My Twitter Muting Regime, July 2017

Twitter recently announced a few more options to mute the obnoxious and stupid on their service, a move I applaud both as a general step to cut down abuse on their service, and as a person who the obnoxious and stupid often try to bother on Twitter. The new mute options include muting accounts that don’t follow yours, and also muting new accounts (that you don’t follow), the latter of which is good for cutting down the number of sock puppets you might hear from.

These new options make it a fine day to talk about my own Twitter muting regime, which some of you might find comes in handy for yourself. I do mute a lot, as a consequence of people saying stupid/obnoxious things to me on Twitter on a frequent basis, and muting does make Twitter more tolerable. I do prefer it to blocking, since unless you tell them, the muted have no idea they’re muted, so they’ll often keep yelling at you long after you’ve consigned them to oblivion, and I like the idea of these jackasses wasting their time and effort. Other people prefer blocking or some combination of the two, which I think is cool. Whatever works for you.

So here’s how I mute:

1. I mute new accounts, using the new feature Twitter provides. In my experience brand new accounts that tweet at me (evidenced by very low follower/tweet numbers and default icons) tend to be sock puppet accounts, i.e., the additional accounts of an obnoxious person, who wants to make it look like he (it’s almost always a he) has a posse. I would note that Twitter does not at this point appear to define what “new account” means in this context; whether aging out of the “new” category requires a certain number of days/weeks or a certain number of tweets, or both, or some combination. In an ideal world, I would love to have granularity; I would probably mute new accounts for a month, and until the account made 200 tweets (unless I actively followed the account). But it’s possible Twitter is not saying what qualifies as “new” so it will not have jerks trying to game the “new account” setting, which I can appreciate.

2. I mute accounts with default icons, previously eggs but now eggs with shoulders. This also eliminates a lot of sock puppets and people who can’t be bothered with the service enough to actually change the default image. Between this and the “mute new accounts” setting, I expect a lot of Twitter sock puppetry to be even more futile in the future than it already is today.

3. I mute accounts that are antagonistic toward me on Twitter. This doesn’t mean I mute accounts when people disagree with me, or say something that clearly is meant to be sarcastic or sardonic, or are just having fun sassing me, or poking fun at my ego. I mute them when they’re being assholes and/or sea lions and/or otherwise trying to troll me. After nearly a quarter century online I’m pretty good at knowing who is doing what and why, and for people I don’t know, I have a “one strike” policy, because life is too short to deal with assholes. I personally advise people to mute other accounts using a “one strike” policy and by trusting their gut when it comes to people being assholes to them. Basically, if it feels like someone is trying to insult or gaslight you, mute the lil’ fucker. Twitter has 300 million users. You’ll find other people to talk to.

4. I make the Twitter handles of particularly obnoxious people mutable words. Very recently a particular garbage human tried to sea lion me and a bunch of his sycophants tried to join in on the fun. I muted the original garbage human, but his sycophants, eager to have their senpai notice them, would respond to me and “@” the garbage human too. Well, as it happens, Twitter lets you mute specific words, and Twitter handles qualify as words. So I made the garbage human’s handle a mutable word and, voila, no more sycophants (or, rather, very few). This isn’t the first time I’ve done this, and given the basic suck-up nature of alt-righties, MRAs, PUAs, aspiring fascists and the sort of dude who thinks he’s tough guy but is actually sort of a shrieking coward, it really cuts down on the bullshit I have to see.

For me, this strikes a good balance for keeping my Twitter feed mostly uncluttered by jerks while at the same time open enough for random normal humans, who do not revel in being an asshole, to comment at me when they want to, because very often those people and their comments are delightful and I am glad they make the effort. Twitter is in part worth being on specifically for folks like that. That said, I am also a quasi-public individual and minor celebrity, so keeping the lines open for random folks to chat might make more sense for me than it might for someone who is just trying to use Twitter to chat with friends and otherwise keep up with people they find interesting. For those folks, other mute settings like muting people who you don’t follow, or who don’t follow you, might make more sense.

Another point to make here is that Twitter’s mute settings are not irrevokable, so you can go turn them on or off on a temporary basis if you have to. For example, if the forces of evil were attempting a particularly heavy day of trying to jam up my tweet stream, and I didn’t have the time and/or inclination to individually mute all the jerks, then I might turn on “mute people who don’t follow me” for a day, until things got mostly back to normal, which would cut down on the jerkiness considerably. The point is to mix and match muting strategies.

