digital scholarship,  twitter

Your house is a very fine house

Generally I’m adverse to Twitter Quit Lit pieces (“How I turned off social media and learned to love life again”). I find them a) patronising (I’ve seen the truth and you poor suckers are caught in the trap), b) insulting and shallow (like when people live on minimum wage for a month and then make judgements about it) and c) egotistical (“I need to let my fans know I’m going offline, look everyone, I’m going offline!”). But with all that said, I have been thinking about social media usage, and taking more control over it recently.

As the world turns ever more into a bad parody of a satire written by a nihilist on acid, we all need to find ways of managing our own self care. Social media, and Twitter in particular, plays a not insignificant part in all this. You can only go so many days of being outraged 100 times before breakfast without it affecting you. One antidote to this is the more extreme full on quit, and I admire anyone who does that. But for many of us there is still value in it, and also a good deal of our professional and personal identity is wrapped up in those connections. So finding ways to manage it and make it a better environment for yourself are important.

With this in mind I am experimenting with the following:

Deleting Twitter from my phone – I tend to check twitter too much, and often when I should be doing something else (watching TV, listening to a conversation, walking the dog). So by deleting it that constant urge to check is removed, and by using Tweetdeck on my laptop, it places Twitter firmly in the ‘work’ category. I’m not removed from it but I have recategorised its use.

Muting words and phrases – Heidi Moore posted a pic of all the words she has muted:

You can do this via Settings – Privacy and Safety – Muted. She commented just how much it made her stream feel cleaner and less full of bile.

Blocking/Muting – I don’t get much hassle on Twitter (being a white male who writes about fairly uncontroversial stuff, I am not the recipient of regular death threats or unsolicited pictures of genitalia). But even then there are some instances I’ve had where people seemingly want to argue about something which is largely unrelated to anything I’ve written, but is clearly AN ISSUE for them. The sweet, sweet relief of just muting a conversation or an account is not to be understated. The aforementioned Heidi Moore has an ‘instablock” strategy for any jerks and enforces it rigorously.

Being fluid – you can mute, unmute, block, unblock, reinstall, etc. These are not permanent decisions. I have some misgivings about myself being over-zealous with muted words – could I really mute “Brexit” for instance? Would that mean I am living in a sanitised, detached version of the world? I haven’t muted that word yet, but there are days when I might. And that is fine. Which brings me on to the last tactic…

Taking ownership – all of these are really instances of one larger approach is that you can take control and shape your own social media environment to an extent. Educators often feel guilty about this, blocking people is not part of the socratic dialogue, and this sense of guilt is often used against them, so you’ll hear people reply “I thought education was about debate!”, if you’ve decided not to engage with their hot contrarian take. But don’t feel guilty, it is your space, and like a garden or house you construct it to bring you reward.

In general we have been learning how to use social media as individuals. It is now at such a pervasive and significant part of all components of society that turning it off is both difficult and not practical. But we can be more active in ensuring that our experience of it is better. The sort of social media training and development we give to staff and students needs to have this as a focus rather than increasing followers or brand. Because, as Lucinda Williams who I saw this week, puts it “I don’t need Donald Trump in my life”:


  • Tom

    I’ve gone a similar route. No Twitter on the phone. I re-add it during conferences. I use it via the site (which I now need to tweak some CSS on). I’ll also pitch the Twitter demetricator browser plugin — which is the kind of tools that have more and more appeal to me. That tool and Stylebot lets me have far more control over the site than Twitter wants . . . which I find pleasing.

    On all things, I block/mute/silence with vim and vigor.

    I have also blocked the URL of various sites via the hosts file to break that initial habitual opening of the site when I’m bored.

    • John

      Similar to Tom, I block some sites via the hosts file, and I had both Twitter and Facebook on that block list for a while.

      I didn’t realize that you could mute words/phrases. Now I’d like to find some other good lists of stuff to mute. This also makes me wonder why Twitter doesn’t just implement a site-wide mute on a dictionary of demeaning / never acceptable words.

      • mweller

        Hi John, yes I’m thinking about what phrases to mute. For instance, I feel I can live happily without seeing Tommy Robinson (UK fascist) in my timeline any more.

  • Kirsten

    I’ve done all the above, but it hasn’t really helped (and has definitely hidden some interesting content from good people because I’ve muted them due to their propensity to like miserable stuff onto my timeline). I’m now following fewer than 100 people (and have probably muted half of those) and still I open the web app and within 30 seconds find myself becoming aware of something horrible that makes me sad or upset. For the record, I’m also a paying subscriber to the Financial Times, so it’s not as if I try to avoid bad news!

    I genuinely don’t know what to do. If it I could find a way to only hear from people like you on Twitter it would be great, but even the best people unwittingly share hideous distracting crap onto the timeline. I’ve come close to deleting my account completely several times this month.

    • mweller

      Hi Kirsten – ah, that’s a shame. I’m experimenting with these so I may end up the same – there is no defence against the crap getting through. I think subtle changes in twitter make it worse eg likes and comments from people you follow show up in your stream like retweets, so if a friend has commented on a thread arguing with some nazis (say) you’re now made aware of it, and before you know it, you’re in there arguing with nazis too. I mean, sometimes that’s good, but engaging with those people rarely leaves you feeling refreshed. I’m hoping these tactics will take the edge off some of it anyway.

  • Ken Bauer

    Wonderful advice here Martin with some actual practical tips. Lovely!

    Thanks Tom for that plugin link.

    Since my Facebook Free February experiment, I have been much more mindful about my use of social media. You put much of my thoughts into words. I look forward to meeting up in person soon as that is even better than our conversations online.

    • mweller

      Hi Ken, thanks very much. Interestingly I kept FB and Instagram on my phone because I don’t really post to FB much and I like the close, personal community I have on IG, which should have been another tactic I guess, around using different social media in different ways. Look forward to seeing you at OpenEd!

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