Summary: I unfollowed everyone on Twitter because I haven’t done a great job protecting my attention and focus. Instead, I used Twitter’s built-in Lists feature to be more intentional about the content I’m exposed to. After a few weeks, I’m spending less, but more dedicated, time on Twitter.
Social media has shaped mankind forever. Not because of its ability to connect us all together but because of its ability to control what we see. In other words, our attention has become the commodity.
It’s tempting to throw our hands in the air and say what else are we supposed to do? But to do so would be to admit we are entirely powerless to Big Tech. And we’re not.
All it takes is us recognizing we have more control than we think and saying no to their We’ll-Give-You-Convenience-If-You-Give-Us-Your-Attention proposition.
It is entirely possible to make social media work for us, not the other way around. And yes, that does mean we have to put in a little effort. Take for example someone like David Perell. He uses Twitter as a tool to share and test new ideas before they become fully fleshed out essays on his blog. He isn’t complaining or sharing melancholy memes to drown out anxieties, he’s being intentional.
David doesn’t let the Algorithm win.
Which got me thinking, could I use social media – specifically Twitter – as a growth tool rather than a mindless doom scrolling trigger?
The answer, as it turns out, is yes and it’s actually quite simple to do. But first, let’s talk about why it is so important we take back our timelines.
Decide what you will think
Author James Clear said recently that he’s spent well over 100 hours deciding who to follow on Twitter. Why? Because choosing who to follow is choosing how you’ll think.
The information that flows from your screen to your eyes and to your brain has a profound impact on how you think about and see the world.
“I can’t go onto Twitter right now and not come out with three or four or five ideas,” Clear says.
Currently, Twitter is a fire hose of content. If you follow a bunch of accounts, every time you sign in to Twitter you’re hit in the face with endless content.
Twitter does have the option to display content in chronological order, however, you have to set it every single time you log in. Thus, nudging you to accept their preferred timeline of recommended content, promoted tweets, and, of course, ads.
All in all, their goal is to keep your attention on the platform. They aren’t interested in you finding new ideas, challenging your own biases, or growing as a person. They want you hooked.
This doesn’t necessarily make them evil. It’s an Algorithm, it’s trying to filter and organize trillion bits of content it thinks you will find interesting. However, by relying on Algorithms for their convenience we further cement our own bias loops and are never exposed to content that might make us think.
As Jane Friedman says in her book, The Business of Being a Writer, “People have always selected and supported media that appeals to their viewpoints and interests; online media simply makes such behavior more evident, and perhaps more extreme.”
Like James Clear, I wanted to have a more proactive, not passive, approach to the content I’m exposed to. I wanted it to benefit me, not the way around. To do so, I needed to circumvent the Algorithm.
4 Step Curation Guide to Taking Back Your Timeline
I’m an avid Twitter user, I don’t really prefer to use any of the other social networks out there. Therefore, this is a guide specific to Twitter but may be used as a case study for other potential workarounds for Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.
Also, I highly recommend doing the following steps on an actual computer screen instead of within the Twitter app. Personally, I like to have a lot more real estate to work with instead of constantly scrolling and tapping.
Step 1: Create Lists based on your interests
Now we get intentional. When you sign in to Twitter, what specifically do you want to see?
For me, I wanted to generate ideas, so the first List I created was my Learnmakers List. This is a list of learners, makers, and doers who consistently shared good information and new ideas they are working on.
For you, you might be into Bitcoin or literature or dogs. Your Lists can be found on the left-hand side of the browser version or in the menu options on the app. When you create a List, give it a name, a short but accurate description (more on why in the next section), and a relevant cover photo. You can also set the List to private if you don’t want others to see it.
Tip: Create a “Top 100” private List to sort your absolute favorite accounts.
Step 2: Sort people into your Lists
I was a bit too gung-ho on unfollowing everyone that I forgot to do this step before unfollowing them. Go through all the accounts you follow, right-click on the three circles in the upper right-hand corner, and then “Add/remove from Lists.”
Sort them into which Lists you’d like to see their content show up in but I don’t recommend sorting them into more than three or else your List feeds will become too homogenous.
Also, it’s worth noting that the person will get a notification that they’ve been added to a List (as long as it’s not private) which is an added bonus because they might be inclined to follow the List themselves.
Keep repeating this process until you have a decent list of curated, well, Lists.
Step 3: Unfollow everyone, even your friends
Now the fun part.
Unfollow everyone, yes, even your closest friends. If you’re worried about losing the option for friends to direct message you, either open your DMs to everyone (which I don’t recommend) or personally reaching out and swapping phone numbers, connecting on WhatsApp or your preferred messaging service.
If you follow a lot of people, you might run into some constraints. While Twitter has daily limits on the number of accounts you can follow in a day, they don’t have any restrictions on unfollows. However, if their algorithms suddenly pick up this odd behavior, they might freeze or limit the option for you to unfollow.
At the time of my Twitter purge, I was following roughly 400 accounts and I was able to unfollow all of them in one swoop. If you follow thousands of accounts, it’s probably safe to break up your unfollowing into 400-500 per day until you are down to zero.
Also, if you happen to follow any Topics on Twitter, be sure to unfollow those as well.
Step 4: Trim and groom your Lists
As you continue to use Twitter and find more interesting accounts, add them to your Lists. Give them a sort of trial run to see if their content fits into your Lists’ themes. If they aren’t a great fit, it’s time to trim.
Removing people from Lists is simple. Go back to their profile, click on the three circles in the upper right-hand corner, then on the “Add/remove from Lists.”
The person will not receive a notification that they’ve been removed from the List so don’t worry, you won’t hurt their feelings.
Let’s talk about why these Lists are so important.
It’s all about intentionality
When you view a List on Twitter, you are making a conscious decision of who and what you want to see. It’s you—not the Algorithm—that decides.
Taking back this power is the first step toward intentional social media consumption. But it’s not the only step.
To avoid passively scrolling or getting sucked down the latest meme, go in with a plan. Look for new ideas, be open for inspiration, bookmark links—or better yet—take notes.
I do all of my writing within my Bear Notes app. If you have an iPhone, you can set your “back tap” to trigger an action (here’s a quick how-to guide). A lot of people set theirs to take a screenshot. I set mine to open up a specific note called “Weekly Learnings.” All I do is copy a link to a Tweet that I find interesting or insightful and double-tap the back of my phone and paste the link in my “Weekly Learnings” note along with a few thoughts.
I refer back to this note constantly when crafting my weekly Learning Letter to my email subscribers.
Again, don’t just scroll, have a plan.
So why is all of this so important?
Well, I believe it adds value, not just for you but for other people who decide to follow your curated Lists too. Think of your Lists as the sieve used back in olden times when people panned for gold. Too fine of a sieve and all the gold nuggets would be buried under too much dirt. Too open and you risk losing little nuggets while filtering out the dirt and pebbles.
That’s your job as a List curator: to catch as many nuggets as you can and leave out the unnecessary.
Now, this is far from a perfect system. Most people don’t just Tweet about one specific subject. I for one blast out a few sports Tweets when my Pittsburgh Steelers or Manchester City teams play (to the annoyance of my followers) so you can’t expect everyone to fit into your perfect little silos.
But the point is to test out different accounts, see if they deliver nuggets over dirt. If their content doesn’t fit, add them to a different List or remove them altogether.
Either way, you’re in control now.