What I Want Out of Twitter

The Internet is having one of its periodic “Twitter is doomed” spasms, and this means that everyone and their sister has an idea of what Twitter should do in order to save itself. Well, this is what Twitter should do to save itself: Sell itself to Google, which will allow the company to do what it does well (be a place for people to yak about shit for 140 characters at a time) while Google does what it does (mine the shit out of the things people are tweeting in order to sell ads). Done and done.

What I’m more interested in is how Twitter can make itself better, which is a different question than how Twitter can be saved. Twitter’s major issue, as everyone except apparently Twitter’s C-bench knows, is that there are a bunch of shitheads on it who like to roll up to whomever they see as targets (often women and/or people in marginalized groups) and dogpile on them. That’s no good.

I get my own fair share of jerks trying to make my Twitter existence miserable, so over time I’ve developed some strategies to trim those down. The problem here is that they require me to be an expert Twitter user, and do things like use a Twitter client with more features than the native web/mobile interface, and also simply to make rules in terms of interaction that don’t involve Twitter at all (see: the Scamperbeasts Rule). It also requires me to have a certain level of “don’t give a fuck” attitude, which fortunately I have.

But then, I’m a well-off straight white dude, and I can laugh off some mouth breather saying stupid things to me. If I were a woman and getting a constant stream of rape and death threats, I’m not sure I could do that, and I’m not sure that I should be required to be an “expert” user not to have to see this stuff. More to the point, this shit exists on Twitter because the assholes know it’s hard to filter it out; they know their target has to see it first to block or mute it.

I think it’s fine if Twitter’s philosophy is that everyone, including complete shitbags, have a right to an account on the service. But I think it would be useful if Twitter also incorporated into its philosophy, far more robustly than it has, that everyone is allowed to decide who is allowed to impinge on their time, and timeline. There are things that Twitter can probably do, pretty easily, to both give their users control of their timelines and to make it clear to assholes that Twitter is not a great place for them to troll and threaten.

Now, as it happens, Randi Lee Harper (who knows from trolls on Twitter) has a long piece on what she would suggest to make this a reality, complete with estimations of the technical difficulty of making the changes, and she put it up here. I recommend you read it. I also have some thoughts, which I will detail below. Some of what I suggest will overlap with what she has to say; some will not.

So, if Twitter were asking me what I wanted out of Twitter to make it an optimal service for me, here’s what I would suggest, in no particular order:

1. Timed mutes. Before Twitter started being jerks to third party software, I used Janetter to read my timelines, and the thing I loved most about it was that you could specify how long you wanted to mute people, for times as little as 30 minutes to as long as forever. This was great because sometimes I had friends who’d go on a tweet-jag about something I didn’t care about, or one of the people I followed got into it with another and their back-and-forth jammed up my timeline, or just sometimes someone I usually liked exhausted me and I wanted to take a break from them for a week. Likewise, sometimes a random person would tweet something stupid at me and I didn’t want to see that tweet anymore but I didn’t want to exile them out of my timeline forever, because, well, we all say stupid things from time to time.

Neither Twitter’s main web/mobile interface or its Tweetdeck client allows timed mutes, which means I have to choose between muting someone (and then possibly forgetting I wanted to unmute them at some point) or putting up with their crap on my timeline. Timed mutes solve that problem.

2. Mutable phrases/hashtags in the web/mobile Twitter UI. Tweetdeck, which is owned by Twitter, allows you to mute words as well as accounts, and this is handy because most of the jackasses who try to troll me will “@” some account they look up to or want to impress, so by making that second account handle a mutable phrase, I substantially cut down on the amount of stupid I have to see. Having that in the main UI, both on the Web and on mobile, would be super-useful.

3. Make mute/block lists native to Twitter and shareable across clients. I use the Tweetdeck client on mobile through the Web interface, which is horrible and has all sorts of “quirky” bugs. Why do I do it? Because my considerable “mute” list is stored on the Tweetdeck client and not by Twitter itself — which means anyone I’ve muted on Tweetdeck is not automatically muted on Twitter. I’d have to do it all again. I’ve got 1,500 accounts muted (so far). That’s a lot of work to duplicate. If Twitter stored the list and shared it with any clients I used (including its own), that would be fantastic.

4. Make mute/block lists easily shareable through Twitter between followers. I’ve muted 1,500 accounts, as noted above. It would be really useful for friends who don’t want to handcraft a mute list to be able to use mine as a starter. It would be even more useful if they could do it right through Twitter. Now, there are block lists out there right now but they do require you to export/import them in order to share them; as far as I know there’s no way to share mute lists. So making the latter sharable and having it all done in the client is the goal.

