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.