Now, this is where some folks who you might choose to mute will huff and puff about free speech and/or how muting people means you’re not willing to engage in honest debate or whatever, but really now, screw those dudes. You’re not obliged to humor jerks who want to make you miserable, on Twitter or most anywhere else, and anyone who is of the “You won’t debate me! I win!” sort is probably the sort of person you’re well shut of. Let them have the “win” there. You’ll actually win by never having to see them on Twitter again.

(“But how would you feel if people muted you on Twitter, Scalzi?” Well, I’m sure they have, just as people have blocked me on Twitter. In both cases I feel fine about it. No one is obliged to humor me, either, on Twitter or most anywhere else. Please, mute or block me on Twitter as necessary or desired!)

So that’s how I (currently) mute people on Twitter. It’s made my Twitter life much happier. I encourage you, if you use Twitter, to do similarly. You should be able to enjoy the service without the jackasses.

45 thoughts on “My Twitter Muting Regime, July 2017

  1. “[F]or people I don’t know, I have a “one strike” policy, because life is too short to deal with assholes.” This is a great philosophy, not just for Twitter, but for life generally.

  2. My Twitter account policy is quite simple. I don’t really feel I need to be on Twitter, so I don’t have a Twitter account. I buy my ink by the barrel, so Twitter isn’t something I’m all that interested in. As you said, life is too short.

  3. I have twice has the experience of posting what I thought was a supportive comment in reply to a tweet, and the person I was replying to immediately blocked me. I was sad, because these were people I very much admire. But! Their Twitter account, their rules. Maybe they block people they don’t know or people with <X tweets, or maybe my comment didn't come across as I intended it, or maybe it did. In any case, it was completely their prerogative, and my sadness was completely my issue to deal with. I haven't checked lately whether I'm still blocked. If I am, I'm still sad, but I still think they had every right to block me. Anyone who thinks that someone else HAS TO hear/read what they have to say really doesn't understand several concepts, freedom of speech being only one of them. And who has time for people that clueless? (Well, a lot of people, evidently, but that's their prerogative too.)

  4. Not sure if this will get caught in a spam trap if I include a URL, so I’m not going to take the chance here. I’ll just describe what I was thinking of linking to.

    It’s an XKCD cartoon, titled Free Speech, and numbered 1357.

    This Twitter muting policy reminds me of it, in a good way.

  5. Didn’t you have a “Scamperbeasts” rule, i.e. you would mute or block them if they had fewer followers than your cats? What’s happened to that rule?
    And anyone huffing and puffing about free speech, I can only say: You have the right say what you want, as often as you want to. I have a corresponding right to ignore your precious speech, for any reason or no reason.

  6. Now, this is where some folks who you might choose to mute will huff and puff about free speech and/or how muting people means you’re not willing to engage in honest debate or whatever, but really now, screw those dudes.

    I get so many of these dudes.

    I used to be hesitant about muting people who were being annoying. I always gave people the benefit of the doubt–and then I realized that this was a heck of a lot of emotional labor to be doing for people who were bugging me. So now I block pretty liberally.

    Probably the biggest difference between your approach and mine is that I will actively block accounts. Muting leaves folks shouting into the void, which is nice in that they usually don’t notice and therefore don’t try to circumvent the mute. But for me, there is value in informing people they’re not welcome on my digital front porch. Blocking normalizes the idea that women on the internet get to have boundaries, and that I’m not a garbage can where randos can unload their trash opinions without my consent.

    A lot of these guys can’t deal with even the slightest bruise to their egos, so blocking can escalate the hell out of harassment. But when I feel safe doing so, I like to be explicit about the boundary as a way of reminding these jerks that they are not in fact entitled to my time or attention, and that being tiresome is not how they’re going to earn it.

  7. > 4. I make the Twitter handles of particularly obnoxious people mutable words.

    Thanks! That’s useful, although I do wish Twitter’s timed mute option was a bit more granular. Specifically, 2-3 hours is approximately how long sportspuck/sportsball tweet storms tend to last, but the shortest option is 24 hours.

