Sunday, July 26, 2009

Why I Blocked You On Twitter

As PragueBob I have more than 64,000 contacts on Twitter, but I've never used an auto-follower or any other type of automation. None. Ever. Automation cannot decide who to follow or what to say, so on Twitter it's almost totally useless and should be avoided 99,9% of the time. Exceptions do exist, but these are so rare that it will be a very short post in which I discuss them, later.

Since I consider Twitter to be not just a microblogging site but also a social networking site (and a very good one at that) it is my policy that all my contacts on Twitter are mutual. As such, when people follow me on Twitter, I either follow them back or remove them from my followers list to avoid scanning this list repeatedly, because it is simply too time-consuming. Automation wouldn't help, and I wouldn't leave such choices to an algorithm, anyway.

All of my contacts on Twitter are mutual and I prefer it that way, because any of them can send me a Direct Message (DM), and I can reply to them with one. This "back channel" on Twitter is quite different from the public stream. If two people are following each other, then they can send each other a DM, similar to a private e-mail or SMS, and that's very important I think. I'll say more about how DMs can be used most effectively in a later post, but for now it suffices to say that too many people abuse DMs on Twitter by sending unsolicited self-promotion messages, and this is really spam, so it should never be done, not at all, ever. When someone follows you on Twitter it means that they might find what you have to say interesting, and in fact tentatively. It does not mean that they've invited you to bomb their private DM Inbox with spam or other nonsense, especially by way of introduction.

So, all of my contacts being mutual means that if someone follows me on Twitter, then I have to follow them back, right? Wrong. I will only return the follow of someone I deem to be worthy. "Worthy" simply means a normal person or business not falling into one of the offensive categories I've listed below. Otherwise I block, because I don't have the time or patience to deal with offenders repeatedly. I used to block/unblock, which is perhaps a kinder, gentler way of getting people out of my followers list. But too many people just didn't "get it", so now I simply block anyone who I don't follow in return. Likewise, if I follow someone and they don't follow me back after a reasonable amount of time I unfollow (or sometimes even block) them, although I might make several attempts, which sometimes results in getting myself blocked, but that's life.

Does all this make me an elitist? No, it most certainly does not. It simply means that I'm somewhat selective (why should I return the follow of a porn promoter or spammer?) and I strongly recommend that you be selective, too. Anyone who knows me at all, also knows that I actively seek out contacts from all over the world, from all over the political spectrum, from all races, creeds, genders, religions, and sexual orientations. I encourage, even thrive upon, diversity. I'm probably the most "equal opportunity" person on Twitter, and I mean that quite sincerely. But I've also blocked literally thousands of people who showed up on my followers list, and here are some of the reasons why I blocked them after taking a look at their profiles:

1) Pornography. It shouldn't be on Twitter, there are plenty of websites dedicated to this. I'm no prude, and in fact I'm pretty sure that my sex life would make most people envious, but if I ever do feel the need for pornography I'm also sure that I can find plenty of it all over the Internet without it following me on Twitter or spamming my e-mail.

2) Foul language. Twitter is a public place, and as such foul language should be avoided. Again, I'm no prude, and I have a richer x-rated vocabulary than most people, having spent time in some of the world's roughest places, but socially well-adjusted people know how to curb their tongues in public.

3) Suspicious profile. This includes: using the default avatar instead of a real photo or image; nonsensical, missing, or clearly erroneous Name, Location, Bio, or Web fields in the profile. I immediately block anyone in my followers list with the default avatar. You can't walk into a bank with a paper bag over your head, either.

4) Suspicious behavior. This includes: accounts with no tweets; accounts with lots of followers but with few or no tweets (an indication that the account is only being followed by autofollowers); accounts following others to the limit allowed by Twitter (an indication that the account is in fact fishing for autofollowers); accounts with tweets that run completely contrary to other information in the profile (for instance a "venture capitalist" or "banker" spewing a continuous stream of cheap affiliate links.); accounts that use "bait and switch" links, saying one thing but linking to something else entirely (usually an unrelated affiliate-marketing site); accounts that engage in spam, which can be in the public stream or private DMs. I'm usually somewhat tolerant with people trying to do business but selling completely nonsensical crap through affiliate links is a no-no. I do have affiliate links on my blogs but they directly relate to the content on the blog, so it's not just some random, desperate attempt to sell anything to anyone; accounts with repetitive or nonsensical tweets, "Blogging:", "Reading:", etc., over and over again; accounts that have no @replies to anyone (meaning they never engage in a conversation with anyone, this is only OK for news agency sources, weather bots, and such, never for people or companies).

5) Infantile behavior. Do I really have to explain this? Lots of tweets like, "Watching TV", "Sleeping", etc., etc. Unfortunately some of the worst offenders used to be the Twitter founders themselves. Maybe they've grown up a bit recently, but I don't know since I rarely even attempt to follow any of them anymore, mainly because they're such antisocial #twittersnobs (more on "hashtags" in a later post).

Stop and think for a moment, do you really want your legitimate followers (in my case "contacts", since they're mutual) to have to share the same list with those offenders falling into the categories I've listed above? I don't, because I think it's unfair to them, in fact I think it shows great disrespect. However, if ever I blocked you and you feel that I did this in error you can always appeal to my Virtual Assistant TwitRadiator to intercede with me on your behalf.

