Could social media hygiene soothe us and bring joy?

White female with cropped short dark hair wearing a colourful headscarf looking thoughtful.

Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Keep your distance. Mind your tweets!

I’m not suggesting Twitter use is deadly, though my relationship with the platform has begun to feel like it could be terminal. Lately I log on and wonder what’s happened to us all? There’s a lot to rage about and to feel fearful of I know, but increasingly it feels like everyone is shouting at me. I can’t welcome visitors to my home, but I’m sure if I could they wouldn’t rant in my face. So why am I hooked on opening a social media platform where people do? Well, I’ve used Twitter for a long time and enjoyed the benefits of accessible online connection as a disabled person. It would be devastating to lose it.

So I’m keen to reconnect to what I’ll call #goodtwitter

The question is how? Filtering brings relief from some specific topics. I no longer see tweets that mention Brexit for example, and I’ve muted over 5,000 accounts by simply using the mute button like a duster whenever I log on. When you have challenges processing text it’s useless trying to read all the retweets (RTs) littering your timeline. I now wonder whether we ever genuinely consider our followers timelines when we share the content via the handy, not to say addictive, RT button.

So I’ve also begun to do just that. Pausing to think about my own needs I’m able to think of others. I want to say sorry for some of my appalling lapses in thoughtfulness too! Looking back I can see how the platform groomed me to spread content indiscriminately, with good intentions but annoyingly so, and possibly disablingly so too.

So what can we do? So much content these days can feel vital and urgent, and we’re moved to consume and share it. We’re also moved to console and entertain. These impulses are good, laudable even. So what’s the deal when we log on and can’t cope with the noise of our collective impulse to share at this moment of global crisis? Surely we have to own that there’s just too much of it and it’s not helpful.

My personal Twitter use is down to me. I could use Tweetdeck for example, but while I enjoy the sense of order for a day or two I can’t manage multiple columns in the long run. I have a neurological condition which affects my ability to maintain ‘binocular focus’. I need to scroll a single column.

Twitter’s modus operandi addicts us to chasing and following content, and following too many accounts is also a common problem. This takes time and focus to undo, and can create social anxiety. Accounts are people, after all, and the social etiquette of Twitter following and unfollowing can feel fraught – especially for those of us with different social orientations.

Following over a thousand accounts whose RTs spill into my timeline is a ludicrous proposition in terms of processing time. It’s all my own doing! Muting content has become essential, and while time consuming in itself, it satisfies the part of my brain which assiduously patrols the Tupperware cupboard. This cupboard is sacrosanct, and I can’t rest if lids aren’t snapped safely on and the Tupperware is not neatly stacked in shape and size order.

My ambition is to log on to the joy and tranquility of a well kept Tupperware cupboard, so to speak. A tall order, I know! I want to be a good follow too, so I’m practicing Twitter hygiene. I’m not proselytising – you do it your way and I’ll do it mine – but if you read this I hope you might stop and think for a moment. Do you enjoy Twitter? Is your RT strictly necessary? Vent by all means if it helps you, share if you simply must, but when was the last time you had a decent conversation or felt soothed on Twitter?

In a wider sense, my question is what do we actually need at this time? What’s genuinely helpful? What could be the most beneficial use for each one of us (and it will be different of course) of this social media platform? Ultimately, it’s up to us who we follow, we do have control, and we can create #goodtwitter timelines for ourselves if we invest the time and thought required.

I’m autistic so I quite like clear rules of engagement. The following are my simple to use top 6 Twitter hacks in case they’re helpful.

1. I no longer share the content of organisations with large platforms. How many times do you need the same content peppering your timeline?

2. I’ve adopted a 1 retweet a day rule. I don’t want to litter my followers’ timelines with too much content. 1 a day seems adequate. If I RT twice in one day for any reason I’ve decided I won’t RT on the following day.

3. Serial retweeting within a short timeframe is #justno. People who log on to Twitter for a bit have an RT fest and log off again are the ultimate (unwitting) Twitter bugs. I’ve been there and done it myself. So I’m not judging, but you may as well chuck a series of banana skins on my path. For me it’s time spent muting your RTs and dealing with the ads the enraged Twitter algorithm sends my way to punish me for muting content. Eventually I’ll mute the user. My time is important to me.

4. I’ve cut back my own tweets. Fewer more considered posts with an emphasis on visual content is my current preference. I struggle to find words since the pandemic, but I find I can speak by sharing images.

5. I plan to mute content until my timeline amplifies the voices I need to hear in this moment. I know #goodtwitter is there – you just got buried in the noise.

6. I plan to try an ad blocker app. As I hinted earlier muting throws Twitter into a rage and the adds multiply exponentially. It’s awful.

I think that’s all. This blog post could have been a Twitter thread but I didn’t want to litter your timeline.

I will share my blog post sparingly. Despite the importance of this message to me, it’s the least I can do.

Published by soniaboue

I am an artist.

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