5. Robust filtering. Here are some things I would want to control for, in terms of whose responses to me I see in my replies timeline:

  • Account start date: I’d specify that accounts less than two weeks old would not show up in my replies (unless I chose to follow/whitelist them).
  • Account follower number: I’d specify that accounts with less than 100 users would not show up in my replies (unless I chose to follow/whitelist them).
  • Account icon: I’d specify that accounts that haven’t switched their Twitter icon from the default egg icon would not show up in my replies (unless I chose to follow/whitelist them).

Control of just these three things, at those levels, would automatically get rid of probably 90% of all “sockpuppet” accounts, i.e., the supplementary Twitter accounts assholes make to make it look like there are more of them and/or to get around being blocked. It would commensurately likely reduce the number of people sockpuppeting because they would know there’s no point. The numbers above for the account start date and follower number are my own; I think Twitter should allow people to specify the numbers.

Other things to allow filtering of:

  • Profile keywords: If I could filter out every single account that had “#GamerGate” in its profile text, as an example, my replies would have been a lot quieter in the last couple of years.
  • Accounts based on who they follow: Right now I’m thinking of five Twitter accounts of people I think are basically real assholes. I suspect that if you are following all five of them, you are probably also an asshole, and I don’t want to hear from you. In this particular case I think it’d useful to have the filtering be fine-grained, as in, rather than just filtering everyone who followed one account, you’d filter them if they followed Account 1 AND Account 2 AND Account 3 (and so on). It would also be useful to be able to do this more than once, i.e., have more than one follower filter, because often it’s not just one group being annoying.

6. Muting in Notifications and Direct Messages. If you mute someone, you don’t see them in your reply thread. But! As Twitter itself notes: “@ replies and mentions by the muted account will still appear in your Notifications tab,” and “Muting an account does not impact the account’s ability to send you a Direct Message.” It seems to me that if you’ve muted someone, you don’t want to see them. So users should at least have the option to extend muting to notifications and direct messages.

7. The ability to see only replies/notifications from those you follow/whitelist. Twitter kinda does this via private accounts, where the only people who can follow you are those you approve, so the replies will be from those folks. But that’s an ass-backwards way of doing it. Much simpler just to have a “Followers Only” option, either for the tweetstream in general, or for individual tweets (or both! Why not both!). Twitter already does something like this; verified accounts have the option of seeing only the replies/notifications from other verified accounts.

Notice that none of this so far requires Twitter to penalize or punish the accounts being muted or blocked, so mewling cries of “censorship!” can be easily ignored. Leaving aside that Twitter is not the government and as a private entity is allowed to say who may and may not speak on its service (and has a user policy that spells this out in any event), nothing above stops anyone from saying whatever they want on Twitter. It merely means that others are not obliged to listen. No one is guaranteed an audience.

Does this mean that I think Twitter shouldn’t boot and/or report accounts that threaten other users, or use the steps above to ignore or minimize threats of violence? Nope! I think that incorporating the things above will make Twitter less attractive to assholes in a general sense, and that’d be great, but that doesn’t mean that it will stop them completely. More to the point, it’s entirely possible that it’s not safe for some folks to ignore the messages assholes send them. As I’ve noted above, muting really solves a lot of problems for me, but then again, people don’t actively go out of their way to threaten me with rape or death. Not everyone has that luxury.

So for the people who have more to worry about than I do, but also want to have their general timestreams not filled with assholes spewing hate:

8. An optional tab where muted/blocked account replies can go. Wait, if you’ve muted/blocked someone, don’t you not want to see them? Indeed, you don’t! Or at the very least you don’t want to see them in the stream of daily conversation. But if you worry that there will be substantive threats to you among those accounts you’ve muted/blocked, then it’d be useful to have a quarantined area where you can see them and report the worst of them to Twitter. And that Twitter actually did something about them, with respect to their presence on the service, and when necessary (and agreed to by the person being threatened) in reporting the threatening accounts to appropriate authorities.

So these are the things I want out of Twitter, and not, say, tweets being longer. Note that I think having tweets be more than 140 characters will really mess with the character of Twitter and will make it into a second-rate Facebook. We already have a second-rate Facebook, called Facebook. Rather than potentially doing silly things like that, just give users more control of their own timestreams. It’ll make Twitter better, and something that people will still want to be part of.

73 Comments on “What I Want Out of Twitter”

  1. sounds reasonable to me. I’d also suggest eliminating DMs and something to suspend accounts that follow than stop following to grow their base. Either grow your base organically or get off twitter

  2. Re: number 6 I actually like that muted folks can still DM me. I’m in a profession where some people can be a bit self-promoty and/or just go on about crap I’m not into. But they’re still friends and colleagues and I like that we can still DM if need be. But perhaps that would be covered in the fine grain control you mention. Thanks.

