How I Avoid Filter Failure on Twitter

August 22, 2012

I unfollowed an old friend on Twitter recently.  A person with some good things to say.  Recently he had taken to repeatedly pushing his personal agenda down my throat.

I got tired of it.  So I voted with my cursor.

I love the folks I follow.  I love the different stuff they bring.  I love to know where they stand.  That’s why I chose to follow them.  I avoid the filter bubble by listening to people from different backgrounds.  And I love the human expression that comes through technology.  I love seeing the natural variations in mood among those I know.  Their patterns and the subtle choice of language can change like the tides.  Consequently, I offer lots of latitude.

Making your point on a topic allows me to see what you believe.  But making it 55 times creates noise.  When I give you my email or allow you into my Twitter stream, that access comes with a responsibility.  If you want my ear, don’t bark in it repeatedly.

Of course there are events that we live tweet.  But we all know that those meetings are time-limited.  Ideologues are not.

I try to balance what I share out of respect to those who take the time to listen.  I’m passionate about vaccine advocacy, for example.  But I understand that only a small fraction of those listening to me care as much about this.  So I use my platform to occasionally share the best stuff that supports public vaccine education.  Then I move on.

I can eat my own dog food.  What I deliver doesn’t always please or help those who initially choose to listen.  My interests and focus migrate over the months.  What I offer may come to represent noise for you.  The solution is simple: just unfollow.

There’s lots of discussion about information overload.  But as Clay Shirky has suggested, “It’s not information overload.  It’s filter failure.”  We’d all do better to think about who we listen to and why.  Then draw our attention to those who bring real value.


Mike Sevilla, MD August 22, 2012 at 10:10 am

Great point (as usual). I constantly get feedback that my twitter stream is too scattered and not focused on one topic. If I want to tweet on more than one topic, then use separate twitter accounts for different topics. What?

First of all, I’m lazy, and it’s tough to maintain only one twitter account. And, second, what has been said a lot is that, for the most part, a legitimate twitter account is a reflection of the person, which are a variety of interests.

Which, of course, you more eloquently stated in your post. Just some scattered feedback from my perspective. I should leave the commentary to the experts LOL

DrV August 22, 2012 at 10:18 am

Mike – I don’t think we need fragmented channels for different topics. My issue is the hijacking of my signal with one point of view on something. Tweets that reference one side of an issue over and over and over again.

Yes, a twitter feed should be a reflection of a person. But most of us are about more than just one issue. Most of us.

And you are an expert in case no one told you.

Greg Matthews August 22, 2012 at 10:35 am

As a shameless self-promoter, I had to do a quick check to make sure you were still following me, Bryan! ;-)

I tend to be pretty forgiving of the folks I follow on Twitter … because the truth is, I spend most of my time in carefully curated twitter lists. However, your point is well taken, and one which I’m not nearly mindful enough of heeding.

As soon as I can get over the horror that seizes me when I think about the possibility that I might “miss something really important,” I’ll be ready to start strengthening my filters, too.

Chris Johnson August 23, 2012 at 10:05 am

I also avoid feeds that mostly link to highly partisan sites. I try to keep from doing that myself, although it can be a bit hard for an old 1960s Leftie like me.

I mainly try to share interesting and useful things I’ve run across, and follow people who do the same with their feeds. That tends to make it more like a conversation and less like a shouting match.

I also avoid feeds that are mostly about what the owner had for breakfast and the like.

Carmen Gutierrez September 4, 2012 at 9:52 am

Hmm. I am thinking that by creating our own filters, we are also decreasing the platform of people that can listen to us. As leaders of positive influence in the world, I think it is easier for us to be more forgiving of others. Sometimes I see that people with personal agendas, or meaningless comments might be those who need the most help. I don’t force anyone to read my comments, and I don’t feel forced to read theirs, so I have yet to un-follow people.

DrV September 4, 2012 at 10:06 am

As inputs continue to increase we will ultimately have to face the fact that we must somehow create limits. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a varied range of opinions in your signal, you’ll just be choosing for quality.

I’ll have to differ with you on the issue of being forced to read people’s messages. If they’re in my Twitter feed, they’re under my nose and I’m not sure how I can avoid them. If there’s no value for me, I don’t listen.

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