she doesn't have to follow me back. If I read a tweet from someone and want to engage him or her, I do.

But sometimes, I get the feeling that there are those who want to tweet and not evoke a response, and I feel that that's a shame, because Twitter is the tool to start a conversation, to maybe make a new friend.

A week or so ago, I responded to someone I had only followed for a few weeks (but who does not follow me back). When I read the tweet, I thought the person was soliciting advice on a serious subject. She asked the question, "What do you write to someone who only has a year to live?"

Tough subject, and when I read the question, I felt for this person in her sorrow. I looked at her timeline, to see if there was more context around the question she posed, but found none.

I reached out, and said something, like, "I wouldn't write something: I would just try to be there for him or her." My opinion was that spending time with someone who is dying might be more meaningful than any words written down. Personally, I wouldn't know what to say to someone in the situation that this person on Twitter had described.

The response to my tweet caught me by surprise. I was told that the person who is dying was unconscious and wouldn't know that anyone was with him or her. I was called "judgy."

I responded, explaining that my intention was not to pass any sort of judgement, and that I was sorry if I came off that way. I explained that I didn't know all the facts of the situation.

Another response came back: I did sound judgemental, and still did.

Once more, I apologized for sounding judgemental, that that was not my intent.

Finally, I was told that this person had deleted all of her tweets to do with this conversation, and that I had made her feel awful. "Thanks for making me feel awful," I think were the words that she tweeted. (I couldn't check later: the tweet was removed.)

I didn't respond to her. But to my followers, I had one thing to tweet: "Wow."

Ninety-nine percent of the time, Twitter conversations are great. But it's that one percent that makes you wonder whether it's worth trying to be sociable this way. I can have countless interactions with people I hardly know or don't even know, and they can be all pleasant. But it is that one person who throws Twitter in your face that can make me want to walk away from it.

Thankfully, there's a solution: you don't have to listen to them.

I stopped following her.

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