  3. I feel like you have a different perspective as someone who tweets often and has a lot of followers, as opposed to me who tweets rarely and has few/(no real) followers. I am reluctant to ever reply to one of your tweets, because a) Poe’s law and I’d usually want to try to make a joke, and b) the idea that you’d ignore/mute/block me because I don’t have any followers. It is amazing, the people I follow are mostly sports-related or author-related, and even when they tweet general purpose stuff it almost always lines up with my political/liberal leanings and is relatively well-behaved.

  4. Travis:

    Note with the filters that I personally would chain them together, so the only people who’d be muted are the ones that are less than two weeks old AND fewer than 100 users AND with the default icon. So you would (probably) be safe.

  5. Re #6: I thought those messages are knocked out if you mute someone you don’t follow? So you can mute randos and never see them @ing you. Am I mistaken? Do my trolling randos give up after one go?

    I use mute to filter my main timeline. I follow lots of people who I like and am social with, but I don’t necessarily want to read their timelines (in general, not just for a span of time). So I have them muted, but I follow them. If they @ me or DM me, I see it and I’m happy to see it.

  6. Right now, if you mute someone you follow, you’ll still see their @ replies. If you don’t follow them, you don’t see mentions either.

    I would also like the temporary mutes thing–if for no other reason than I watch TV shows several days after they air and would prefer not to see spoilers (a lot of folks tag the show, but some don’t).

    As for the quarantine tab: that’d be handy. I have a version of this for gmail–the truly scary people whom I believe to be a credible threat to me get added to a gmail filter that archives their message and forwards it to my spouse so that Spouse can keep an eye on it without me having to deal with frightening crap in the middle of my workday.

    I’d very much like a “deputize” feature, which would allow me to give other people the power to block users for me, without having to give them access to my account (you can give people access to accounts without handing out your password on tweetdeck, but that allows them to see tweets from private accounts that you follow, which is a breach of trust with the owner of the closed account). Basically a more tailored, built-in version of the block bot where I get to set my own circle of trust.

  7. I think Twitter’s biggest problem in terms of operation is that its investors think it should be like Facebook, when what Twitter’s users want is control over who they curate. That’s almost certainly the biggest barrier to entry, because not everyone wants to take responsibility for their own curation.

    (I think Twitter should go back and spruce up lists, personally; allowing their users to curate timelines for other people is probably the best way they have to get around this problem for new users.)

    The larger problem, to me, is that the widespread harassment by people using the Twitter service more or less as intended (that is: tweeting at people and sharing their opinion) disproves the ideology that Twitter, and indeed most internet services, are founded on: the California ideology. It’s a cobbling together of 60’s hippie bullshit and Objectivist bullshit in the wake of the rise of neoliberalism and the “End of History”. Harassment shouldn’t happen, because harassment is caused, ultimately, by expecting the government to protect one from it. If no-one’s in charge then everyone is in charge, and so the harassing party will be too invested in the community to try to destroy it. And yet: this is not so.

    Twitter can’t fix this because Twitter can’t acknowledge that this is a structural problem, because if they do so, they also have to admit that the rest of the California ideology is probably also bullshit (particularly the bits about free speech). And that’s something they can’t do.

  8. I guess I’m a throwback, but I have no desire to disseminate my thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, or any other platform. It’s quite sufficient for me to be able to make occasional comments at the handful of blogs that I visit regularly, long may they all live (most of them have been around for 10+ years, including this one). Not that I don’t have other sorts of problems, but I’m in no danger of Twitter-related harm.

  9. This is an excellent list and I also endorse every word of it.

    I love Twitter and really wish they’d get it together with actual useful changes instead of the BS they keep trying to do.

  10. I kind of feel like a twitter idiot. I’ve had an account for a while, but few people, even those who follow me back, seem to respond to anything I say there. I’m not great at being clever/witty in small spurts, but I also think it’s because I tend to internet late at night when everyone else is asleep, and I see the comments made by the folks I follow (via lists) long after they’d care to receive comments. This isn’t an issue with blogs or FB, but since twitter is real time, it probably favors people who keep normal hours (I have had some nice back and forths with folks in other countries occasionally).

  11. I have a question about twitter.

    First, I only created an account to be able to see the scamperbeasts’ texts easily, but also use it to read your (John Scalzi’s) tweets.

    But, I created this account a week ago, and I somehow have 2 followers.

    This creeps me the heck out, since I have not tweeted a single tweet, nor do I intend to. Is there any way to prevent people from “following” me?

    Also, I did not realize this until discovering that I had 2 followers, but the terminology of “followers” and “following” creeps me the heck out — I feel like some creepy person is creeping behind me, following me, now. Actually, 2 creepy people. I wish there was another term for it.

