Down with the Twitter Follow-Cats

Friday, August 10th, 2012

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Is there a word for looking at a person’s “Following” list on Twitter and then copying a bunch of their follows? I really don’t think so, but it most definitely is a thing — a thing that feels totally unjust, and maybe even flirts with plagiarism or some new-age form of identity theft. Yes, I know I sound totally neurotic and territorial, but this behaviour seriously irks me.

Why? Let me make myself sound even more uptight:

I’d like to think that I take following seriously. I follow people/organizations that I genuinely want to hear from, and I put an effort into maintaining a newsfeed that is manageable (i.e. not so huge that I can never read the things that half(+) the people in my feed are talking about).

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For this reason, I am bothered by people who speed/mass-follow, especially when it seems as though they are doing so for the sake of:

1)  demonstrating a repertoire of “cultured” tastes

Or

2) scoring a symbolic mutual-follow relationship via the #Followback train

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Yes, I like to eat at the Hintonburger, but I don’t want tweets about their milkshakes, so I’m not going to follow them just to show people that I am affiliated with that community or foodie enough to know about the restaurant.

In terms of gaining followers, or having a person/organization you admire follow you back, sure it feels good. But what does it really mean to be followed? The symbolism* of the follow is so ambiguously loaded and overrated, that I believe we must look elsewhere to assess our relationships within Twitter.

To where is an important question, but one for another day. If we return to the context of follow plagiarism, I think we can now imagine the ways in which this behaviour might come off as superficial, nouveau riche, and, at times, spam-like.

Of course, we must acknowledge the benefits of being able to “spread awareness” within Twitter’s platform. On a daily basis, Twitter allows us to hear about people and things we never would have. It can easily be argued that follow-plagiarism is merely a sign of successfully disseminated information. We must ask ourselves, though, what we are choosing to do with this abundance of information. Are we decorating ourselves with it more than we consume it?

*My use of the term “symbolism” is heavily influenced by Bourdieu‘s concept of “symbolic capital

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