I have a confession to make: I am sorely tempted, much more often than I feel comfortable admitting, to “unfollow” an ungodly number of people on Twitter. Friends. Family members. Idolized authors whose tweets, for various reasons, send them floor-ward from their pedestals.
But instead of making a clean break, I agonize. I dither.
That’s because for some reason, unfollowing people can seem almost sinful. At the very least, I can’t help thinking that it suggests a character flaw —in me. Why do so many people’s feeds annoy me? If Twitter causes me such distress, why don’t I simply ignore it? Leave the room, so to speak?
And really, what’s the worst that might happen if I actually go ahead and unfollow someone, and then said someone not only discerns my action but also calls me out on it publicly? How unbearable would it be, say, to discover the following “mention”: “.@erikadreifus: I’m trying to send you a DM, but you’re not following me anymore! :-(.” (Answer: Not very. It has happened. Evidently, I lived to tell you about it.)
But, still. I spend far too much time deliberating over unfollows.
If I’m unable to establish a definitive policy, I do at least possess enough self-awareness to recognize the triggers that threaten my Twitter tolerance level and tempt me to trim my timeline. Here are seven:
1. You tweet too much. Some of us work for a living, at jobs where we lack the time and/or freedom to tweet the hours away. I don’t necessarily enjoy being reminded of this fact. And if you’re lucky enough to be working 40-plus hours a week at something that permits you to tweet ad infinitum, then I’m too jealous to follow you. (Journalists and editorial/publishing staff excepted; I’ll keep following you because your tweets are probably job-related and not about what you’re eating, where you’ve just checked in on FourSquare, your imminent and/or just-completed workout—way to make me feel guilty!—or yet another in your infinite series of “#amwriting” or “#amrevising” announcements.
2. You are a writing professor tweeting about how much work—especially grading—that you have to do. Usually, you’re tweeting this from a café, a porch or a backyard on one of the several days each week you don’t even have to brush your teeth if you really don’t want to.
3. You tweet about your children all the livelong day (and night). I like kids. I would give my right arm or kidney for the kids who are related to me. I’m also extremely fond of my friends’ kids. But, when it comes to the progeny of people I’ve never met, the occasional update is about all I can handle. Side note: Everyone knows that kids require a lot of parental energy and attention. That may be why some of us have chosen not to raise them ourselves. You chose differently. Quit yer whining, s’il vous plaît !
4. Your multiple #WW and #FF posts (and painstaking acknowledgments thereof, not to mention individual “Thanks for the follow, @NewFollower” tweets to every person who follows you) take up way too much space on my timeline. Enough said.
5. You preface every reply with a “.” so that all of your followers—not only those who also follow the tweep to whom the message is truly directed—will see it. Because what you have to say, regardless of to whom, is simply that important. (And, no, using “Hey, @soandso” or similar constructions instead doesn’t get you off the hook here, either.)
6. You tweet something excusably self-promotional—your latest blog post, say—but you post it multiple times throughout a day (or multiple times throughout a day for more than one day). We’re all entitled to try to catch the attention of tweeps in more than one time zone. I have been known to post some items once in the early morning and again around dinnertime myself. But if you clutter my timeline with the same post that you’ve tweeted out more than two or three times, you’re really testing my limits.
7. You are an author with a traditional publisher, a publisher replete with an actual publicity staff, and you RT every single bit of press they get for your book. (OK, I’ll admit that there’s some green-eyed-monster action going on with this one.)
Part of me wishes that I could maintain a kinder, gentler attitude toward Twitter. And part of me wishes that I just didn’t have to.
Erika Dreifus lives in New York City. She is the author of Quiet Americans: Stories and can be found at twitter.com/erikadreifus, where she expects to lose plenty of followers once this piece is published.