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How to simplify your social-media life

Joe Kissell | Feb. 7, 2014
Social media such as Twitter and Facebook can serve many worthwhile purposes, both personal and professional.

Social media such as Twitter and Facebook can serve many worthwhile purposes, both personal and professional. It can also turn into a huge time sink — not only distracting you from more useful pursuits, but also dragging you down psychologically, what with all the snarky remarks, intolerant posts, and general insanity the medium seems to induce.

I'm not suggesting you give up on social media, but I do recommend taking steps to increase its ratio of signal (worthwhile opinions and comments) to noise (anything you consider a waste of time). While you're at it, you might apply similar principles to one-way media such as RSS and Web-based news reading.

Simplify Twitter
I choose the people I follow on Twitter very carefully, and I try to keep the total number small enough that I have time to read everything they write: If I weren't genuinely interested in what they have to say, I shouldn't follow them in the first place. If you follow more than a few hundred people, it's unlikely that you can keep up with all of them, and that seems to me to be missing the point. My advice: seriously consider pruning that list.

Even then, I unfollow people who tweet too frequently about topics I don't care about or who simply tweet a lot (even if the content is great).

When I unfollow, I do so without prejudice, but sometimes I want to continue following someone — to avoid bruised feelings or as a professional courtesy — without having to see their tweets. (In case you weren't aware, there are tons of websites and apps that can alert people when someone unfollows them on Twitter — for example,, fllwrs, and Find Unfollowers on Twitter — and I know numerous people who use such tools obsessively.) One approach is to use lists to filter your tweets (see Tame your Twitter feed, but I prefer to mute instead. Muting (also called muffling) is something you can do only in a Twitter client, not on the Twitter website, and it means you continue to follow the person but don't see their tweets in your timeline. (In Tapbots's $20 Tweetbot for OS X, for example, click a person's icon, choose Mute from the gear pop-up menu, and choose a time period from one day to forever. Other apps, such as The Iconfactory's $10 Twitteriffic, also let you muffle hashtags.)

Simplify Facebook
Facebook is much the same. You can unfriend anyone you don't want to hear from anymore, and I occasionally do so when nearly everything a person posts is negative or inflammatory. But unfriending someone is often considered a slap in the face, and social convention makes it difficult to do so for certain categories of people, such as relatives you don't like much. (As with Twitter, Facebook users aren't automatically informed when you unfriend them, but apps such as Unfriend Finder make it easier than scanning one's list of friends and noticing that someone is missing.)


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