Twitter lists

11th Dec, 2020

Twitter is pretty much the only social media platform I use. It’s a useful platform, but not without problems.

I try to balance the time I spend on there. I don’t have the app on my phone and recently switched to TweetDeck on desktop.

TweetDeck took a little getting used to, but the best feature I’ve found is the ability to browse using Twitter lists by default.

Still, it’s easy to get sucked into reading replies about fairly depressing stuff. Especially on mobile, where the default is the timeline, rather a list.

So, taking inspiration from Anil Dash’s article, I unfollowed everyone on Twitter and copied everyone I’m following onto a list.

Going list-based

Whenever I’ve seen an account following no-one, I’ve thought it was odd. Possibly even a little arrogant.

How do they keep in touch with people or see content? Are they just broadcasting, rather than interacting?

The answer is: use lists as an alternative timeline. But because you’re not following anyone, you’re in more control of what you see.

Lists let me ‘follow’ and keep in touch with the people I want, but in a more healthy way.

If you’ve unfollowed everyone, why should I follow you?

I’m not sure that you should, in the traditional sense at least. Everyone has to make platforms work for them: for some that will mean using the follow function, for others it’s lists.

Lists let me ‘follow’ and keep in touch with the people I want, but in a more healthy way. The existence of lists – and their comparable functionality to the timeline – shows just how much of a vanity metric a follower count is.

Oh, and lists are ad-free, too.

For now, this is an experiment. I’m interested to see if it improves Twitter and makes it easier to cut out toxic stuff.

If you want to do the same thing without the command line, I found this script that worked pretty nicely.

Update: January 2022

Since I wrote this, a several people have been in touch to tell me they’re going list-based or talk about the idea.

The benefits to going list-based aren’t always immediately clear, but Anil Dash succinctly noted one of the main upsides of taking this approach:

One of the most immediate benefits is that, when something terrible happens in the news, I don't see an endless, repetitive stream of dozens of people reacting to it in succession. It turns out, I don't mind knowing about current events, but it hurts to see lots of people I care about going through anguish or pain when bad news happens. I want to optimize for being aware, but not emotionally overwhelmed.

That last sentence is a great summary.

From Anil’s Personal Digital Reset post:

Some of the reason for resetting my follows is to reflect my own changing interests in what I want to read or learn about, but also to ensure that I’m not (for example) just following some news account that only ever causes me stress when it updates.

The main downside of unfollowing everyone is that you lose connection to people with locked accounts. One option would be just to follow these people, but as Morten Rand Hendriksen noted:

Among the people I used to follow were several women, BIPoC, and LGBTQ2+ who made their accounts private due to ongoing harassment and other unwanted interactions. ... In hindsight this was an obvious consequence, and there's currently no meaningful workaround for it: If I were to only follow people with private accounts, that would be very obvious to anyone paying attention, and would highlight the private status of these accounts. And because the accounts are private, adding them to a list makes no sense because the posts from these accounts are private and thus not visible to me.

Perhaps Twitter will let private account users accept/deny list requests at some point...

Articles + resources on going list-based