Writing in the long form
May 1st, 2012 by John

TO MOVE: Why I unfollowed you on Twitter

I’ve unfollowed a fair few people on Twitter over the last month. A couple of these have noticed and asked “Why?”, which is always an amusing question – asking someone why they’ve unfollowed you on a social media system runs the risk of getting a negative, personal or hurtful response back.

My own number of followers goes up and down daily; so be it. Some people probably find my tweets boring, irrelevant, offensive, crude, too frequent, politically incorrect or different to their own. Whatevs. Getting obsessed, or worried, about being unfollowed is unhealthy – and, pointless. Social media connections are simply not the same as friendship connections. Following someone on e.g. twitter is merely stating “I wish to receive your tweets automatically in my tweet feed”. It does not mean “I now regard you as a friend” or “I like you unconditionally” or “I have more respect for what you say than all of the people who I do not follow”.

This is illustrated by the reasons why I chose to unfollow some people. Non of these were agonisingly long decisions; there simply is not the time to have a long think about whether to follow someone, or not follow them, or to unfollow them. If you do invest lots of time in that activity, you need to seriously have a hard and honest look at how you spend your very finite time. Some of the people I’ve unfollowed I still regard as friends in the real world. And some of the people I still follow I don’t regard as a friend(*), and possibly don’t even like, or would avoid in the real world. In some cases – certainly not all cases – I’m following you on twitter because your tweets are useful, but I certainly don’t want to go out for a curry with you.


To ram this point bluntly home; see this graphic from xkcd.org. If this happened to you – and at some point in your life you will become seriously ill or die – then do you want a large chunk of the “before the bad time” episode of your life timeline to just be “considered in great details who to follow, or unfollow, on social media networks.”?

Anyway; why I unfollowed some people lately:

  1. You tweet-ranted about the “evils of advertising” in exaggerated detail. Then, straight afterwards, tweeted every time someone bought a copy of your fucking book. (Not a book about sex; it was just deeply annoying to see the same tweet over and over). Strike out for hypocrisy.
  2. You bitched about your ex, openly, in public, in intimate gynecological detail. Whether he or she was a good person or a bad person, I didn’t want to know these details. They’re probably false anyway as you obviously hate them. Also – any future partner who comes across your tweets will run a mile away.
  3. You made unamusing jokes about rape, sexual abuse or domestic violence. Unacceptable; to me, anyway. One of the downsides of twitter in particular is “trending topics”, where you become aware that you’re sharing the same social network with a lot of people who have a very different mindset to your own. That’s one thing, but when people who you had respect for, and thought were, well, better than that start picking up on the very dodgy hashtags and trends, it’s enormously disappointing. Not sure I want to spend time with you in real life, let alone on a social network.
  4. 92 tweets in one day (yes, counted them) was too much, blocked out much other stuff from my tweet stream. While tweeting a conference is good and often useful, tweeting literally every sentence a speaker said: not good.
  5. “The library is dead.” Oh just fuck off.
  6. “This [bad thing done by right wing politicians] disgusts me.” Here’s the thing. I agreed with most, possibly all, of your tweets. But with a 24/7 avalanche of news, and much of it bad things done by conservative politicians in the US and the UK, I know what you’re going to say, and seeing many tweets per day – or hour – of the same ilk means I ignore them and miss your occasionally useful tweets. In other words; your tweets are completely predictable, so it’s a waste of time reading them.
  7. [When no football on TV] “Sport A is boring. Sport B is boring. Sport C is boring. Sport XYZ is boring.” [When football on TV] “Oh great shot. Nearly scored. Another shot. Oh he misses.” Yadda yadda yadda. There’s a peculiarity with football in particular that more than a few fans seem remarkably and vocally intolerant of everything that is not football. I don’t like it for many reasons (who benefits financially, and the violent culture which surrounds it, being two) but I accept that many do like it. Tweet that you find football boring, however, when there’s a football match on and my god the reaction is often extreme and just bizarre. Even from above average intelligent people who you mutually follow, and seem to undergo a 90 minute temporary lobotomy when the match starts.
  8. “I’ve donated to [worthy cause]. And so should you.” Do not tell me how I should spend my money. Do not try and guilt-trip me. At best, come up with a dispassionate reason. You glowing in self-worthiness of donating is not a reason, irrelevant of the cause.
  9. “Here’s my latest blog post:” (nothing till next day) “Here’s my latest blog post:” (nothing till next day) “Here’s my latest…”. One I am guilty of myself, and I will probably hypocritically do by tweeting this post as soon as it’s finished and live. If you do this, at least try and tweet other things, rather than use twitter solely for self-promotion.
  10. “I’ve changed my avatar to protest [cause x]; change yours too”. “My twitter count for this week is up 3 followers, 14 retweets, 7 being an asshat, whatever these automated things vomit out.” “My klout score today is 73.3% pretentious douchebag.” “I have joined InstaHipstaGram. Follow this link to join.” One or two automated messages; okay. A regular flow of them, and they’re all vacuous; bye.