  12. Miri: I suspect that if you check, the accounts following you are also following the Scamperbeasts and/or Scalzi, and yes, it’s creepy as hell. I follow 5 accounts (SB and JS, plus the AP, Vox, and a personal friend) but 14 accounts follow me, usually for one of two reasons: when I first followed them, they followed me back and I have since unfollowed them but they don’t care (eg. Stephanie Miller and companies like Comcast or Redbox), or I’ve tweeted that I loved a certain SF book, and authors who want more followers–and readers–follow me hoping I’ll notice, maybe follow them back, buy their books and tweet about them. When someone follows me, the first thing I do is review their timeline & profile. If I find them objectionable (porn, all they do is retweet, etc.), I block them and don’t look back.

    John: Glad to know that I only have one of the qualities that would filter me out of your timeline (less than 100 followers), as I have been on Twitter a while and do have a profile pic, such as it is. I’ve also posted here a couple of times, and hopefully proven myself not to be an idiot, jerk, or other such undesirable.

  13. The muting would be great. If twitter does one thing, please let it be that. I don’t follow a lot of people on twitter because I don’t want to see every tweet or retweet they make. It would be great to filter out retweets from some of the people I follow. I follow them because I want to read their tweets not the million tweets they retweet. Only a few are ever interesting or pertain to anything I might care about. Since I don’t follow that many folks, I don’t have many followers and I’m cool with that. Those lucky few I do follow know that I will see their tweets and read them because my stream isn’t overloaded.

  14. I completely agree with everything you’ve said. It’s funny but I thought you were going to discuss other kinds of content. I looked at my Twitter feed today and realized that every single tweet I scrolled past was marketing something. It made me feel tired. So I tweeted: How about one day a week where we tweet about everything EXCEPT marketing a product?

    And maybe Twitter will go back to being fun?

  15. I really don’t understand Twitter. I barely understand Facebook. I like to send (and receive) email and texts to/from people I actually know and care about in real life. I’m not really interested, nor do I have time to be, in reading a lot of random people’s random thoughts about random subjects.There are some sites where I like to comment, when an article is of interest to me and the other commenters seem to be of a like mindset or at least capable of having a civilized discussion (like here.) I’m not sure what exactly I am trying to say here. Maybe that I am old and kind of a Luddite.

  16. Twitter needs programs and staff to more heavily police accounts, zap tweets with death and rape threats, trace death threat accounts for law enforcement better and kick all those accounts off. Rather than make all the Twitter users deal with them. But they aren’t going to do that as they want as many accounts as they can get to convince advertisers to go with them instead of Facebook.

    They also need to create a Twitter Business if they haven’t already and move all the businesses — including actors, authors and whatnot — over there and police that very heavily with stricter terms. The young people are mainly on Instagram and Tumblr, not Twitter. Twitter is mainly for business promotion and middle aged people. If women can’t do business on Twitter effectively, they’ll move elsewhere.

  17. I agree that the more selective muting would be really cool. The up side of my “invisible to nearly all on twitter” superpower is that nasty, harassing tweets have been exceedingly rare. But I know some folks who have been swarmed by haters and it’s pretty awful.

  18. All excellent suggestions. Frankly, makes me wonder why twitter still hasn’t made any of these changes. If there’s an explanation for why they haven’t I’d love to hear it.

  19. Excellent article by Randi Harper.

    @Merus, I think it’s less the ‘California ideology’ than the techbro ideology which assumes that harassment isn’t really a thing, and if it is you just need to grow a thicker skin, and we mustn’t do anything about shit-flinging monkeys because Ostracism is Bad and FREESPECCH!!!!!!11. Twitter literally does not give a single fuck about harassment or misuse of its product except to the extent it affects Twitter’s ability to turn a profit.

  20. You’re observing that you’re currently required to be some kind of Twitter “expert” to get the most out of the service, and then go on to suggest a list of features (e.g. configurable chained filters) that, no matter how well implemented, would require at least as much “expertise” to use properly. You might want to think that through again.

    I submit that Twitter has not implemented such elaborate features and will not do so in the future because they would be way too complicated to use, and distract from their core goal which is
    1. “be a place for people to yak about shit for 140 characters at a time” (as you correctly put it)
    2. ??
    3. Profit!

    Even more importantly, implementing such features would amount to publicly acknowledging that there is some kind of problem with the user base, which would scare away investors and therefore conflict with item 3 above.
    Ask yourself this: if a platform has to provide elaborate configuration tools to filter out x percent of the other users before people feel comfortable using it, why would I want to be on that platform in the first place, both as a user and an advertiser?

  21. All of the suggestions seem very reasonable, though I have never experienced the need to block/mute anyone. Then again, I’m not famous, I probably follow/ am followed by about 100 people and I only get on twitter about once a day.

  22. Gave up all social media for Lent. (I get your e-mails at work, so this doesn’t count for me). Don’t miss it at all, surprisingly. I am beginning to think the whole instant, constant communication thing is entirely overrated.