  8. I could wish it were easier to find these new features. From my Twitter profile, I had to open a new tab, head back here, and click the link in the first sentence to find where to change those settings. (The logical spot would be Privacy, IMHO.)

  9. I read your blog regularly and enjoy the hell out of your tweet stream but in the 6 years I’ve been on Twitter I’ve tweeted out 48 times. What can I say I enjoy watching the game. And being a dedicated introvert I don’t find the need to inflict my mind on random people on the internet who don’t know me.

    None the less I somehow managed to get blocked by (another) favorite author, Charlie Stross. And as far as I can tell there was one tweet in which I @mentioned him (a contest of some sort) which caused me to be blocked. I messed up but do’t know how…. Which is a way of saying perhaps the longevity of the account might make up for the dearth of tweets?

  10. I appreciate your sharing your social media tactics, but I gotta say, I don’t always know the lingo… um, I mean memes. Some of us aren’t much into social media or maybe we’re just oh, how to say it… older. I had to Google “sea lion”, for instance. Not asking you to change how you write, mind you. Just sayin’.

  11. Also: I don’t tweet much, except as comments on other people’s tweets. So I follow about three times as many people as follow me — and only two or so of them are actually people I know.

  12. Annalee: this is why I have a twitter account, but rarely use it except to read. I can back of one of those guys in real life (and have multiple times) but to deal with them in a virtual environment …. just the thought is exhausting. It also takes time I can’t spare.

  13. BW and Steve Chambers — I’m in the same boat. I made my twitter account back in 2012 (if I remember right), but never really got into it. Now I mostly use the service just to read and follow…I’ve made a grand total of 98 tweets, and I have a pathetically small number of followers. Very few of my real-life friends are twitter users, and I just didn’t get into it.

    As a result, I’ve also been blocked by one of my favorite authors (N. K. Jemisin). My sole interaction with her was a reply to a tweet in which someone else mentioned her…and my reply was an absolutely positive statement about a passage from *The Obelisk Gate*. I’m fairly certain the blockage was not personal and had nothing to do with me or my tweet, but was some automated tool/rules like those described here, that blocks people assumed to be trolls due to low tweet count or few followers (obviously not account longevity or presence of a profile photo, as I had those).

    I’m bummed about this, because I’d love to see this twitter feed, especially if she posts about her books. But I also totally understand why people turn on these filters and I don’t begrudge them that. I just see myself more as collateral damage. The whole thing makes me much more angry at the twitter trolls that have created this world where people must define proactive rules to protect their own twitter feeds (and those rules are never perfect and sometimes sweep up friendly people like myself).

    Being blocked like this didn’t stop me from loving the books, though…or pre-ordering *The Stone Sky* (due out in about a month! The book I’ve been looking forward to the most this year.)

  14. Note, too, that some Twitter clients have other muting options. Tweetbot (iOS and Mac) for example, can mute things for a certain time period so if someone starts tweet storming you can mute them for a day or you can mute something for a week (and forever of course).

    I’d be careful in general of muting people with fewer than X followers unless X is pretty low. While it might be the right step for our host there are a lot of people who have a few hundred or thousand followers who still put out interesting stuff. On the other hand, if I wanted to get lots of followers (I have 229 at the moment), I could pay a nominal amount and, boom, 5000 followers.

  15. SaraS, I’m pretty sure NKJ’s feed is publicly viewable. You can log out of your account, find her Twitter account via Google or perhaps on Twitter itself, and see her posts. (You can perhaps imagine why I know this, and I am relieved to know from your experience that it almost certainly wasn’t that what I said was misinterpreted.) I myself, after being extremely active on Twitter last summer and fall, was too bummed by the election to be on Twitter at all for a while, and I haven’t even logged on in months. But I will occasionally read someone’s tweets by other means, such as Scalzi’s link here or a web search.

  16. Generally, my tweets are either supportive or just plain silly, but never INTENDED to be argumentative. However they are intended, they are occasionally taken another way entirely. Recently got blocked by someone, and I have no idea who it is or why. I’d like to know and apologize, but am not quite so foolish as to try and press a situation in which I am already underappreciated. Twitter is one of those places where folks create the bubble they want to socialize in, and don’t necessarily want new friends bringing other things to the party. Sometimes lament that my own Twitterscream is so one-sided, because the result of that could be ignorance for me. Anyone can feel free to call me out for stupidity in public. I’m not afraid to own it and prefer the opportunity to make it right and change my behavior instead of just being shut out, blocked, or muted. Yeah. Naive. I know.

