Skip to Content

Free Expression

Unfollow All the Mean People

Most days, I am an extremely content, engaged member of Twitter’s digital community. Twitter helps me track breaking news, interact with people who are far more important than myself, and learn new things.

With so much information on Twitter, I struggle to curate people to follow. Like most people, I follow those who I think are interesting, influential, or just flat-out entertaining. I follow people that work in my field and share common interests or passions. But as of today, I have a new filter – I’m not going to follow mean people, even if they fit into these categories.

I have a new filter – I’m not going to follow mean people

Yes, this decision was spurred by a somewhat negative interaction on Twitter, but it wasn’t purely reactive. I actually scrolled through the Twitter feed of a number of people I follow, and I was a bit surprised by how many never had anything positive or constructive to say. I wouldn’t want to sit down to brunch with people like this, so why should I keep them around in my digital life?

As we think about the communities we engage in, both online and off, we should be thinking who we want around us. Ultimately, it is on all of us who use social platforms to create a more civil and respectful environment.

Working for an advocacy organization, I understand the importance of outrage and anger over certain things in the world. If you check out my Twitter feed, you will definitely find moments of angst, frustration, and even rage. These can be incredibly important and productive forms of expression and advocacy, but do they need to be the default?

We should be outraged at times, but can’t we also be civil?

There are without question so many things in the world that should be better. There is far too much inequality, fundamental human rights are often violated in horrible ways, and our environment seems to be on the brink of disaster. I get it – we should be outraged at times, but can’t we also be civil?

I embrace social media and do think it can be a great equalizer for many. It can give people voices who didn’t have them before and connect us to others in ways that a generation ago seemed implausible. Yet, it can also serve as an amplifier for jerks, bomb-throwers, and bigots. Some build their brand on the basis of bullying, disrespect, or hate, and they do it to great effect.

It may seem trite to say, but truly these people would be nothing without their followers. By giving them likes and retweets, the community is deciding who the journalists, marketers, and strategists identify as “influencers.”

Thankfully for society, many of these people are far more charming and civilized offline. But by listening to these people online, we are likely making our lives worse. Not surprisingly, if we surround ourselves with unhappy and negative people on Twitter, we tend to be more negative. A recent study from Indiana University showed that emotions, both positive and negative, are contagious on Twitter. It seems like we should be striving to elevate the positive voices.

So go ahead and unfollow those negative people on Twitter

Twitter should continue to keep their platform open to all forms of speech – even speech many people might disagree with. That’s good for their business and good for society as a whole. It’s on each individual user to decide who they listen to, who they engage with, who they elevate, and who they embrace. I’ve decided to embrace people who don’t think progress only happens with force, those who embrace genuine dialogue, and those who just aren’t mean.

So go ahead and unfollow those negative people on Twitter, even if they are peers you respect offline. I already feel better about my Twitter community and am striving to be more supportive and positive in my own tweets. Perhaps if we embrace this approach, we can shape an online community that unites people to tackle some of society’s most pressing challenges.