The Top 10 Reasons I Will Not Follow You in Return on Twitter is making its way around…well…Twitter today. Just reading the tile makes me wonder: why would someone expect to be followed in return? I guess it comes down to this question: What does it mean to follow someone? Is it different from friending them? And just what does “friend” mean in this context, anyway?
The way social networking sites use the term “Friend” has always bugged me. The actual software for Facebook, MySpace, or LiveJournal seems to use it to mean two distinct things:
- An actual friend, someone with whom you interact on a personal basis.
- An entity whose posts you’re following because you’re interested in the content, rather than invested in the person.
Wishful thinking aside, reading Neil Gaiman’s blog regularly doesn’t make me his friend.
Okay, so “Friend” is shorthand, but it brings in a load of connotations, blending the two meanings. People will freak out when a stranger “friends” them, will feel insulted if someone that they’ve friended doesn’t friend them back, or will feel rejected if someone de-friends them. I’ve heard it suggested that one reason people move from one social network to another is to start over with a clean slate of friends, and not have to worry about the drama of removing anyone from their current friends’ list.
Twitter, with the simple and direct term, “Follower,”, doesn’t seem like it would bring in the same level of baggage. To me, clicking “Follow” doesn’t feel like it has the same emotional weight as marking someone as a friend. I follow accounts that I find interesting, and that I actually have a chance of keeping up with. If someone follows me, I don’t feel obligated to follow them, and if I follow someone else, I don’t expect them to follow me.
So I was perplexed when I started seeing new followers showing up on my personal Twitter account who clearly had only done a keyword search on my latest tweet, or looked at who I was following. What were they expecting? That I would look at the “XYZ is following you!” email and trace it to their website? That I would follow them back?
It didn’t make any sense to me.
Of course, now I’m sure they were expecting me to follow them back. As this article suggests, a lot of people do see “Follow” as a synonym for “Friend”, and they were most likely trying to game that system.
In other words, despite the terminology, Twitter’s stuck with the same old baggage that clogs up other social networks.