Mute Me

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I remember the moment I fell in love with Twitter. I was crashing on a couch in Portland, Ore., with the Clicky Web Analytics guys back in 2008, and we were watching the live stream of a TechCrunch conference. I had joined Twitter the summer before, during my first internship at Brass Magazine, but had found it roughly as interesting as sawdust.

When I realized that day that I could share a never-ending string of opinions on Twitter about what was going on at the conference, and that people who had elected to follow me would see them en masse, and not on an individually selected basis, I was hooked. I’m sure my eight followers were delighted. Probably not.

Today, Twitter rolled out a mute feature that will allow people to silence others that they follow. This means you can follow someone, giving them the right to send you a DM but not listen to a thing that they say.

My gut reaction is that this is going to make Twitter a more boring place. Previously, if I wanted you to go away, I had to be up front about it by blocking or unfollowing you. Tales of “accidental” unfollowing abound on Twitter as people get caught trying to sneak away from their half of a digital relationship. Now you can cut your end of the contract with impunity.

We don’t live in the world of ‘follow back’ anymore (thank heavens), but until now, following someone meant just that — you were tapping into their set of thoughts, quips, bad jokes, and links. The “Following You” image on their profile page meant it. Now it doesn’t.

Follower counts are now meaningless. And instead of following people for one reason or another, and getting their entire feed, we can now allow for social custom and retain DM rights but not imbibe as much material that might annoy or offend or bore us. I don’t think that this will make us better informed or more interesting.

I have skin in this game as I’m one of the more annoying people on Twitter, and I know it. But I’ve always had a rule with friends: Not following me is perfectly okay, as I’m noisy as hell. I take zero offense (looking at you, Casey). But I liked that we did that honestly, instead of a granting a faux follow that in practice means all but nothing. It’s letting us lie to ourselves and each other.

There’s a certain moment of internal panic when you realize that someone you respect in real life follows you on Twitter and you’ve tweeted nothing but heavy metal jokes all day. But they had made the choice, and so they got the full you. And as its easier to mute someone than to unfollow them, I suspect that we’ll now tweet less freely, somehow worried that we’re garnering new mutes from people who wouldn’t have unfollowed us before.

Now you can’t tell if someone actually wants to follow you, or is merely being courteous, political, or whatever else. The honesty of the follow is gone, and so therefore is some of the honesty that Twitter engenders in us.

Mute me. But I miss Old Twitter already.

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