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My Twitter reset

··1014 words·5 mins·

Photo credit: Marek Piwnicki

Let’s start this post with a quote:

“We are dying from overthinking. We are slowly killing ourselves by thinking about everything.” – Anthony Hopkins

That’s an accurate summary of my life on Twitter over the past few years. I lost the enjoyment from connecting with other people and suddenly found myself doom scrolling – looking over my Twitter feed with glossy eyes, seeing only negativity and feeling less connected to other people.

Then I thought: “Why am I using social media if it makes me feel less social and less connected?”

Is it Twitter? Is there something wrong with the platform? Is it the same problem that people see with Facebook?

Is it me?

The problem #

Social media companies thrive on eyeballs. More eyeballs looking at the platform for longer periods means higher ad revenue. Sure, cute and fuzzy cats or funny family videos certainly capture attention, but there’s nothing like the attention you gain through spreading fear, anger, and contempt.

Many argue that platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tiktok have algorithms that show you content that cause you to spend more time on the site. Much of the content out there is negative and that certainly drives traffic.

However, the humans using the platform an interacting with each other are also responsible. Lies and misleading information spread like wildfire, especially if they disparage a group or a belief that is divisive. By the time the truth comes out, the lie has done irreparable damage.

In Tyler Merritt’s book, I Take My Coffee Black, he talks about divisiveness that appeared in his church and community. He writes that distance breeds contempt and distrust, but proximity brings understanding. You see this constantly on social media where people wage war over politics but then they do their best to keep quiet about it when they meet in person.

My problem with Twitter #

I started with Twitter in 2008 and my account is just over 10,000 followers. Sure, that’s a tiny fraction compared to many other accounts, but to me, that’s a tremendous amount. I’m truly humbled at the amount of people who are interested in what I say and share. Thank you.

On the other hand, when it came time to follow people, I felt like it was important to follow anyone who followed me. If you’re going to take time to listen to what I have to say, then I should do the same. Right?

At first, this worked out well. Over time, I followed some people who shared things that I was upset about. That lead me to follow other people who reinforced my beliefs, biases, and choices. I’d run into opinions that differed from mine and I wouldn’t follow those people or extend the reach of what they shared. My set of beliefs were continually reinforced.

Through all this time, I had really close friends who would ask: “Hey, did you see that blog post I wrote? I put it on Twitter.” My response would usually be “Oh, well, I follow a lot of people and it’s hard to keep up with all of that.”

That was a cop-out. The problem was staring me straight in the face.

I stopped using social media to connect with people. I was in a downward spiral of negativity that I had brought upon myself.

New goals #

Last weekend, I put up a final tweet saying I was done with Twitter for a while and provided some other contact information for anyone who wanted to reach out. I deleted Twitter from my devices, signed out on my computers, and enjoyed my weekend.

That was the key. I enjoyed my weekend.

Then I thought, “How can I enjoy next week and next weekend, too?”

So I set up some goals for myself with social media:

  1. Reduce my list of people I follow to people who I truly care about. Someone should earn that spot not from simply following me, but by sharing things that add value to the world.
  2. If anyone I follow violates the first rule, consider removing them or temporarily moving them to a list.
  3. Find a way to filter out retweets so I can see what people are saying, not what they’re passing along.
  4. Keep everything else (news, financial information, etc) compartmentalized into lists that I can review when I need that information.

The reset #

After my weekend off Twitter, I realized I had over 57,000 tweets (many of which violated my own first rule above) and I was following thousands of people on Twitter. Many of those people I followed were people I cared nothing about (celebrities, angry people, divisive political figures).

This required some drastic action.

  1. I downloaded all of my Twitter data in a big zip file.
  2. I used the tweepy Python module to delete every tweet, every favorite, every direct message, and every retweet. Every person I followed was removed. Yes. All of it.

Deleting 57,000 tweets took several hours but the remaining bits were removed in less than an hour. The tweepy package made the process painless and it was easy to just leave running in a terminal while I worked on other things.

Going forward #

My social media goals (see above) drive my current decisions on Twitter. If I followed you before, but I don’t follow you now: please don’t take it personally. I’m gradually bringing people back into my feed and I’m looking at Twitter less often.

It might take me a little while to find you again. That’s okay. 🤗

In addition, I plan to share more real, interesting, original content and avoid the favorite and retweet buttons unless I find something incredibly valuable. I plan to avoid negativity but I will share things that make us question the norms that surround us.

After all, questioning the status quo so much of what makes us human. We know there’s something better out there and we want to achieve it. We can’t do it by tearing each other down, but we can surely do it by building meaningful connections between all of us.