  23. I think it’s fine if Twitter’s philosophy is that everyone, including complete shitbags, have a right to an account on the service. But I think it would be useful if Twitter also incorporated into its philosophy, far more robustly than it has, that everyone is allowed to decide who is allowed to impinge on their time, and timeline. There are things that Twitter can probably do, pretty easily, to both give their users control of their timelines and to make it clear to assholes that Twitter is not a great place for them to troll and threaten.

    Which is a fine sentiment, until you consider that Twitter is already shadowbanning users. That practice apparently extends well beyond objectionable/abusive behavior (which is decidedly a non-partisan issue) into the range of muting political perspectives.

    I’ve never understood the attraction of a resource known best for pith and vinegar*, but it takes all kinds to make the world go ’round. They do need to keep their TOS as non-biased as possible. Giving users the tools as you suggest instead of keeping them all to themselves would be a good idea.


    *pun intended

  24. I am going to sound like a grandpa (learned about this from Southpark), but you guys are way too invested in social media. I don’t use it at all and I am doing just fine. I don’t even have a text messaging plan. I work in IT, so its not like I can’t figure out how to use this stuff. I think its just shallow and stupid. You guys have way too much invested in this. It just strikes me as silly to argue about the future of ‘twitter’. Just reading it, let alone saying that out loud makes me feel like a 12 year old.

  25. The whole “more than 100 followers” thing makes me uncomfortable, it feels like it would catch a lot of fans who mainly just lurk but occasionally interact with the people they follow. My twitter account has been active since ’09, but I only have 50 followers (and I don’t even know why I have those to be honest).

  26. @Melinda Kucsera There is a setting to alloow you to see someone’s tweets, but not their retweets. I use it for one of my friends who makes a living in part from her blogging, and so is on there a LOT.

    I can’t remember how you get to it, but Google is your friend in this.

  27. Djthomp:

    Which, again, is why I personally would chain the filters noted above. That way long-term accounts with a low number of Twitter followers would still be seen by me.

    That said, and also again, no one is guaranteed an audience. People should be able to choose who they see and respond to.

    (This is also why that “column of muted replies” might come in handy — in addition to finding the reportable things, it can also point you to people you’re happy to “whitelist,” i.e., give reply access to. So it would have a positive side as well.)

  28. This is a really great list. As someone who works in software development, what I like best about it is its feasibility. From what little I know of how Twitter handles data, this would all be easy to do. As you pointed out, a lot of it could be done on the local client side, saving Twitter the extra processing.

    And I *love* how these ideas focus on the receiver/target of the tweets, not the sender.

    And yeah, the whole “let’s turn it into Facebook” thing annoys the hell out of me. I went to Twitter because status updates were the only thing I used on Facebook.

  29. Long boring techy post that will likely bore most of you. I find the technical stuff more interesting.

    Implementing the features that John recommends may not be that easy. I think twitter is a big data pusher. Messages comes in and they get sent out to all designate locations. Re-writing centralized code like that to add all these filters could be a massive and very costly change to the entire application. Remember they likely have a lot of code that they have developed for years. It would also likely require a lot more hardware to process the filters if you centralize it.

    The simplest way to do it would be to add these filters to the downloadable application. So they can put features into an application for your portable devices or your desktop. The goal would be to push the filtering code off the main server so they don’t have to change the central application. However, if you just use a browser they may not be able to support this They would need to build a heavy client into the browsers and then make it compatible across all browsers. So your looking at supporting multiple complex apps on multiple devices. That means they need a development team for the application and another development team for the browser and then people to make it compatible across all browsers. So from a cost and resource perspective they may only be able to support this in the application. This will be expensive to development and have bugs. One app may work and then web apps will have bugs. Imagine how quickly complaints about this will get around twitter? The executive team may not like this. I think most web apps want everything to be identical irregardless of medium so people know what to expect. There is likely a good business reason for this.

    Then you are looking at if someone adds their rules in one device they want to add it everywhere automatically (so you have it on your phone and you want it on your desktop application too). This could work by storing the metadata of the filters in a centralized DB and making it downloadable. This likely would not be all that much extra code. It also wouldn’t work for the browser.

    So twitter would be making their application more complicated to use by adding these features and putting them in different applications, then not adding it to the browser. They may not want to do that and just keep it simple. There are also development costs involved. You have to pay people to build this instead of working on other things.

    It also looks like twitter is losing money. So they are probably more interested in having their developers work on things that will help them monetize the application. I read that they are losing users. Social media usage can’t grow forever. I looked at twitter briefly and find it tiresome. Just long lists of people blowing off their mouths. I don’t know how you guys stare at this stuff for so long.

    I think there are simpler, less expensive solutions that can give John most of what he wants.

    Setting: People can follow you, but can’t message you without approval. This is halfway between a public and private account. They can send you 1 message that is stored separately from the tweets about why they want to message you. That should get rid of most of the drive bys right?

