Top 10 rules of Twitter etiquette

Twitter rantThis weekend the Vancouver Twitter crowd bore witness to what can only be described as an attempted social suicide live on Twitter. A relatively well followed Twitter personality decided that a late Friday night would be the perfect time to “call another Tweeter out” as a “fake” and take what should have been a personal disagreement into a very public and very damaging shouting match. For well over two hours fellow blogger Michael Kwan and I watched in morbid fascination as the attacks evolved from personal insults against one person to a frontal assault on all the people who tried to talk the guy off the rapidly narrowing edge he put himself on. By 2 am innocent bystanders were promptly stamped down, called retards and accused of everything from being stupid to being child molesters.

As we watched this bizarre story unfold it became clear to both Michael and myself that even seasoned web veterans are having a hard time grasping the new world of social media, in particular the fact that with great exposure comes great responsibility and that even a small misstep can have wide reaching and hugely damaging consequences. So we decided to put together a list of 10 Twitter Etiquette tips to keep your online presence one you can live with both now and in the future. Michael covered 1 to 5 on his blog and here is the rest:

6. Keep the private private (Direct Messages (DMs) are there for a reason)

If you have something to say that is only of interest to one or just a few people, whether it be expressing your love, planning a lunch date or airing your grievances, use the Direct Message function. Not only are these things not appropriate for the public stream but there is little chance your followers are interested in your everyday practicalities, confessions of love and hateful bickering. In addition, there is no guarantee your followers are also following your friend so they might only get one side of the conversation. And finally, if you announce to the world where you are having lunch, the nutcase stalker you didn’t know you had might very well show up.

7. Don’t flood the stream

Twitter is less of a communication tool than a collective-stream-of-consciousness artifact. And in this lies both its appeal and its most serious annoyance. Unless Twitter users are utilizing some form of Twitter management tool like TweetDeck, the face of Twitter is the stream populated by a chronological list of the most recent tweets from all the people you follow. Which is great in a kind of bizarre social gestalt kind of way until one or two of them start flooding the stream with tons of Tweets over a short period of time. And even though it might seem to the poster that they are just carrying on a (mostly one-sided) conversation, they are in reality taking over the feed for those presently watching. And like in any other social situation, whether it be a party, a meeting or a forum, dominating the conversation is rude and an excellent way of loosing your followers. Twitter is a microblogging tool. If you have a lot to say, put it in your regular blog or write a book.

8. Apply the Bush test liberally

You know how it seemed like ex-president George W. Bush had his foot surgically inserted into his mouth? Twitter is a great place to prove you are suffering from a severe case of foot-in-mouth disease. 90% of the time the stuff you post on Twitter is completely benign. But from time to time you want to post something that may piss someone off either intentionally or unintentionally. So before you post anything, consider this: Would you want your kid sister, mother, future girlfriend, boss or mother-in-law to read it? Because chances are they will. If the answer is no, your rant is better left in your notebook or your therapist’s couch.

9. If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all

I stole this one from my mom. And it’s a rule I try (unsuccessfully) to live by: If you’re angry and feel like lashing out either directly or indiscriminitely it’s better to step away from the keyboard and take a walk. In the heat of fury you are likely to say things you will regret but things said cannot be unsaid. Ever (see point 10). So rather than ruining your social life and insulting the people that respect you, remember that this too shall pass and, in the words of famous Norwegian poet Alf Prøysen: “Tomorrow is another day, clean and unused, with white sheets and crayons for you” (my translation).

10. The web is forever

I’t’s been said many times beofre but aparently it needs repeating: Anything and everything you put on the web remains there forever. Searchable, traceable, sourceable, ready to resurface years later. That’s the case for text, pictures, audio, video and yes, Twitter posts. So that bat you planted in some guy’s face via a not-so-finely worded Tweet yesterday may very well come back to bite you in the ass and ruin your chances at a job 20 years from now. Because who knows, maybe some day you’ll be vetted for a seat in the president’s cabinet.

If you missed points 1 through 5 head on over to Michael Kwan’s blog Beyond the Rethoric and read the first half of this article.