  17. They are not interested in “honest debate” anyway. What they mean is they just want you to let them scream abuse at you and not stop them. There is nothing honest about their motives at all. Muting them sounds just fine to me, I know I’ll use that feature.

  18. @Scalzi — What is a “sea lion” in this context? I’ve never heard that before. (Big heavy critter rolling over on some little guy? My guess from context.)

    The only trouble I have with the “posts < x;" or "newness < y; options, is that this could potentially miss the poor innocent newbie who only wants to say or ask something kinda cool, interesting, thoughtful, nice, or even controversial, but whose comment would be something I or others might want to read and think about.

    I used to volunteer as a forum admin, and there was a long, ugly period in which the bots and spam were truly a storm of crap, and forum updates just didn't seem to keep up with the problem. It was exhausting and far more trouble than the occasional crazy-stupid real live person posting baloney. Most people are fine. Not all, but most, and the occasional problems were minor besides that. I eventually resigned due to unrelated nonsense from a couple of people behind the scenes. All in all, it was a learning experience I needed back then. (Oh boy, was I naive back then. Now, I've learned not to be such a doormat, I hope.) — But my experience has been, the true problem-children are few and far between, but very noisy and very obnoxious, while most people are, well, ordinary or super.

  19. Oh, good, so it’s not just me. I’m relieved to know I didn’t actually misstep by posting on a thread about that book release – just fell afoul of an automated (?) blocking tool. Sucks that people are being driven to use those because of harassment.

  20. What? LOGIC? Re Twitter???

    INCONCEIVABLE.

    Thanks for the posts and may I say again that I CANT WAIT for Head On!

    Thank you for doing what you do.

  21. And that long, long list of how you mute who and why and when and under which circumstances neatly encapsulates why I will never, ever have a twitter account. It would take me all my waking hours to figure out and follow that kind of algorithm, and frankly my life is too short already without throwing away that kind of time just for the sake of not paying attention to assholes. I can accomplish the same thing very effectively by not twitting at all.

    On an intellectual level, I can imagine why folks might enjoy interacting on that kind of medium, but it’s a very distant, theoretical sort of thing, something that I can’t ever imagine myself doing. Reading a piece like this is a bit like reading a description of what it’s like to live in a deep-sea underwater habitat, or visit the moon; it’s a fascinating depiction of something that I will never experience.

  22. Thanks for linking to that sea lion cartoon. That’s a new term for me, and I’m going to have to employ it when I need it. Also, I was wondering if you use an app to browse Twitter or if you just use the website? Thanks for this post. Even though I’m not much of a Twitter user, the way you handle it is the way I would want to handle it, if I was. :)

  23. the “mute new” option seems like a bad idea for twitter itself.
    i myself do not have an account and only read what other people are twitting. suppose i opened a new account just to fungirl @ my favorite author, and didn’t know why they didn’t answer! what an unfortunate new-user experience.
    luckily for me i fungirled to OGH via old-fashioned email, and he did answer :)

  24. I don’t use twitter except for occasionally looking at tweet/tweet threads other people link to. If a twitter uses mutes someone, and they keep posting tweets to the thread, will I see them even though the twitter user does not?

  25. Ah, glad I’m not the only person who’s been blocked by automation. My account’s just for reading, I have nothing I’m interested in tweeting. I wish there was some way around it other than just tweeting a bunch of filler garbage to not count as a “new account”, though I hope it’s age related since I’ve had my account and its three tweets for quite a while.

  26. I’ve had a few people over the years ask me if I Twitter, but considering who I work for (a state gov’t agency that deals with children) and what I’ve learned over the past 11 years working there (yes, I know where some of the bodies are buried and who buried them and why), and the fact that I dearly love and value my job, I stay as far away as I can from Twitter. I guess muting is good for new accounts, but how do you ascertain whether a new account is a sock puppet account or is an account from a genuine newbie who wants to converse with you?

