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Nine Essentials of Twitter Etiquette
Your next 140 characters could make you look like an utter jackass.
By Lindsay Cutler
Every few years, a new platform for sucking is created. First came Friendster, which introduced sucking to the lonely, in-the-know masses. Next came MySpace, which upgraded the sucking because it let you upload the Suicide Girls wallpaper and Hoobastank mp3 of your choice. Then there was Facebook, which sucked considerably less than the other two, yet provided more potentially embarrassing options with which to suck (plus your boss knows about it). We'll ignore LinkedIn. (Because it's for business. Boo!)
And then there was Twitter, which defied (defied) you not to suck in 140 characters or less. Check it out: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it-" What does that even mean? Nothing. Point being — the same way that Guy Pearce loses his memory each day in Memento, I reflexively black out after every 140-character block. So it's important to make your mark. It's harder than you think. But here's a list to guide you on your journey to more tasteful tweeting. This is what you should do, what you shouldn't do, and what doesn't matter because really, folks: it's Twitter.
Like Guy Pearce in Memento, I reflexively black out after every 140-character block.
1. If you want to make a Twitter feed just to follow other people, that's okay.
In some social-networking environments, that is not okay. If you, say, created a fake Facebook account, lifted your profile picture from LookBook, friended your ex, and put his personal page on your RSS feed, that would not be okay. But if you create a Twitter account to see what yarns Michael Ian Black serves up each day, that's not just all right — that's practically your duty.
2. Don't live-tweet anything unless you have a byline somewhere.
I'm sure that when it comes to thoughts on The Bachelor season finale, you are king. And I know no one spent more hours awake, live-tweeting about the passage of the health-care bill than you. But when it comes down to it, live-tweeting can mean a lot of tweets, and that tends to clutter the feed. So unless you have your own column at Salon or at least a Tumblr dedicated to the same general subject matter, don't bury my friends' tweets under your quips about the Oscars. (The exception to this rule is the woman who live-tweeted her own abortion, which was unprecedented and actually not terrifying.)
3. Don't give your tweets humorous hashtags unless you're 100% sure they're not dumb.
Traditionally, Twitter hashtags are meant to create trending topics. If you were tweeting about Justin Bieber, you might tag it as "#AmericanIdol." (Right? I'm old.) And then when the mythical person who seeks out tweets on American Idol searches for it, they'd come across your comment (providing your tweet and their search occured in the same half-second). That is the functional kind of hashtag. The non-functional kind of hashtag is when the tag is not meant to appear as a trending topic that someone would think to search, but rather as a meta-joke on top of your already dumb post. (Neil_Hamburger is the exception, as always: "The only creature uglier and more repellent than the blue Avatar fecal-aliens is their sneering creator James Cameron. #flushtwice")
Don't bury my friends' tweets under your quips about the Oscars.
4. Don't tweet your symptoms of depression.
We all hate/love ourselves enough to self-promote/self-pity on Twitter. And while the love part usually goes hand-in-hand with self-promotion, the hate usually manifests itself as the need to tweet about another job interview gone wrong or how we ate all that chocolate. I guess reading very short sentences about your food-guilt is not the most boring thing in the world (it's more interesting than when people straight-up talk about food with no guilt involved), but nestled in with all the other tweets about movies or nieces and nephews or links to news stories, your weirdly honest confession terrifies me.
5. Don't create a fake celebrity account.
Before it gets suspended (and it will get suspended), you will no doubt disappoint the masses who look forward to reading the small thoughts that Celebrity X thinks every day. Anna Wintour's very funny, totally bitchy, and conceivably real account gave me some small hope that Twitter was a little bit revolutionary, in that it let you in on a public figure's private life. But when her account was purged I realized that virtually every articulate celebrity account was fake or managed by someone else, because these people we love can't actually spell. (The exception to this rule is ClarenceThomas, whose Twitter feed is always consistent, funny, and on par with dedicated performance art: "Overheard amongst the secretarial/clerical staff outside my chamber door: 'I brought my own mayonnaise.' Mildly disgusted.")
6. Don't feel compelled to tweet regularly.
I know you've got a system: you wake up early, eat breakfast, go to work, find a funny-baby video, tweet about it, have some laughs. Or maybe you had a fight with your girlfriend and then tweet that you're "having a bad day." That's just letting people in on your life. That's just polite. But I promise that if you take a personal tweet-free day, your audience will understand.
I know you've got a system: you wake up early, find a funny-baby video, tweet about it, have some laughs.
7. Don't bother re-tweeting the big dogs.
You don't have to re-tweet the top NYT/WaPo/HuffPo/PoPo story of the day. If your followers consider themselves people of any kind of caliber, they already follow NPR or NYT or TheRealShaq. And if they're not the type of person willing to clog their feed with the neverending updates from all these news sites just to feel like a more socially conscious person, then they're probably not the type of person who's going to click on your little tweet of huge social importance just because you linked to it. (Exception: if you found some great op-ed you think people might really be interested in, link away. Just don't tell me that something is happening in Iran and link to the top Drudge Report story of the day.)
8. Ask yourself if you're tweeting something out of love, or to be loved.
This is also a major tenet of writing. (See? Paths cross! New media! Art!) And if you think that sounds a little heavy-handed, it is. All I know is that I can tell when someone is linking to something because they care about it, and when they're linking to something because they want others to see that they're linking to it. No one's really going to mind if Ashton Kutcher posts butt pictures of his hot wife on Twitter. That is within the Ashton Kutcher universe. But if he starts peppering his feed with tweets about Kashmir, that's when his Twitter following will collectively hit "unfollow."
9. Post all the pics you want.
The great thing about Twitpics is that I don't have to look at them if I don't want to. I have the choice of viewing them — unlike with dinosaur-times LiveJournal, where people always posted huge pictures of their haircuts that took forever to load. But on Twitter, pictures only appear as links (or as very tiny "bit.ly" links, which are adorable). So when Meghan McCain posts pictures of her boobsies on Twitter, I don't have to look at them until every other site on the internet makes me. When it comes to Twitpics — link away. I already have too many 140-character nothings in my feed; that pic of some street graffiti you found might be a nice respite.