Computers, Humor

Putting the “Twit” in Twitter

I’m not sure I completely understand the myriad purposes of Twitter.  It’s useful to me, because I can link it to this blog, and send out automatic notifications when I publish a post, and because I have several dozen people who follow those announcements on Twitter, and who–one hopes, and I think this is the case–check in on a regular basis to read them.  So I think Twitter is a great medium for advertising, even if it’s just enabling shameless self-promotion.  I don’t really use it for much else, other than that I follow a select group of people whose opinions, lifestyles, or skills are of interest to me.

I suppose it’s useful–if you follow your favorite news sources–for keeping up to date with what’s going on in the world.  You can also stay abreast (carefully chosen word) of what those interchangeable Kardashian women are up to, or of other celebrities whose daily outpourings you can’t live without, here early in the third decade of the twenty-first century.

You can use it to keep in touch with family and friends, although not really in meaningful, long-form ways.  And certainly (if you’re a reasonably normal and modest person who’s somewhat careful of her reputation) not in deeply revealing ways.  It seems to me that–at least in this respect–Twitter is less useful even than Facebook, and I don’t consider Facebook all that useful when it comes to facilitating actual relationships between actual people.

If you’re Tweeting on behalf of a corporation, I suppose you can use Twitter to raise brand awareness, to keep up with the competition, and to get out ahead of negative stories and try to limit the damage when they occur.  You might use it to advertise your client’s products, or your own projects or events.

Every once in a while, in the event of a breaking news story, especially one of catastrophe (floods, tornadoes, plane crashes) or political upheaval (Iran, Ukraine), Twitter comes into its own as the fastest moving spreader of news, and–sometimes–facilitator of communications between groups who have no other options for staying in touch.  And that’s great. Except when, as sometimes happens, much of the first-line information turns out to be wrong. Can you say Covington Kids?

Caveat emptor. Words to live by when it comes to social media.

So Twitter can be–I guess–a valuable tool for many.  Estimates of how many Twitter users there are worldwide vary wildly, but a figure that’s often thrown out is about 400 million.  Perhaps eighty-five million of them live in the United States.  I have no idea how many of them are bots.  About ten percent of the eighty-five million US users are responsible for over ninety percent of the daily US Tweets. (This Pew research article breaks down the statistics further, by political party and some demographics.)  So about eight-and-a-half million people drive the daily engine that is Twitter in the United States.

And because Twitter gives everyone a microphone that’s of exactly the same size and volume as everyone else’s, and because of the nature of its setup, with its “Follows,” and its “Retweets” and its immediate visibility and instantaneous access that’s available in almost everyone’s pocket, 7x24x365, it’s quite possible for a very small number of those users–I suspect that the most active of the most active comprise, again, a small subset of that eight-and-a-half million–to substantially move the needle on very consequential matters, either through the dissemination of actual and useful information, or through the site’s other, and far less praiseworthy, output, that of the “Twitter mob.” (Again, like Elon Musk, I have no idea how many of those mob accounts are bots, or fake, or one person posting under numerous names.  So the numbers are almost impossible to substantiate.  Although there have been some studies done, with the conclusion being that there are far fewer actual people (although the ones there are must be very well-organized) behind most of the mobs than just counting the number of Tweets might indicate.)

So I think, really, having thought this through, I do understand Twitter rather well.

But there’s one particular feature, or–at least–one particular use of one particular feature that leaves me shaking my head in wry amusement.

The feature is something Twitter calls a “protected account,” and here’s where they describe how it works:

You’ll receive a request when new people want to follow you, which you can approve or deny.

Your Tweets, including permanent links to your Tweets, will only be visible to your followers.

Your followers will not be able to use the Retweet icon  to Retweet or Retweet with comment.

Protected Tweets will not appear in third-party search engines (like Google search).

Your protected Tweets will only be searchable on Twitter by you and your followers.

Replies you send to an account that isn’t following you will not be seen by that account (because only your followers will see your Tweets).

So, to restate what they’re saying (I don’t think I have a language comprehension problem, but I just want to make sure.)

