The follow-but-mute antipattern

I received a rather distraught DM from a Twitter friend last week. They were upset that I was following an account which did nothing but spew out racist bile all day long. Did this mean that I endorsed their hateful views.

I was confused. I didn't recognise the specific account, and didn't recall seeing any of their tweets - but I was following them. How? Why? Was it a hack? I did a little digging, and finally it twigged...

The account belonged to someone I met at an industry event several years ago. In a fit of mutual back-slapping, we'd followed each other on Twitter. It quickly became apparent that he only ever tweeted about his beloved football team. I felt a bit rude unfollowing him so quickly, so I muted him. I do this occasionally - it is polite to follow some people, but that doesn't mean I have to read whatever nonsense they say.


Once I realised what had happened, I quickly blocked the prick. But it got me thinking about some of my own behaviour on social media.

There are signals we send just by virtue of existing in public. I hit like on my friends' videos - but I don't always watch them to the end. A mate releases a podcast, so they get retweeted even if I don't actually listen to them. I follow people out of politeness and immediately mute them. If I see someone I find distasteful has followed me, I kick them. A swift block-and-unblock means they stop following me, but don't get notified.

But now I'm wondering if this is all a bit of an antipattern. Do I really need to signal to the world who I follow and who follows me? Would social media be calmer if people weren't chasing for interaction numbers?

Or am I being paranoid? Are people really scouring the history of my favourites to use against me?

This is the peril of the panopticon.

8 thoughts on “The follow-but-mute antipattern

  1. I've definitely done this. Follow people out of politeness then end up muting.

    But... I follow over 5k people. The algo means I really only see a tiny fraction of those in my feed. Are you seriously expecting me to know what every one is saying and unfollow if problematic?

  2. says:

    I don't go around looking at people's following lists, but if I had an interaction with a new person and saw "followed by edent and 20 others" in their profile I'd probably treat them slightly differently to "not followed by anyone you know"

  3. The only time I look at who someone is being followed by is when they are a well known bigot such as JKRowling.

    If I see a mutual supporting them I will assume they either share their beliefs or at least find them acceptable.

  4. says:

    @edent we used to call this “Kreis-Hygiene” / “Circle-Hygiene” going back to G+ when we “circled” friends.
    It’s like teeth brushing but with followings. It has to be done on occasion. Especially over the last year 🙁
    This is not only to sort out far right voters or Covid deniers. Often it’s also to find out that a dear account went silent and moved on and the note about it was simply missed. Nobody re-reads yesterdays news.

  5. says:

    Yeah, that's unhealthy. Without curation, quality suffers, even to the detriment of your own output with blind RTs.

  6. says:

    I don't see how following someone is the same as endorsing them. I follow lots of people I disagree with. It doesn't mean that I'm signaling to the world that I agree or endorse their views. It's healthy to expose yourself to differing viewpoints.

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