The common thread? To save time, and get a higher quality over quantity information feed from the collective herd of twitter.

Off the top of my head, that’s just my personal list of reasons why I’ve unfollowed some people in the last month or two. Your list will be different. Each to their own. Some people use filters to block out hashtags, or people who talk about certain things, but after some experimenting, it’s yet more time spent/lost on fiddling about with people and what they say.

(*) insecure people: please don’t DM me with “Did you mean me when you typed that?” :-)


13 Responses to “TO MOVE: Why I unfollowed you on Twitter”
  1. They won’t be able to DM that to you because you unfollowed them.

  2. Pete Ashton says

    I too occasionally suffer from the delusion that it’s possible to get “a higher quality over quantity information feed from the collective herd of twitter” but it invariably fails. People are inherently contradictory and hypocritical creatures. I think it’s what helps us evolve by encouraging us to do things wrongly. Or something.

    Still, unfollow frequently and often is as good a Twitter policy as any. You inspired me to do a quick cull.

  3. I assumed no.9 WAS me (I do do SOME non-blog tweets, but), still it looks like you are still following … however not following would have been/is perfectly reasonable, as I assume that the people who follow me are interested in infolit and find it a convenient way to get alerted to news about information literacy. I’ve decided to try and get involved in Twitter a bit more, because it’s obvious that for some people it’s the main way of keeping in touch with the field and there IS useful stuff. But at a fun/emotional level, Twitter just doesn’t do it for me (you can tell by the way I just talked about it). I think it is partly that it doesn’t have enough pictures (Flickr and SL and my new guilty not-now-secret, Poupeegirl being my addictions) and there must be a personality thing … Anyway, I was wondering, do you think that Twitter will stay the cool happening way for library types to hang out, or do you think there’s a new place on the horizon? In other words, should I grit my teeth and try really, really hard to like Twitter, or can I safely hang around feeding my virtual cats and trying on frocks in Poupeegirl waiting for the next social media frenzy, hopefully a 3D one?

  4. Sheila,

    Think it comes down purely to the choice of who you follow. Twitter is only as much fun, or as informative, or as interesting, as their tweets. Unfortunately, finding those people to follow is often damned hard work. Techniques such as seeing who the tweeters who you like the most retweet, can help. But before doing that you have to decide what you want to use it for. Fun, work information, hobby information, risque/flirty talk, politics, sport, academic angst etc. and find the relevant followers.

    We still see people who join twitter, follow literally one or two followers and no more, tweet once, then say “Well, this is boring” and then abandon it. They (incorrectly) assume that as soon as you start, hordes of people will be sending them interesting tweets. Doesn’t work that way. Building up, and maintaining, that list of people to follow is drudgery hard work. Worth it in the long run; most of the academic information I get is from twitter, and it’s the “go to” place for answers to questions.

    (All that is personal opinion)

  5. I have a theory that, on Twitter, we naturally gravitate to those tweeting at a similar frequency and in a similar style to ourselves. Heavy tweeters will feel infrequent ones never say anything, people who hashtag a lot at conferences do so because they find others’ conference tweets useful.

    Although very occasionally I’ll unfollow someone because their tweets made me uncomfortable, mostly I see this as a reflection on the way I use Twitter, than the way they do. This makes it easier not to take my own unfollows personally.

  6. Ruan Peat says

    You have hit the nail on the head, I don’t know if one of the followers you ditched was me :-) but thats is your choice, and I agree, I must confess to also being guilty of ditching people with lots of tweets a day. My feed moves so fast some days I miss the ones I do want, so also vet and weed :-). I must admit to having even more reasons for unfollowing! So have no problem if I also get dropped, life is too short to worry about twitter ‘friends’ who I could walk past in real life and not even know! Harsh, and a little sad but it seems to be the way modern culture is going. So stand up and unfriend/unfollow, delete those RSS feeds, and help keep your own feed clear.
    BTW I do enjoy your take on life so won’t be unfollowing you soon!
    lol Biblios

  7. I follow a lot of accounts just to see when said person’s blog or comic has been updated, so I don’t feel too badly about being guilty of #9 myself most days. For me (and a lot of other people), twitter has replaced my use of an RSS reader really.

  8. katekirk says

    You’re one of the most interesting people I follow, and we have virtually nothing in common (that I can discern). You’re clearly engaged in the world and have distinct opinions that you stick by. You always either amuse me or make me think…that’s why I *DO* follow people on Twitter.

  9. [...] by your number of followers. And by all means, please become discontent when, God forbid, someone unfollows you (that you barely even [...]

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