ICYMI: Navigating a tweet stream

twitter-followMy latest op-ed, title above, appeared in The Virginian-Pilot Thursday.

Perhaps it sounds like a frivolous topic but the discussion paper (pdf) that prompted it was anything but. The power of the medium has changed the way politics is done.

When I joined Twitter, it was because I wanted a way to quickly report on the Democratic National Convention in 2008. It came in handy – a lot of the time, I didn’t have internet access to post to my blog. There weren’t nearly as many folks on back then and it was easy to identify who to follow. It’s much harder today.

I keep the list of folks I follow fairly small and prune it regularly. If all you do is post from Facebook, with links back to that service, you can pretty much guarantee that I’m not going to follow you. If your tweets consist of repeatedly posting the same link to a post of yours, I’m not going to follow you, either.

Many of the folks I follow are political – with folks on both sides of the aisle – but I pretty promptly unfollow and/or ban those folks who demonstrate they can’t be civil. The occasional curse word is fine, but a stream of it simply doesn’t work for me. And I follow folks who cover my other interests: accounting, tech, education, etc. Some folks, like President Bartlett, the fictional character from The West Wing, I follow because they write interesting stuff.

Unlike Facebook, where I see everything that is posted by my friends, Twitter gives me a lot more freedom in what I see. And the Twitter client I use the most – UberSocial – gives me the ability to temporarily mute a user or keyword without having to unfollow somebody. That comes in pretty handy during things like televised debates, where it seems otherwise rational folks tend to become unhinged.

In his paper, CNN political reporter Peter Hamby spoke of the bubble that Twitter has become. It is, at times, very much an echo chamber, with the reporters tweeting not for public consumption but for each other. In many ways, it reminds me of the days of the Virginia political blogosphere, where there was very little original content being posted. We tried a Weekend Without Echos back in 2006. It was good – for that time – but I’m convinced that the echo chamber effect was one of the reasons why political blogs in Virginia have lost most of their vibrancy. If not careful, I see the same thing happening on Twitter.

And that would be a shame.

My column appears in The Virginian-Pilot every week, usually on Thursdays. You can see the columns as they are published here, or navigate to them from the PilotOnline.com homepage by clicking on Opinion and then choosing my name at the bottom of the dropdown list. You can also see the columns by liking my Facebook page. Although my column appears weekly, I am not and have never been an employee of The Virginian-Pilot.

2 thoughts on “ICYMI: Navigating a tweet stream

  1. Strong agree. Virginia’s political blogs are on the downswing now because they’ve mostly became an outlet for the political shrillness that alienates me. I detest political hacks and will never vote for a candidates because of their party affiliation. I started SouthsideCentral and it quickly gained popularity due to my independent streak. I take responsibility for what i write and I’m not afraid to say what needs to be said. Due to work reasons, I had to let SouthsideCentral slide into obscurity but over the last few weeks, I’ve worked on it hard and the numbers have returned. I’m not a political blog, I’m a regional blog. I use Twitter for news gathering, communication, and promotion. I also follow @vpaige . 😀

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