Twitter: home of the clueless

Twitter has a problem with Nazis spouting pro-genocidal bullshit and targeting people of colour, LGBT+ and women with doxxing and all manner of disgusting abuse.

If you report it, Twitter, as “the free speech wing of the Free Speech Party”, tells you there’s nothing wrong.

But if you, as an ordinary human being, reply back with a swear… you get punished.

Slow. Hand. Clap.


Please help the cause against round numbers


Image of tweet locations in Europe by Eric Fischer. CC-BY licence.

I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It’s only mild, and the ball-and-chain is happy to (correctly, natch) call it “your mild Asperger syndrome”, as if that was better.

It’s not bad OCD. I’m not touching my keys five times or washing my hands till they bleed (although, as hobbiest chef, I do wash my hands very often and can’t abide them feeling sticky or dirty or the like). I’m not as bad as my father, who had a desk with everything at right angles to everything else and would explode if they were moved (my mum moved them often because of that). I’m not as bad as the ball-and-chain, who builds insane towers out of junk mail, magazines and books in his need to put things on top of other things.

But stuff fixes in my mind and I have to follow the pattern that has formed. If I spot a pattern in my life, I have to stick to it. As I say, it’s not tracing woodlines on the floor or checking for accidental murders, but it still gets a bit in the way now and again.

About 6 months ago, I noticed that I’d followed 100 people on Twitter. The number of people you follow is under your control, unlike the number that follow you, and this was no problem. But by coincidence, the number remained at 100 for 3 months. Every time I followed someone new, breaking the pattern, someone old would leave. The number remained resolutely at 100.

Now it has to be 100. I can’t follow 101 people because I follow 100 people. If the number drops to 99 or below, as happened when I challenged some sexists I was following on their sexism and they blocked me for not singing from their Manual of Feminism-as-a-weapon-against-men, I scrambled to find new people to make the numbers up to 100 again.

There are a couple of dozen people on my “will follow when other people leave or block me” mental list. There’s also a semi-formal list of people that I will consider unfollowing when someone I feel I have to follow enters my radar. All of this is made worse by Twitter enjoying randomly unfollowing (frequent) and following (infrequent) people. You think you’ve got 100 people, then you find it’s 99 for no reason. Or 101. The time I waste trying to work out the missing sheep or the interloper, then following someone on the reserve list (or forgetting someone I like who Twitter has unfollowed) then having the missing sheep reappear or the interloper leave and I’m back at 99 or 101… oh god, please help me.

How do I break out of this madness? I’ve been at 100 people I’m following, micromanaging that number, for 6 months now. The next “stage” would be 200, but I can’t find 100 people who would match my present crowd of 100 left-leaning, liberal, not-too-prolific good people in the time required. And I’d just end up micromanaging the 200 too.

There must be a way to deal with this nightmare. But I don’t know what it is. Anybody got any suggestions? Let me know. I’ll be off washing my hands in the meantime.

How not to run your marketing department

When I joined Twitter, some 7,000 tweets ago, I thought it might be a fun way to dip my toe into this whole "social networking" gubbins that the media had been obsessing about for ages.

I loved it immediately. If nothing else, star-fucker that I am, I've had micro-conversations with Doctor Who good guys Steven Moffat, Clayton Hickman and Gary Gillatt. I've chatted with one of my favourite actor/comedians Chris Neill. And I've corresponded with lots of people from BBC Radio 4, as most of the continuity team and many of the news people hang out on Twitter.

More personally, I've kept in daily touch with friends I would never normally see like Kate, Jonathan and Tanya. And, best of all, I can chit-chat with my mum. What isn't there to like about it?

Because Twitter is public, when you say stuff on there it can be seen by everyone and anyone. Mostly, it isn't seen – people need to have a mind to look for you or the subject you're pontificating about before they're likely to see what you've said. Hashtags help you do this – they're the way of saying something witty or controversial and appending a current subject #doctorwho or #newsnight or #thearchers or something on the end so you get seen by others looking for the same stuff. Otherwise, you're basically only speaking to the people who "follow" you.

Also, of course, you're speaking to internet marketing people – and their automated bots – who are looking for people talking about their company or their products and are seeking to sell you more of them. Oh, and notionally provide customer service.

Sometimes this works well. Last year I mentioned a problem with some wallpaper I'd bought. Minutes later, the company involved was replying, seeking to help me out. Wallpaper Direct: +1 to you. I'll not be buying wallpaper from anyone else – shame you seem to have gone from Twitter.

Other companies have failed badly at this. At one end of the scale there are the bot-driven automated repliers, who pick out a keyword in your tweet and send a reply accordingly. This should be useful, but in practice it isn't, because the bots don't care where you are and are generally in the United States. So a tweet asking for a good online wine shop recently was answered by a couple of bots – all of which offered websites which delivered only to the lower 48 states. Fat lot of good that is.

This turns something useful into something annoying, but then online marketing nearly always turns something useful into something annoying. A useful email newsletter becomes annoying when, no matter what the fuck you do, you can't unsubscribe. Why is it my job to set up a filter to delete your emails? Yes, unsubscribing means you've lost me as an immediate customer, but not letting me unsubscribe means you've lost my goodwill. It's really really gonna cost you to win that back.

Google Adwords are a really useful thing turned annoying. Small, relevant ads for stuff I'm already searching for: Good. Small, irrelevant generic ads that are not for stuff I'm searching for: Bad. If I search for "curtains", I like getting ads for stores that make or sell curtains. I don't want adverts that read "Big Sales On Selected Curtains! Let Us Find The Curtains For You!" that lead to a site with nothing about curtains to be found. Also, I don't want those generic adverts for sites that take you to a page of links to shops selling curtains (hint: I've already got a page of those in front of me, because I'm already searching for curtains on Google).

The prize for useful-turned-annoying goes to Twitter though, as I said before. In particular it goes to BT, who have a particular knack for taking useful things and making them annoying.

A few months ago, my internet connection went down. The reasons why were obvious: there were several BT Openreach vans parked outside, with men looking down a big hole they'd dug. It wasn't rocket science to work out that BT Openreach digging + no internet = internet cut off by BT.

With no work possible and nothing better to do, I made coffee and opened Twitter on my phone. I told my followers what had happened. Because I mentioned BT, someone at BT doing a search saw I'd mentioned them. Quick as a flash, they tweeted to me in friendly, chatty terms. "Internet problems are a pain, aren't they?" they said. "Click here for some solutions to common problems".

Exactly what, I'd like to know, could I possibly, in any realm of the imagination, solve by clicking that link? There was a great big hole in the road that BT people were looking down. No solutions page – especially one that started with advice on how to restart my router (what would that achieve? There was still going to be that great big hole in the road that BT people were looking down) – could possibly help.

-1 to BT. I replied, somewhat intemperately, to ask them what they thought they were achieving by suggesting I reboot my router when there was a big hole in the road with BT engineers looking down it. They ignored me. Somehow, that was better than offering pointless non-advice. Also, it was much more like the BT we're all used to.