Should You or I Care Who Follows Us On Twitter?

This comes up occasionally in Twitter discussions and elsewhere and I’ve finally decided to bring my perspective to the discussion. Why should you care who follows you on Twitter? When this question arises some take the, “It has absolutely no consequence, who cares!?” attitude while some of us are a bit more pensive. I remember having a short discussion about it with David Warlick when we were in Shanghai. He had obviously never thought about it, or at least not much, and his attitude was that he has absolutely no time to consider that and doesn’t want to have to. And he probably doesn’t have to. And you might not have to either.

So who does then? Teachers. Especially elementary teachers or anyone working with young children probably. Why? Guilt by association – because you can make a choice about blocking someone.

Case in point (and I could share many examples). Prostitution is legal in some counties in the state of Nevada where I live. Often people get followed on Twitter by people because they see you are local. So a few months back a “cat house” in the next county started following me. I let it go for a few days, but then after some thought blocked them. I block any porno or close to porno followers. I know this seems like a stretch, not a probable outcome, but in Twitter anyone can check out who is following me. What if a parent, grandparent, community activist, possible employer … you fill in the blank, checked out my followers and saw this porno site following me? Why didn’t I block them? Does that somehow show tacit approval of what they are about? (BTW how about a Nazi group or racist group or child sex site? Put whatever person or group that is most abhorrent to you in the blank). Since I can block them and I didn’t … could that be used against me in court? Does that reflect on me getting a job – like what I put or who I associate with on FaceBook could?

If you think I’m out of my mind consider this. As a male elementary teacher I have been advised numerous times, starting in college, about touching kids. Everything from being careful about doing it to downright being told pointblank by a school district assistant superintendent that that will just not happen. “You (or any other male teacher) will not touch students in any way, not a pat on the back, not a hand on their shoulder.” And over the years I’ve heard it in meetings from principals to policemen.

There’s lots of stigma placed by society on certain professions, rightly or wrongly so. I love my job and I’m just not going to take this chance.

BTW – I doubt I’ve been perfect at blocking, so should I go through my 1,000 or so followers and check again? It’s a messy question.

Learning is messy!

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15 thoughts on “Should You or I Care Who Follows Us On Twitter?

  1. I think this has become more of an issue since porn seems to be making its way more and more into Twitter. I totally agree. I also block any obviously pornographic followerers. Every time I do though I wish that Twitter was doing a better job of blocking spammers for me.

  2. This is an interesting post. We were recently discussing this very topic. I have mixed thoughts. I guess I don’t get to choose the people that come hear me talk or those that read my blog. But I do choose who I follow–who I learn from, and who I listen to. I think Twitter is a tricky one because it is all on a public timeline. Not sure there is a good answer but your points make a lot of sense.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

  3. I block heaps of potential followers- people trying to sell something, people trying to collect followers for the sake of having followers and weird types and people with no bio. All get blocked cos I have the choice and I use Twitter to connect and communicate with people- no one else.

  4. That is very wise to block those who would cast an unfavorable cloud. In a recent evaluation meeting, my twitter stream was brought up for questioning. Most questions were how I know these people. It is hard to tell whether the questioning was just to see how I have built that list of followers or what the connection is to them, but it is possible for your whole digital footprint to be brought up in such a manner.

  5. Brian, I completely agree with you. I work in an elementary school as well and have heard the same things as you have. With Twitter, it’s easy to block someone you don’t want following you. A couple of seconds can help decrease the chances of something negative happening. Every month or so, I try and check my follower list and narrow it down if I need to.

  6. Brian,

    I shared this post in Google Reader – and then realized the right placefor posting my comment was here, rather than there. (Talk about a messy question – where to put comments.). Anyway, here’s what I wrote there:

    I think Brian’s a thoughtful guy – but I think he missed the mark on this one. Suppose he’s written a book and someone convicted of a crime is found to have a copy of the book in his house. Is Brian responsible for the crime? No. We need to help people understand how the Web works, not help them to maintain their misunderstandings. That said, I appreciate Brian’s point here. (Why am I not writing this as a comment on Brian’s blog?)

    I get being cautious, and I do block the rare follow. I just see this one differently than other folks, I think. Thank you for sharing your thinking here -a very useful post.