17 comments:

Jennifer said...

have you seen twitter now lets you just remove people from your followers? blocking seems pretty harsh just because you don't want to talk to them (and i DO block people who repeatedly try to follow me when i have no interest in being followed, or i block people who are jerks). spamming and assholes aside, blocking a random person you don't want to communicate with seems kind of harsh. especially since people do sometimes change, and people's tweets evolve. i know i tweet about very different things today than i used to when i started tweeting forever ago.

PragueBob said...

Jennifer, maybe your Twitter now has that option, but mine certainly doesn't, it is only the same old "unfollow" which by no means removes anyone from your followers list, they simply remain there not followed, but they are still following YOU, which is my point, after all. No, I'm afraid you were just looking at the wrong list (at least not the followers list). I checked this again just now to be sure...

Jennifer said...

I'm not looking at the wrong list. I just cleaned up my followers list the other day and removed a ton of followers I did not feel comfortable reading my updates any longer since I was not following them.

on this page: http://twitter.com/followers on the right side of each follower's entry, there's a drop down menu with a choice that includes "remove [follower]." it's been there for a few weeks now, so if it's a new feature, i assumed it'd be rolled out to everyone at this point. if you don't have that option, you may actually want to contact twitter support.

this new follower list makes things a lot easier to see which followers are mutual followers. it's a feature i've been glad to see.

PragueBob said...

Well, I just "triple checked" and no, my Twitter has no such "remove" in the drop-down of either list (just the same old "unfollow" and "block"). So I do not have this new feature yet, but it will be nice when I get it, for the very reasons you mentioned.

Wogan said...

Jennifer's account is protected - that's why she has the option.

PragueBob said...

Interesting, so I guess I won't be getting that option that Jennifer has after all, then. Too bad. Thanks for the info, though!

Rutger Blom said...

Interesting reading. I agree with most of what you write here. I do not have 64,000 contacts on Twitter (not even a 1,000 for that matter) so I'm kind of living in another world, but I do manage my Twitter network about the same way you do.

Kind regards

Jennifer said...

Thanks for the clarification, Wogan!

I wonder if it's worth it to protect public entries for the feature, update the follower list, and then go back to unprotected. I only "spring clean" a few times a year, but this new feature is really useful and easy.

pity they don't offer it to everyone.

Warren said...

I have to clean out my contact list myself at some point. I have a very strict policy when it comes to people tweeting pay-per-click ads in my timeline.

Michael said...

I adopt a different approach. If people appear to have something to say (and say it concisely), I follow them. If they appear to be genuinely interested in my postings, I let them follow me, but don't follow back. I only block them if they appear to have bad intent.

PragueBob said...

Michael, while I think your approach is perfectly sound, it just wouldn't work for me because my own "mutual or nothing" approach requires a quicker decision based on some reasonable criteria (at least those 5 criteria seem quite reasonable to me, others may differ of course). But if I were only after large numbers of followers I wouldn't "remove" a large percentage of them from my list every day. While it's true that I still have a lot of followers, I return all of those follows except those which fall into the offensive 5 categories. I not only think these are not worth my time but I also don't think they even should stay in the list with my other, legitimate contacts for any longer than it takes for me to vet them, usually a few minutes once each day. Quality over quantity!

Alison said...

I understand the criteria used to choose which people to block, but there are reasons for hiding one's name beyond the obvious or nefarious. I personally have two accounts, a public and a private. My first account, which was built using my main email, includes my first name and a bio. I had issues with people in my personal life finding my account and trying to follow me. Blocking them only meant we couldn't interact. They still could read my tweets. Instead of restricting my tweets, I decided to make the account private. Unfortunately, I can only make contact with people that I both follow and follow me on a private account. This restricts the usability of Twitter, as there are times when one would like to post to the public thread or reply to accounts where mutual following has not been established. For these reasons, I made a new, public account. Having my real name and a bio that established who I am would result in the same issues that led me to restrict my first account, so I used a nondescript name and did not complete the bio. Incidentally, you follow one of my accounts and blocked the other. This is not an argument for or against anything you said in the article, but a comment on the restrictions of Twitter options and how they might shape one's tweet and account detail choices.

PragueBob said...

I fully understand your situation, and my criteria is naturally for my own publicly viewable account, although I do follow (and am followed by) many private ones. But someone trying to operate in "stealth mode" is likely to be blocked according to my criteria if they try to follow me. Unfortunately it isn't a perfect world... :-)

natalia said...

I only block accounts that I'm 100% sure that are spam, but if someone is interested in following me, but I'm not, I just don't follow back. I don't think I should forbid them to see my updates, if I wanted to have a friends only account I would use protected updates.

md20737 said...

I follow a similar policy. I give a few days to follow back, others I unfollow. Most dont notice. I use twitter apps so if they ever become responsive I will notice, and maybe follow back. By the way I love the word #twittersnob bc its so true. I think celebs or want to be celebs are twitter snobs.

reallyrosemarie said...

Those are great guidelines. I especially agree with what you wrote about pornagraphy and the use of obscenities. I got tired of tweeters who were trying to either post 'erotic photos' or sell me something I don't want so I secured my account because I simply didn't know what else to do. Thanks.

bzzzwa said...

This is what I like the most on Twitter - you don't need to have mutual relationships. I follow what I am interested in and let follow me all except suspicious accounts (bots etc.). I suppose that anyone who doesn't like my tweets can unfollow me so I doesn't feel spammy and offensive as on Facebook (where I have very heterogenous group of friends).
I check my @bzzzwa filter often to know if someone unfollowed by me wants to contact me.
But I live in a different scale of number of followers :]