Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Things lots of people don't seem to know about Twitter - some Twitter myths

Over two years ago I rattled off a quick post about what happens when you block someone on Twitter. I didn't think a great deal of it after that but began to notice, from Google Analytics search logs (the search phrases that result in people visiting my site) that a lot of people are mystified by a variety of aspects of Twitter. That post has since gone on to be the really popular one on my blog (450,000 views says Blogger, 130,000 views says the more accurate Google Analytics).

Thanks to the latest change to the Twitter block I've been keeping an eye on tweets that include phrases like "they can't see your tweets" and have been a bit disheartened to see how many people seem to believe this. Quite a few have even declared that they can now "come off private" because no-one will be able to see their tweets. It's not true.

There are a lot of (actually perfectly reasonable) assumptions made about Twitter but unfortunately they seem to be mostly wrong.

I'll add more 'Twitter myths' here as I think of them. It concerns me that lots of people are blithely unaware that if they have a public account ALL their tweets (other than DMs) are searchable and embeddable in blogs and Storify stories etc. Probably very few of these people follow me (I've tweeted about 150 of them since the weekend) so it's hard work getting this info out. Tell your friends :-)

1. Blocking someone doesn't stop them from seeing your tweets
There are so many workarounds including them logging out, creating another account (things like Tweetdeck let you log in to multiple accounts at once), searching for your tweets, they can of course search for tweets from you and see the conversations you're participating in even if you make your account private.

A block on Person X just stops their tweets from being shown to you (you can still go looking for their tweets too). Every now and then Twitter changes its block function and a lot of people seem to think there's been an improvement. With the latest December 2014 if you visit someone's profile on desktop Twitter you're told that you've been blocked and can't view their tweets. If they search for your tweets they can still find them, or they can use a third party app like Echofon on iPhone which, at time of writing, is still showing full profiles.

It's possible that in the next few weeks Twitter will tighten things up so that (a) smartphone apps won't show profiles and (b) desktop searches won't show tweets from the person who's blocked you but I can't see a way round (c) them logging out. Even if Twitter insisted on people logging in to view tweets they could still log in with a different account.

Beyond making an account private I can't ever see a way to stop someone from seeing your tweets (and remember they can still see the other halves of your conversations).

2. Changing your Twitter handle doesn't stop people from finding you - blame conversation threading
I think this confuses a lot of people too. You change your Twitter handle and your previous one stops working. If someone visits the profile of the old account name it tells them the page doesn't exist. Anyone following you at the time of the change will be immediately 'transferred' to following you on the new account.

However if anyone has ever replied to any of your previous tweets then a 'thread' has been set up between the two, and this threading persists even if your name has changed. People can use this to find your new account. I've done this unwittingly by wondering where some annoying person has gone (usually an alternative medicine quack spouting rubbish and trying to avoid being challenged), failing to find their profile page then searching for any tweets I'd sent to their previous account.

In the search results on desktop Twitter (the best search interface) their old handle is no longer a clickable link (cos their page doesn't exist). But if you click on the tweet to unfurl it, and see the threaded conversation, then you'll probably see what their new Twitter name is. That's probably how anyone would have found your new Twitter name, if that's ever happened.

Possibly this will change in future. If you've blocked someone and then changed your name then at the time of writing they can still find you by searching, but if Twitter fixes its search so that your tweets won't show up to people that you've blocked then this could become harder. Though they could still log out or use a different account to check.

The only other way around this is to create a completely new account or delete ALL of your previous tweets (up to about 2009/2010 when I think threaded conversations were introduced).

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Comments written in ALL CAPS LOCK will be deleted and I won't publish any pro-homeopathy comments, that ship has sailed I'm afraid (it's nonsense).