  7. Hi Brian —
    I agree with you 100% on this —

    What also makes me sad is that I cannot demonstrate how to check your followers live in twitter any longer because I never can be 100% what picture might just pop up on a follower’s profile.

    So, I have created a screen shot to do that now — still works — but an extra step of cautiousness I needed to take to keep my seminars g-rated.

    I keep thinking of the quote “You’re only as good as the company you keep” — and though perhaps that might be a bit extreme……having someone go to my followers and see something pornographic there….well, as a teacher, that kind of gives me the “uh oh’s – what perception could might someone possibly make?” And you know me, I always will lean towards being cautious!

    We cannot become anal about this — but I do think we need to be aware of it.

    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Bud – Thanks for the comment. Maybe I’m missing something here but I think your example is an apples and oranges comparison. If I write and publish a book and actually sell copies : )
    there is pretty much zero expectation of, or actual ability for me to control who ends up with a copy. But I CAN control (apparently, to a point) who follows me on Twitter, so there is the appearance of control and someone could claim tacit approval etc. if I allow them to follow me. I know chances are it wouldn’t happen, but why take the chance of having to deal with such a touchy subject?

    Every year I have to get parents to sign off on allowing their kids to publish work, images, video etc. on the web and I always have a few reluctant parents. You know too well the TV shows they see that make them believe someone is going to get their kid because a picture they took of a tree and put on Flickr that doesn’t have their name on it or show them because they don’t understand this internet thing. If something like this came up I know it would put some parents off, for a very poor and disconnected reason, but it’s the kind of thing we deal with.

  9. But the world isn’t a G-rated place. Or did I miss a meeting? Perhaps this is a Twitter problem – the presence of a function makes one think one should be using it?

    Twitter is a smaller version of the larger world. Someone following you doesn’t imply that you endorse their, well, anything. And behaving in a reactive and somewhat enabling way for the benefit of people who don’t understand safety or the way the Web works isn’t the best idea, either. (That said, I completely understand where you’re coming from.

  10. @Brian — ‘cuse me while I address Bud.

    My life — my work place — and the age of students I deal with mostly — yeah, it is a g-rated life.

    I don’t wish to hide behind my religion – which I won’t. And I won’t dismiss that I live in a world way beyond G-rated — which I do.

    But, if I am trying to convince my administrator that twitter is something he should venture into….and he asks to see who follows me — and unbeknownst to me, in the last few minutes a follower has followed me who is performing sexual acts on her picture is the first picture he sees — nah, it would not be good.

    He knows me, he trusts me — and I could explain it….but I would lose any chance of convincing him it was a place to check out for “educational purposes.”

    I might live in a world where pg, pg-13, and r ratings and more are rampant — but for me……my safety zone when I primarily work with elementary teachers and elementary students — yes, as best as I can control it — it will be g-rating.

    Thanks, Brian, for letting me chat with Bud.


  11. @Bud —
    My response sounds a bit harsh —
    I hope you know — I am just chatting back with you.
    I respect you — feel that you respect me as well.
    Sorry if I sounded “shouty”.

  12. I have had that philosophy since day one with Twitter. My thoughts are that if it is a tool I think is worth using in my career in any way, then I am going to be showing it off to others in my district who will in turn show it off to others and so on. If I have avatars that are less than proper or users who follow me that cuss all the time, then my staff will be less likely to try it out and then will also wonder what I am up to. So, I stick with my plan of monitoring and blocking followers I prefer to not have associated with me.

    Thanks for the post.

  13. (I’ll continue using the Twitter following example, but I want to point out that being able to blocking a follower is somewhat inconsequential to the direction I’m going. If you block me, I can find some other way to read your Tweets or your blog and some other way to publish the fact that I’m reading them.)

    I think it comes down to whether or not we feel like we can trust the people in our lives to make good decisions. Do we trust our colleagues to understand that Twitter following is a one-way statement? If a parent complains and the media picks up on it, do we trust our bosses to understand how Twitter works and stand by our side? Do we trust possible employers to not judge us based on aspects of our personal lives and personality that we express online?

    My answer isn’t always yes or always no, but I’m depressed when I think about how self-censored I am because I can’t trust people to make a fair, informed decision.

  14. I think it comes down to whether or not we feel like we can trust the people in our lives to make good decisions. Do we trust our colleagues to understand that Twitter following is a one-way statement?