  30. What I want out of the internet in general is that it goes back to being like it was in 1998. I’d be happy with that. Failing that, yeah, your comments re: twitter are pretty much spot on. I know that I’ve had my timeline flooded a few times by people live tweeting reactions to tv shows (and I have done it myself, because sometimes it is fun to share with other fans in live time) so the temp mute button would be just grand.

  31. I have a Twitter account, but I’m not a particularly active Twitter user (reading or writing). What I do notice, though, is that every single one of your suggestions reduces the amount of interaction between Twitter users in one way or another. And given that Twitter’s value proposition is social interaction, I’m guessing this isn’t the kind of thing they’re looking to implement.

    I understand that trolling/bullying/harassment is a very real issue, but I think that Twitter’s problems of late stem not from too much interaction between users, but from too much difficulty in users interacting with each other. From my limited experience, the single biggest thing I’d like to see Twitter get better is better organization of on-going conversations. If I jump into the middle of a Twitter conversation, it’s really hard to find the beginning & read through it. This is something that’s much easier to do on Facebook.

    I also think that if they created a display format which separated out “To:” (the “@” sign), “Reply To:” (the “RT” convention) and “Categories” (hashtags) from the message itself, they could probably stick to the 140 character limit, but give people more room to say what they want, while at the same time making it much easier to read/organize the content.

  32. Hey John.

    Brianna Wu here. You know how much respect I have for you – and I agree with most of this post. But as one of the primary targets of Gamergate – I would suggest that your suggestions are very superficial in nature.

    One of the main problems with your suggestions is they are primarily aimed at YOU not seeing harassment. That’s an important component, as this takes a psychological toll. But the deeper picture is doxing, deliberate efforts to destroy a woman’s reputation and deliberately spreading misinformation to anyone she interacts with.

    Put another way, this list of suggestions is more pertinent to the easy mode you’ve spoken so eloquently about. I’m fighting much harder bosses, and so are most of the women I know.

  33. Brianna Wu:

    Yup, and I of course recognize that my list of wants reflect my position and privileges (as noted in the article). I don’t think it’s a complete list of things Twitter should be doing. I do think others are better able to speak to those other issues (Randi gets at some of them in her piece).

  34. I have fleetingly considered using Twitter, mostly because certain people I find entertaining are being entertaining on that platform more than anywhere else (bloggers who stopped writing longform blogs, for example). But I suspect that Twitter, like law school, would tend to amplify the aspects of my personality that I like least. It would also be one more way to avoid being productive.

    Just as importantly, as a person lacking a penis, I am really wary of the antifemale dogpiles that I have read so much about. I would not want to use Twitter ONLY to follow, I would want to say something as well; and yet I do not want to get into constant confrontations, I do not want to have to spend a lot of time managing a platform that is supposed to be about entertainment, and I *really* do not want to bathe in either a) floods of advertising or b) hateful bullshit every time I log in somewhere.

  35. I don’t have to cope with the various problems that John is writing about. Even without those problems, I find Twitter to be pointless. Lately I only look at Twitter if I see a link from somewhere else. I don’t really need a perpetual stream of 140 character snippets, even from people I like or admire. I feel like every minute of my life I spend on twitter would be better spent reading a book or a blog. Actually I feel the same way about Facebook, even though I’m vastly more likely to see something that I care about on Facebook than Twitter. To me, Twitter is remarkably like the earphones that play sharp noises every few seconds into the ears of smart people in Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron.

  36. I’m not sure why “I don’t like Twitter and don’t use it” is salient to a conversation about how to operate it. If someone wants to talk about which golf clubs to use, I don’t go in and say “I dunno about this numbered irons thing, I don’t golf.” This would generally be a quirk of interaction that does not particularly bother me, except that it’s so often mixed with a gloating tone. My not having an interest in golf is not an inherently superior trait, and neither is your disinterest in Twitter.

  37. Also, I think many of john’s ideas are good. One thing I sometimes see, though, (les in this proposal than some others), are rule proposals tailored to fit the needs of what are really a factional number of users. The people who have large numbers of followers and are public presences probably talk more about the issue because they have more investment in it–cool. But the medium needs to be accessible for casual use. I don’t mean the complexity of the tools (e.g. Complex filters, which casual users can ignore if inclined) but making sure rules consider the ways in which casual use differs from more intense use, and make sure to support that. I’m not sure intense users necessarily have a sense for how casual users are utilizing the tool; it’s q blind spot.

    Harassment targets, public figures, and intense users need tools and protections. But I think they/we sometimes forget, because of how much more visible we are, that were a minority.

  38. In reply to Rachel Swirsky: I’m glad our host is not of a mind to exclude comments from visitors like me who point out (not in a “gloating” fashion, at least not in my case) that whatever it is about Twitter that attracts some people, we’re not among them. It’s an aspect of modern life that deserves thought: These devices give us brand-new ways to act stupidly, whether it’s broadcasting a regrettable comment or texting while driving.

