With all the hype about Elon Musk buying Twitter and taking it private to avoid oversight as a private company, it seems like a good time to revisit the world of social media. I wrote a piece about a year ago talking about the good side of Facebook (yes, it can be used for good). All of the social media platforms have one thing in common, how one uses them determines one’s user experience. Every platform can be used for good or ill, but a user can avoid most of the effects of the algorithms and advertising by using them deliberately. In this case, deliberate means not “doom scrolling” and leaving what they see to the manipulative algorithms but instead consciously choosing what content to view.
On most social media platforms, a user makes connections or follows various people and pages. To use social media platforms deliberately, one can search for or bookmark their favorite pages and go directly to those. Alternatively, one can start with their own profile and pick from there. Hiding ads also reduces the number of ads one sees pretty effectively.
Twitter offers significantly more user control than many other platforms. The first way is through the option to view the latest tweets from the accounts one follows. This will show the tweets in real time as they happen much as the original Facebook timeline used to be before they started “optimizing” their algorithms for profit. Setting the feed to Home lets the algorithm pick what is shown based on who a user follows and who the algorithm thinks that user might like based on their activity. The Home feed shows more ads and can be more disruptive since its point is to keep users engaged. Like Facebook, charged emotional engagement lasts longer.
The way to exercise the most control is through the Twitter List function. Lists are easily accessible through the “More” menu option. From there, a user can create multiple lists grouped however they choose. Each list allows up to 100 items. An item can be an individual saved tweet, or it can be an account. With lists, there are no ads, only the content from the items on the list.
A user can also curate their Twitter feed by blocking users they don’t want to see, and users can also limit who can engage on or even see their tweets. Twitter offers some great tools to mold one’s experience. Will they stay? Who knows, but for now, users can engage how they choose and don’t need to open themselves up to hostility if they don’t wish to do so.
So why the uproar over Twitter in particular? People are afraid of the platform becoming a hard-right megaphone because Musk has shown himself to be sympathetic to right-wing causes. If everyone who cares about facts, truth, science, and the real world leaves, that’s exactly what could happen. On the other hand, if those who oppose the forces of authoritarianism stay, block the trolls, interact responsibly, and continue to present facts without malice, very little needs to change.