Twitter Features You Didn’t Know
Everything you wanted to know about about social media’s most powerful platform but didn't think to ask.
I have a confession to make. I rather like Twitter. Actually, I like it a whole lot. I’m not an obsessive about it mind. I’m not naive. I know what’s going on in the world. There are rogue states in the world that shape and manipulate social media platforms to suit their own ends. There are hate groups that find like-minded idiots online, and then use those same social-media platforms to coax and goad those same idiots into doing idiotic things. I know all this.
But I also know the good social media can do, Twitter in particular, in providing succour to lonely people, in helping fund-raising efforts to make the world a better place, and to call out injustice where we find it.
Sometimes that can get you into trouble, because Twitter — as with so many facets of everyday living these days — uses AI to monitor its platform, and AI isn’t paid to think.
So you can use devices like metaphor and irony and gentle plays on words, and Twitter’s AI will mistake you for a bad actor, and you’ll get any number of auto-generated threats to suspend your account for 24 hours, or a week, or more.
Twitter is the most powerful media platform in the world, because of its immediacy, the way it connects people in real time, and because of its brevity. Yes, you can spend a lot of time on Twitter, if you’re not careful, because 240 characters can take a long time to read if it comes complete with links to stories (sometimes very long stories) or videos, long threads (I know one political columnist who likes to write in threads, threads that in some cases go on and on and on for dozens if not hundreds of tweets. 47. I am not making this up.
It’s easy to overlook the good that Twitter does, in part because it’s so simple to use and in part because it’s in our nature to be outraged over every little thing than it is to reach out and be positive. Twitter is only as good as the people who use it.
That’s why, as with the friends you choose, it’s a good idea to move in positive circles, with like-minded people who are well informed, committed to the idea a shared community, social responsibility, a need to fix and solve those things that are wrong in the world, and are lively and warm and good to be around into the bargain. Twitter can reach around the world in an instant, in real time, and it connects hundreds and thousands and millions of people in ways many of us don’t quite yet understand.
I remember in the early days of Twitter, there was a lot of speculation in the mainstream media, in the financial sections especially, that Facebook was the big moneymaker, whereas Twitter was losing money and could not, would not last. Facebook still makes money like there’s no tomorrow, and for all I know Twitter still loses money.
There’s no question which one of the two links the entire planet in an instant, though. Donald Trump, love him or hate him — and I have strong feelings in that regard — did not use Facebook to communicate with the world at large. He used Twitter.
Social rallies, climate protests, local neighbourhood watches, fire and emergency services, weather warnings, the Arab spring, where to find food and shelter in a flood or earthquake — these are all things that flash across a smartphone screen in real time, on Twitter.
If you’re reading this, if you’re on Vocal, you probably know this already.
So here’s the part where I bring something new to the conversation: advanced features you might not be aware of, in part because Twitter does not do a terrific job of self-promotion — unlike Facebook — and because it doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Here are a few:
• Do you have more than one interest? Most Twitter users do, even if they don’t realize it at first. Create different lists for each interest. Pin them to the top of your timeline, and swipe between them. It’s like having several Twitter accounts in the same place. You’ll find yourself doom-scrolling less, too — and doom-scrolling can be depressing, if you’re not careful and find yourself in the habit. The clue is in the name, always.
• If you put together a thread you think others will like, don’t tag it to a friend at the top using an @—. Twitter’s algorithm has been programmed to read any tweet that begins with an @ as a reply to one person or group in particular, and will hide it from your other followers.
• Use links in moderation. Don’t overdo them. Twitter is programmed to flag accounts that rely too heavily on links. One tip is to pique followers’ interest with an excerpt from a blog, or whatever it is you want to share, and then pin the link to a reply below your initial tweet, not in the tweet itself.
• Believe it or not, how a tweet looks often appeals to followers more than whether it's useful or not. One example: Research shows that Twitter users respond much better to lists that begin with bullets rather than dashes. You get bullets on Mac using Option + 8; on Windows using Alt +7.
• If you want to re-purpose one of your tweets so that it appears at the top of your followers’ timelines, do not “retweet.” “Reply” instead, with a follow-up question or another tweet. Twitter is programmed to prioritize the top tweet and the two most recent replies.
Now you know.
Here are some more tips.
• If you want to read someone's most popular tweets, simply go to the search bar and type: from:personofinterest min_faves:100. Change personofinterest to whoever it is you’re interested in, and change the number of likes you want to set as a minimum, say 500, or 5000, instead of 100.
• If you want to see every tweet on a particular topic, type from:yourownname “topic”. Again, simply change topic to whatever it is you’re interested in. Or you can filter topics by popularity, i.e., by typing from:yourownname “topic” min_faves:100.
• If there are people you don’t want to follow you, but you don’t want to block them pert se, here’s a handy trick: Block them, then unblock them. This will unfollow you, but they’ll never know.
Remember, as with most things in life, the more you put into Twitter, the more you get out of it. The more you use it right, the better it gets.