  39. “Well, this is what Twitter should do to save itself: Sell itself to Google”

    At which point I’ll probably stop using it. There’s a reason I don’t like Google+. NOT that I have a lot of id’ing info connected with my account. I just don’t love Google.

    Some people don’t see the point of social media, and I get that. Different people use these tools (and that’s really all they are) differently. I found Twitter became a replacement for irc chat when my old “gang” sorta fell apart. So there you go: a reason some people use it.

  40. In reply to gottacook: here you’ve implied I suggested banning such comments (by contrasting my position implicitly with the sentiment that John “allows” them, suggesting I would not), rather than my simply having criticized them. Also, you’ve elided the use of the word “often.” If it’s not about you, it’s not about you. I’ll leave aside further discussion of it.

  41. Ms. Swirsky, I never meant to imply that you would ban comments not thought to be relevant; I only wrote that I was glad our host had not done so.

  42. I always thought that if a140 character limit is so appealing to users, 70 would be potentially better. I’d call it Twit.

  43. I think all of those things on your list are a good start. I’d also suggest the number of people who mute/block you should be visible to other people – y’know, a sort of Followed by/Muted by/Blocked by count on their profile. This would allow people who are new to Twitter (or who just don’t use the service that often[1]) to get an idea of how well-regarded a particular blowhard might be when they suddenly appear in their mentions. For example, if someone is followed by 20 people, and muted or blocked by hundreds… well, that’s something of a walloping great hint, right? Ditto if the same person is followed by 20 people and muted or blocked by none. It gives you a starting point.

    (I’m being followed by a couple of advertising accounts, who used to occasionally, inexplicably, re-tweet my content. Not even interesting stuff, and certainly not stuff which was relevant to anything their assumed “user” would be interested in[2]. Just randomly re-tweeting, presumably in the hope that I’d notice they’d re-tweeted me, start following them, and go have a look at whatever it was they were spruiking. They got muted, if not actually blocked).

    And hey, maybe if these fools can see how many people are actually just ignoring them and telling them to go the *bleep* away, they’ll catch a clue, and stop being so blinkin’ stupid[3].

    I can live with the notion that people would be muting/blocking me because most of what I post on Twitter is incredibly dull. This is the penalty for living a very quiet life with very little outside contact.

    [1] Such as myself. Because it’s a massive time-sink. Seriously, if I want to have a web-based thing eat my brain, I’ll go read TV Tropes – at least that’s a guaranteed level of vaguely entertaining.
    [2] Such as, for example, an account purportedly based in Florida re-tweeting a snarky comment I made about a service which purports to be about traffic in Perth, Western Australia, using timestamps from the lower Eastern States (i.e. 2 – 3 hours ahead of WA time). Which gave me the clue.
    [3] I live in hope.

  44. I use Twitter to curate my news. I decline all followers (gasp!) for now, in order to limit the time I spend there. Science, politics, feminism, racism, current events, history – I learn so much I might never see elsewhere. I think Twitter replaces Usenet for me. (I still miss it.)

    Also, it continues to amaze me when people I follow cross paths. Yes, it’s no stretch that John and Wil Wheaton tweet at each other, or that Maureen Johnson pokes at John. But when the person I followed to twitter from SciAm, who studies the anthropology of menstruation, is suddenly tweeting with a children’s author I love, or when a favorite newsman is thanking a scientist friend for a recipe, I let out a big old squee. :-)

  45. I’m not sure why “I don’t like Twitter and don’t use it” is salient to a conversation about how to operate it.

    There is a long and hallowed tradition of loudly and publicly sneering ‘you’ll never get ME up on one of those newfangled things’ so as to ostensibly demonstrate one’s own intellectualism and resistance to the trends and flashes sweeping the lesser, popular mind.

    I don’t care one way or the other if someone chooses to use Twitter, but I admit I find it a little baffling when people say there is nothing there – sort of like listening to the guy who has 300+ channels grouse that there’s nothing good on TV. Twitter is a great way to find links to blog posts and longer articles, to read commentary and discussions between people I might not otherwise see if I just surfed to a handful of the usual websites. In some situations is has been the way that people communicate in real-time about riots, arrests, or police actions. It’s a tool, and it would be great if it were operated by a company that gave a shit about its abuse.

  46. So you want your own Butters to keep the negative thoughts away from your twitter. Why dont you set you twitter to private and only allow people to follow you that have 100+ followers as that seems to be your benchmark. that will surely decrease the number of people you need to mute…or do you want the followers but just don’t want them to tweet you? take some responsibility for what you want and don’t expect others to do it for you.

