When I started on Twitter, in January 2008, I added many ‘friends’ I was already following in other social media, and some of my fellow freelancers from the Halton-Peel Communicators Association. My social media friends I had discovered from blogging on Elgg (now Eduspaces), a network aimed at academics studying education and learning. I browsed blogs in Elgg and found people to follow. I loved the social quality and having ‘friends’ online. Anyone who followed me, I followed back, ’cause that was the custom and the polite thing to do. And I tried to read all their blogs (and felt inadequate when I got behind). Despite knowing how to scan and skip when reading other blogs, I felt these people were my friends and I had a social responsibility.
It was onerous, especially as I kept following back the people who followed me. I began to compromise. I only read posts that had links. I chose favorites among those I was following and set them up in their own group, so I could follow the condensed version. I noticed that some of the people I chose to follow, didn’t follow me back. I commented in presentations on the asymmetrical structure of Twitter, as opposed to the reciprocal structure of Facebook. Yet every time I got the email announcing someone was following me, I clicked on the Twitter link but I began getting hesitant about following back.
I looked at their most recent tweets, and if they didn’t really interest me, or looked like pushy sales stuff, I began not to follow back. Some just looked like they were exploring, and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings, but I couldn’t see the benefit from following them. So I didn’t. The ones I regarded as sales broadcasters I began to enjoy not following. I felt assertive. I felt like I had boundaries. (Yes, I read a lot of those self-help books ;-> ) I felt strong refusing them.
One day I clicked on the link of someone new following me and looked at the posts, and then looked closely at the avatar. Both were obscene. I’d noticed that there was a link labelled “Block”; I used it. I didn’t want to appear on “her” list of followers. (I’m not sure it was a female; these things can be faked.)
If this is obvious behavior to you, it wasn’t natural for me, an older, Canadian female. But Twitter led me step-by-step into deciding who I want to follow and who I want to totally block. It was gradual, and great. Outside of Twitter, I have begun to openly say “no” when I want to. I’m polite if they are and the context allows it. When someone recently asked to do a guest post on my blog, I looked at her work and was impressed, but realized I didn’t really know her, and I didn’t want to share. So I emailed my unwillingness. I did the same thing when a company asked to place something on my blog. I was complimented, but I didn’t want to include. it. Both people thanked me for my response. (I think many people just ignore them, but their approaches were polite, so I responded in kind.)
In this way, weird as it seems, Twitter has been like a therapist for me; I have learned I don’t have to follow back and I can block rude and pushy followers. And I like that!