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.