  47. “But then, I’m a well-off straight white dude, and I can laugh off some mouth breather saying stupid things to me. If I were a woman and getting a constant stream of rape and death threats, I’m not sure I could do that, and I’m not sure that I should be required to be an “expert” user not to have to see this stuff.”

    Even if one *didn’t* have to see this shit, even if one doesn’t have internet access at all, those shitheads could still tweet this shit *to each other*, including both “[insert name here] deserves to get raped and set on fire” and “[insert name here] lives at [physical home address] and works at [physical workplace address]”… >:(

  48. “What I want out of the internet in general is that it goes back to being like it was in 1998. I’d be happy with that. ”

    Sadly, the day after the Columbine massacre there were shitheads on Usenet *celebrating* the murder of random children in order to convince mundanes to welcome geeks into their homes and beds regardless of social skills or else the geeks would keep feeling ostracized and keep murdering (this was before the dust settled and it turned out the Columbine murderers had dozens of friends and party-packed weekends themselves).

  49. Wasn’t the 140-character limit originally so Twitter could work with the SMS protocol on pre-smartphone cellphones?

    Don’t millions of people in the world still use that kind of phone?

    Someone in the C-suite at Twitter might like to listen to what *those* markets need and want. Who knows, the results could be amazing.

  50. I have concerns about exchanging mute lists between users. It’s superficially attractive as a preemptive time-saver: mute those who you would anyway without having to see their first, possibly nasty post.

    But it also means that there might come to be unofficial gatekeepers within certain circles of tweeter. Someone as popular as John Scalzi might have a list of 1500 muted accounts, and thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people who would import his list. After all, if twitter have made the process painless, why not?

    But the list creators aren’t perfect people, let alone perfect arbiters. The list might include people who were distracting, but aren’t actually odious trolls. Or people unfairly included by association, or even by mistake. Scalzi himself says in the article that he’s considered muting his friends to avoid their debate for half an hour. What if he had forgotten to reinstate them?

    If muted accounts lists were widely distributed, so would these errors. Rectifying them would be hard or impossible. And blameless accounts might find themselves forever lumped in with the most horrible trolls.

  51. Matt:

    “Why don’t you set you twitter to private and only allow people to follow you that have 100+ followers”

    Obviously, because that’s not what I want.

    As for the rest of your comment, Matt, I suggest you read the piece more closely. I do, in fact, tailor Twitter to the way I want it. I think it would be nice if Twitter made it easier for everyone to do that.

    just a reader:

    Please aggregate your replies from now on. Multiple sequential posts from the same person makes me twitchy. Thanks.


    Mute lists, I would imagine, would be editable, so someone who is borrowing someone else’s could go through and tweak them to their own liking.

  52. I have been able to touch base with some authors I love and just say I loved this book or what the eff were you doing with that book
    They conversed, it was great
    I don’t Twitter much but that was Cool

  53. From Twitters perspective, the problem with most of the efforts to solve Twitters problems make it more difficult for them to make money from the platform.

    The essence of Twitter’s appeal is that people with something to say, like JS, can reach people who want to hear what JS has to say. Along with reaching people, people like JS can also have interactions with the people who want to hear what JS is saying. The appeal to people who want to listen is that they can listen, and amplify or respond when they feel the need.

    Eventually the problem with the block lists, mutes, etc is that it creates silos of people, each trying to reach an audience, but the interactions between people that itself is a large amount of the content, is reduced or removed. For users who do not create or amplify much content, it just becomes another source of people saying things and selling stuff.

    There is some evidence contained with Twitters own statistics and charts and quarterly filings that show this has started to happen, and that continued dis-junction devalues the platform.

    It was probably always a pipe dream that you could create a gigantic unified community of people linked only by shared interests and now long gone rules of discourse. A lot of people are just shitty people.

  54. I look at this and the surrounding controversy and I wonder what people get out of Twitter that makes it worth using it to the extent that they do. I tweet on a regular basis for professional reasons, but rarely get into lengthy debates or the sort of exchanges that require management, moderation, etc. It frankly mystifies me that ANYONE has the time or energy for it.

    I am not trying to be dismissive. I just Do Not Get Twitter. At all.

  55. You know, I’m tempted to dismiss Twitter as yet another of our narcissistic obsessions but then I remember 2009 and how a growing crowd of protesters brought the fight to the presidential election results and showed the world in real time how they would not accept the results of a rigged election:


    And I think to myself that the world is a much bigger place than Americans often think.

  56. These are all good suggestions. Along with Randi Harper’s suggestions they would give more fine-grained control for twitter users. A tab for the messages of muted users strikes me as a good idea, too, for periodically checking for threatening tweets.

    My favorite idea here is the ability to mute by profile keyword. This would not only be useful for filtering abusive users, but also for temporarily muting accounts tweeting about issues I just don’t want to follow at the moment (taking a break from 2016 election coverage, for instance).

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