Once I protect my account:

  • Only my followers can see my Tweets.  (Apparently, if my account was previously unprotected and I gathered up a handful of followers at the time, they’re grandfathered in as followers post-protection.)  Picking up additional followers after I’ve protected my account requires them to send me a request asking me to approve them as followers, or–should I choose not to approve it–to deny them access to my Tweets.  This is quite interesting, since it begs the question (using the term in the modern, incorrect sense): “Why would I choose to follow the Twitter outpourings of someone whose Tweets I can’t even see to decide if he or she is worth following or not.”  LOL.
  • My followers (who are the only people who can see my Tweets) are not able to Retweet them.  My Tweets stay on my Twitter account page, where only my followers can see them.  Those I post in reply to non-followers, anywhere on Twitter, cannot be seen by anyone other than my existing group of followers.
  • My protected Tweets will not appear in third-party search engines like Google.  (Apparently, if my account was unprotected for any length of time before I protected it, Tweets and replies sent before that time still appear in search engines.)
  • Only my followers will be able to search my Tweets on Twitter itself.
  • Any Replies that I make, to any Tweet that’s posted by someone who’s not following me, won’t be visible to that person.  Only my followers can see that Tweet/Reply.  No-one else, including the non-follower to whom I sent my Tweet/Reply will see it.

I think that’s about it.

Now, I can think of only three reasons that a person might want to “protect” a Twitter account.  The first is that you have some rather nefarious motives, and are going to be using Twitter for questionable, if perfectly legal, purposes.  Perhaps you’re a paunchy, bald, elderly married man who’d like to present yourself as something of a devil-may-care swinging single, while you engage in (perfectly legal) merry persiflage with younger, adventurous ladies deep in the bowels of the site where most people don’t think to go.  Perhaps some of them started following you before you protected your account, since it’s hard to see how they’d know to follow you afterwards, since–if they’re not following you already–they won’t be able to see your Tweets at all. (I hope y’all are still with me.  Please try to keep up.)

The second reason (also perfectly legitimate) is that you have a small, core group of people you like to communicate with, and you use Twitter as a private microblog for that purpose alone.  I can’t quite see why you wouldn’t use email, or WhatsApp, or Slack, or some other group messaging capability, but, Hey, Whatevs.  It’ll work. Up to you.

Third, perhaps you have concerns related to anonymity.  Perhaps you think that a pseudonym isn’t protection enough, so you think you’re applying a second layer of security to your identity by protecting your account.  I don’t have a problem with that as a rationale.  As long as you understand the effect of what you’ve done.

What I do not understand, and which always amuses me when I observe the behavior on the feed of a Twitter user I might be following, is a person who protects his Twitter account, and then spends his time swanning around to the Twitter accounts of others to Tweet Lord knows what at them, when nothing he Tweets on those pages is viewable to anyone other than his small handful of followers.  Of course, those followers can see his Tweets on his Twitter feed, and they can link to–and see, because, follower–the Tweet on the other person’s page.  And they can reply to it, with “Oorah!” or “You are the most brilliant man who’s ever lived!” or even something more specific and topical.   But since no-one other than the rest of the small handful of followers can see the original protected Tweet/Reply, or know what the follower is referring to, his or her Reply (which is visible to all, if the follower’s account is public) can sometimes look pretty silly.

I guess my question is, why waste all that time shouting into cyberspace at people who can’t see anything you’re writing–and that includes the person to whom you’re nominally addressing those Tweets? Clearly, you’re not going to influence anyone or change any minds that way, and if you think you’re doing that, you don’t understand how Twitter works, and you are sadly mistaken.  Your existing small group of followers probably already hangs on your every word and agrees with everything you’re saying, and they are the only ones who can see your Tweets, so what’s the point?  It seems completely daft to me, and like the worst kind of echo chamber, one in which you’re talking only to yourself and to your followers, recursively, endlessly, pointlessly, while you waste your time barking at the moon.

It’s baffling to me.  Full disclosure: I worked in IT for thirty years before I retired, and I’ve spent a fair amount of my life looking at, thinking about, and facilitating, the way that people use technology, and in helping them to get the most out of it.  So it’s second nature for me to notice such things, and I have a well-honed inclination to consider them.  I have a very utilitarian relationship with computers, myself. I like to be very clear about what they do and how they do it, and I only use them for things that I think provide me with some sort of value or benefit.  I’m not in the least interested in the bells and whistles, the vast majority of which are of no use to me at all, and I’m certainly not going to spend my time composing even short Tweets to send out to people who are unable to view them.  What a stonking, purposeless, great, waste of time. Poor people.

Maybe someone who reads this can explain to me why anyone would do this.

I’ll wait.



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