March 21, 2018

How to Reduce the Political Outrage in Your Twitter Timeline

Anger redIf you are a Twitter user like me who has tired of the constant Trump-related outrage filling your timeline every day, I've got some good news for you. It is far easier to tame it than I ever imagined. Doing so makes it easier to focus on why you are using Twitter in the first place. In this post, I am going to lay out the steps I performed as part of an experiment to spend the next 30 days with minimal political outrage clogging my Twitter timeline.

I'll start by giving you some context and explaining what I am trying to accomplish. Before I implemented any of the steps I'll outline below, I was following approximately 760 people on Twitter. Although I used to enjoy Twitter, I reached the point in 2016 where I found myself complaining about it more frequently. I am on Twitter primarily for content related to atheism, skepticism, freethought, reason, critical thinking, and the like; however, my timeline is nearly always full of counterproductive tribalism and political outrage. This has become much worse during the past couple years, and I recently decided that it was time for a drastic change. My goal with this experiment is to reduce the political outrage in my timeline by roughly 80%. While I'm only a few days into it, I believe I am already close to reaching this goal.

My 4-Step Strategy

1. Mute Keywords and Hashtags. For a straightforward description of how to do this, see this post from Business Insider. I started by muting "Trump" for 30 days. This all by itself cut my timeline down by roughly 12%. That means that 12% of all the tweets filling my timeline contained "Trump." That gives you an idea as to the scope of the problem. While that helped, it was not nearly enough. Here are all the keywords I have muted so far: Trump, Kushner, impeach, resistance, Putin, Mueller, Russia, Clinton, and NRA. In addition, I have muted the following hashtags: #TheResistance, #Resist, #BlueWave2018, and #StormyDaniels.

Implementing these filters took no more than a few minutes and led to an immediate improvement in my Twitter experience. For some of you, this one step may be sufficient. I'd estimate that it reduced the political outrage in my timeline by about 30-40%. Big improvement but still shy of what I was looking for. Your experience will vary because you are following different people and looking for different things from Twitter.

2. Unfollow the Worst Outrage Peddlers. What I quickly discovered was that keyword and hashtag muting could only take me so far. Some people seem to be on Twitter for the sole purpose of political outrage and tribalism. My system for identifying them was easy. Whenever this crap appeared in my timeline, I quickly examined the Twitter profile of the user. If the user's Twitter profile was filled with the typical political outrage hashtags (e.g., #Resist, #TheResistance) and the most recent tweets were all political outrage and/or name-calling, I unfollowed the user. I have zero interest in this stuff, and it is not why I am on Twitter.

Fortunately, this has only led to me unfollowing about 20 people so far (though I'm sure more will come). Eliminating those with nothing to offer on any of the subjects I care about helped considerably even though they were relatively few in number. This was more time-consuming than the first step and is likely going to be ongoing for a few more days. I'd guess that it took me to a 50-60% reduction when combined with the first step. Getting closer but still not quite there.

3. Disable Retweets on Several Users. The biggest culprit now were the people I follow who seem to do little more than re-tweet every political story that outrages them. Their profiles and timelines were different from those addressed in step 2 because they weren't calling anybody names and did tweet some relevant original content. The problem here was their indiscriminate re-tweeting of political outrage from other sources. In these cases, I disabled the users' re-tweets. I still get to hear their original thoughts, but I'm not bombarded with every single post from The Hill, Think Progress, or Salon. And best of all, I don't have to scroll through countless garbage from various Krassensteins, Scott Dworkin, or anyone with a show on MSNBC.

I'd estimate that I've disabled re-tweets on about 40-50 accounts so far, and I believe that has brought me close to the 80% reduction I was seeking. At least, I am now at the point where my examination of profiles after someone spews outrage seems relatively infrequent.

But what if you don't like the idea of completely disabling a user's re-tweets because some of them are relevant? You do have another option that you might prefer. You can go back to step 1 and mute some of the people that are regularly re-tweeted as an alternative. For example, I have muted the Krassensteins, Scott Dworkin, and a handful of MSNBC personalities.

4. Monitor and Repeat. Because political outrage shifts rapidly, it will be necessary to add a few additional keywords and hashtags to step 1. I'll almost certainly add a few more in the next couple days (e.g., #ShePersisted, Obama, #MAGA). Because I follow new people periodically, I'm sure it will be necessary to unfollow a few more and disable the re-tweets of even more. By monitoring your timeline and repeating any of the above steps as necessary, you'll be able to maintain your reduced outrage Twitter experience.

Doing what I have described above has drastically changed my Twitter experience. My timeline is much less crowded and slower paced. It is now filled with content related to atheism, freethought, science, skepticism, reason, and other things I'm actually interested to see. This stuff was there all along, but it was obscured by the constant political outrage. Some political outrage is still there, but it is now manageable. For the first time in a long time, I enjoy Twitter again. And with so much less volume due to clearing out most of the outrage, I have room to follow more people who have interesting things to say.