  27. I’ve got 60 followers, nowhere near @Scamperbeasts level. Hard to compete with cute cats.

    Had to block a few obnoxious people who were doing (what I didn’t know was called) “sea lion” behavior. (In political discussions. I only joined Twitter to help my social profile as a writer. That’s gone exactly nowhere; but I’ve found myself making political comments almost every day since something strange happened back in November.)

    In general, I try not to be a jerk. Definitely not a sea lion. (Now that I see the web comic, it doesn’t completely work as an analogy for the idiots we’re calling “sea lions”, since the harassment begins as a response to what sounds like an unsupported bigoted statement about sea lions as a group. Substitute “Jew” for “sea lion” in the lady’s initial statement and it gets uncomfortable. Doesn’t justify the obnoxious marine mammal’s behavior, of course.)

    Possibly I should just give Twitter a miss for a while.

    I prefer to use “regimen” rather than “regime” to preserve its specific meaning.

  28. I just got on Twitter, and was all *awww*, now if I make a witty tweet @scalzi, he’ll not see it. Such a shame. Whatever could I do…?

  29. @Scalzi — where do you personally draw the line between “This person’s challenge is legitimate and deserves a response” and “this person is a sea lion”? I have two reasons for asking:

    1. Sea lions are treacherous partly because they initially seem innocuous; can you suss out a sea lion on the initial query?
    2. I have probably sea lioned people without really meaning to.

  30. JH: When you get sea lioned a lot, you learn to notice who’s sincere and who’s not–sea lions have a particular ‘smell’ to how they interact, and they’re not usually as subtle as they think they are.

    The easy way to not accidentally sea lion is to not start non-consensual debates with strangers. The reason folks who get sea lioned a lot are so quick to mute first and ask questions never is that we’re used to dealing with folks who think they’re entitled to argue with us. And that’s not just about mistaking being a jerk for intellectual rigor. It’s about folks presuming that their expertise on a subject is equal to ours even when they haven’t done the most basic background reading. It’s about treating a subject that may be extremely important to us as a fun intellectual exercise with no real-world implications when we live with the implications every day.

    To me, it doesn’t matter if someone’s sea lioning to disrespect me on purpose or if they’re ‘accidentally’ presuming to treat me like a cat toy because they ‘like to argue.’ Whether they ‘mean’ to or not, they are making interacting with them a chore and dumping that chore on me. If folks honestly don’t know that starting arguments with strangers is not a good way to win friends and influence people, it’s not a lesson they get to learn at my expense. If my blocking them hurts their feelings, I hope they think about that before they treat the next person they meet on twitter as an intellectual scratching post instead of a human being.

  31. Nice. I don’t think it’s anti-free speech to mute someone, it’s the same as ignoring you. They have the right to say what they want, it doesn’t mean anyone has to listen. Let them shout into the void.

  32. re: Annalee’s comment above: I don’t have twitter, but during the school year when people try to engage with me online about things I’m an expert on, I often feel like, look, I’ve got students who are paying thousands of dollars for the opportunity to learn/argue with me in class, you don’t get to access my expertise for free even if you’re not being a disingenuous jerk about it. Go do your own research. (I have more patience for random dialogue in the summer.)

  33. I really wish that most of the people who scream about “freedom of speech” and “censorship” had the foggiest notion of what those words actually mean. Nobody has the obligation to provide a stage, microphone, and audience for someone else on a social-media platform.

  34. @Annalee and @nicoleandmaggie: Thanks; that’s helpful. From that explanation I’m no longer worried about being an accidental sea lion. I can be argumentative, but… Not like that.

  35. I googled sea-lioning to see if it was something John made up or if its some new expression. I can’t keep up with the new lingo. Makes me feel old.

  36. @JH: yeah–it tends to be one of those things where if you are a person who worries you are doing the thing, it is unlikely you are doing the thing. Not impossible, but unlikely.

    Folks who really do enjoy arguing about things should go ahead and do that! Just, you know, with other people who also enjoy arguing about things.

  37. Might I humbly suggest that “well shut of” should read “well shot of”?

    My first attempt to type that got “well shit of”. Possibly not entirely inappropriate for some posters.

  38. “Well shut of” is probably (almost certainly) what was meant. It’s a standard idiom, been around since at least 1827, and means “to be free of, rid of, set free from”.

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