Sunday, 18 September 2011

"Why Was I Unfollowed?": Social Networking and the New Etiquette

Throughout the history of human communication, the printed word, our dictionaries, our verbal discourse, and the etiquette surrounding that communication, have developed organically. With the introduction into our social lexicon, of rapid internet based communication, through such tools as Facebook and Twitter, etiquette has evolved at a fascinating rate. It is the purpose of this piece to look at a number of examples of how this is evident and to, hopefully, instigate discussion around it.
Whilst much behaviour could be argued to be learnt through example, what examples are we learning from through Twitter and Facebook? In everyday conversation, something may be said flippantly, not heard possibly and forgotten about, but comments made on social networks are saved and broadcast worldwide, and more poignantly, are saved for a period of time. Is as much care been put into postings on Twitter as is necessary? Or, has the new etiquette decreed that postings on social networking sites are to be taken flippantly?
The process of "following" and "unfollowing" on Twitter poses many interesting questions. How much care and consideration is put into the act of "following"? If someone on Twitter is posting discussions or comments you find disagreeable, is the act of "unfollowing" a statement in itself, or an act that suggests you may not wish to be exposed to discussion outside of your personal sphere, or in other words "burying your head in the sand" so those topics will disappear? To start following on Twitter is now almost regarded as a commitment. "Why was I unfollowed? Was it something I said?" There seems to be a further etiquette at play in terms of "following back". Is it seen as good manners to follow back a user who follows you? Is that now seen as a respectful thing to do? Blindly following back can  lead to an unwieldy timeline and an invitation for users to advertise their products to a captive audience.
The relative anonymity of twitter users renders them immune from many of the social constructs that we already have in place within our communities, or so it seems. We are communicating in, quite literally, a virtual world, where the old rules of discussion are no longer relevant. It is acceptable to interrupt a conversation and interject ideas uninvited. This of course, can be argued, is the very essence of Twitter and other social networks, and should be encouraged. It is not the purpose of this piece to argue one way or the other, but to highlight how our rules of engagement are being mutated rapidly by messages of 140 character or less that have difficulty in conveying character, nuance or emotion.....:-)


  1. I simply 'un-follow' people that tweet too much.

    Some websites and people tweet every few seconds. If you're not careful you'll get a constant stream appearing on you twitter page from these tweeters, leaving no room for anyone else.

    It can also be rather annoying if someone seems to have a twitchy 'retweet' finger constantly seeing retweets from people that don't interest you. I think twitter could have a button which you could/should filter retweets. After all some retweets are very interesting whilst others!!

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  4. Interesting post. Personally I am very much against 'following back' - as you say, you get a huge timeline of people you don't necessarily have any interest in reading, and I think it devalues the whole experience. Twitter isn't about numbers, it's about finding people who write stuff that you want to read... When I follow someone, it's invariably because I think I might want to read what they are tweeting. You're right that once you have followed someone you've got to be careful about offending them by unfollowing again, so it's all the more important you put some thought into it IMO. Programmes like tweetdeck are essential for twitter in making the whole thing managable, it makes it much easier for me to put people in different groups - if I'm not too bothered about missing some tweets from someone but want to keep them on my general timeline, or if I want to catch more of what they tweet- I would definitely recommend this approach! But I agree with joesh that if you do find someone just tweets too often and they are clogging up your timeline, just unfollow- life's too short.

  5. Hi Northcape

    Just popped back to see if anyone else had reacted to the post.

    I hadn't thought about the consequences of 'unfollowing', I shall definitely chew the cud on that one. I don't really know Tweetdeck, but it does look interesting, although I imagine it's for all those who like to be really connected 24h on 24h.

    All in all I think that Twitter and Facebook users should understand the consequences of what they post, an so also the reactions of those who they assume are interested by their little world.

  6. Interesting comments, the only time I generally "unfollow" now is if the account appears to be automated and is generating multiple tweets. "Unfollow" does seem to be a 21st Century insult, and is seen by some as such.
    I guess the overall message is, be sure of what you post on line, as you are essentially becoming a "journalist" and your work is open to on line worldwide scrutiny.
    I have been asked to give a presentation, as a result of this blog post, and would welcome any other comments.

  7. For the most part, I have the same unfollow policy that you do, John. I'll just add that there are follow limits to consider as well. Once you’ve followed 2,000 users, there are limits to the number of additional users you can follow. This number is different for each account and is based on your ratio of followers to following; this ratio is not published. You can read more about it here:

  8. I never post publicly when I unfollow someone.

    Problems of netiquette are really nothing new - Before Twitter there were forums, before forums there were mailing lists, and before mailing lists there was Usenet.

    I actually find Twitter suffers less from the sorts of problems that forums suffer from - It's much harder for attention-seeking troublemakers to interrupt and disrupt conversations.

    Saying that, there are people who have given me grief on forums who I've blocked on sight when they've tried following me on Twitter.

    One problem I find is distinguishing between those who are occasionally thoughtless and tactless, and those who are genuinely malicious.