On Using the “Mute” Button on Twitter
Yesterday I wrote about GamerGate on Twitter quite a bit, which had the effect of flooding my Twitter stream with comments by frothy lads intent on challenging me to single combat via “debate.” In this case (and indeed in most cases), this largely meant running down a cue card full of already-debunked talking points and/or attempting tired rhetorical tricks in an attempt to change the subject. These frothy lads very quickly met the thumpy end of my “mute” button, because no one has time for that.
That said, muting a couple dozen frothy lads on my tweet stream yesterday did give me some time to reflect on why, how and when I use Twitter’s “mute” feature, and about the feature in general. Allow me to share some of those thoughts with you now.
To begin, “mute” is just about the best feature on Twitter. It’s better by a long sight than Twitter’s “block” feature, which among other things makes it abundantly clear to whomever you blocked that you’re not listening to them anymore — which in some cases spurs them into anger and further negative action. “Mute” just… makes them go away. They might still be talking, and might still be thinking that they’re scoring points against you, which to my mind, and in my particular set of circumstances, is fine. I don’t care if idiots type at me until their fingers bleed, imagining they are brilliantly “debating,” or feeling better about their sad little lives by saying mean things about me to their friends, many of whom I have also already muted. I just don’t see why I need to view their ceaseless yammering on my tweet stream. “Mute” hits the spot.
But isn’t that censorship? The answer to this is: Duh, no. As I noted, “mute” doesn’t stop the pointless jabber of these sorts of folks — they’re free to pointlessly jabber until their fingers are worn down to stubs. It just means I don’t have to see it. Freedom of speech, even in its very widest definition, does not contain within that definition an obligation by anyone else to listen. This apparently confuses a lot of the frothy, but of course that’s not my problem, nor should it be anyone else’s.
(I should note, anecdotally, that there is a high correlation between the sort of person I will mute and the sort of person who thinks said muting is censorship. This is not in the least bit surprising to me. For the rest of humanity, this piece I wrote last year on Speech, Conversation, Debate, Engagement and Communication should be useful.)
So: Why do I mute? Mostly, to clear my tweet stream of stupid and/or exasperating comments. Some things I find stupid and/or exasperating: Threats, insults, less than clever snarkiness, insincere/derail-y attempts to “debate” (which is roughly 80% of them), sincere attempts to debate where the other person is clearly ignorant/misinformed on the subject and I have neither the time nor inclination to hold their hand on the subject, particularly on Twitter (nearly all of the rest; there are shining exceptions), people who are clearly trying to goad me into responding (including people who “@” me in conversation they’re having with someone else as a way to bait me), people who try to get someone else with more followers to pick a fight with me (who sometimes will, and who I will often mute for reasons noted above), and otherwise just people who for some reason or another have showed up in my tweet stream and whose nonsense I don’t want to see anymore.
Which seems like it might be a lot of people, but really isn’t, most of the time. Strange as it might seem, most people who communicate with me on Twitter are pleasant and polite — even the ones who might disagree with something I’ve said, and want to tell me so, or have what I judge to be a sincere question, or a point they want to have clarified. Even yesterday, which was a high water mark in Twitter muting, the majority of tweets that featured someone disagreeing with me were still in the stream. Criticism I can take. Stupidity and mendacity, I have less tolerance for.
(You might ask here, who gets to judge when someone is stupid/mendacious/otherwise just a real pain in the ass? Well, obviously, I do, when it comes to my tweet stream. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure these gormless wonders who I have muted think they’re positively stuffed with brains and logic. That’s nice for them. I’m not obliged to agree, engage with them any more than I choose, or otherwise keep company with them.)
Who do I mute? Unsurprisingly, perhaps, nearly all of the ones who display identifying information them are male, young(ish) and anecdotally, appear to be the bog-standard status-anxious straight white sort who toss insults and stupidity in my direction in order to impress… well, whoever they think is impressed by their being a twit on Twitter. This does not surprise me for several reasons, including the fact that my own politics/social points of view trend away from the ones most commonly espoused by the status-anxious young(ish) straight white men who seem determined to be a pain in the ass on Twitter. I rarely find myself muting folks outside that profile, although of course there have been a few. Some people are just jerks, regardless of political/social points of view.
Other factors that I consider with muting: Whether the account follows me or not (the latter are more likely to be flyby jerks and why bother with them), whether the account profile information is filled out (if your profile picture is an egg, you’re more likely to be a sockpuppet/troll account), how many followers they have (the fewer, the more likely to be a sockpuppet/troll account), and so on.
How do I mute? Typically these days through TweetDeck, which my most common interface with Twitter. Tweetdeck will let you mute individual users, which is usually the route I go when I mute, but will also let you mute keywords, which comes in handy from time to time. For example, yesterday, when a number of yammering blowhards “@”-ed a specific user they wanted to join into the fray. I determined that most tweets with that person “@”-ed would likely be useless noise, so I listed that user’s name as a muted keyword, and voila — bulk muting, which saved me a bit of carpal tunnel pain. Tweetdeck also saves your muted accounts and terms globally, so no matter which computer I’m using it on, it remembers who I don’t want to hear from. This is nice.
Tweetdeck’s drawback (compared to Janetter, my previous Twitter client on Desktop and still my client on mobile) is that it doesn’t have timed muting — the ability to mute for a few hours or days rather than on a permanent basis. This means that if you want to unmute someone (and occasionally you might!) you have to remember to go back in and do that manually. I’d love for Tweetdeck to introduce timed muting at some later point.
So that’s some of the philosophy and mechanics of my muting on Twitter. I encourage (nearly) everyone to make use of muting — even if you use it to mute me! — because, honestly, just because you happen to use Twitter with a bunch of yippy dipshits doesn’t mean you’re obliged to listen to their nonsense. Use the mute button and use it well.