Avoid Twitter disasters

The use, and uses, of Twitter seems to grow daily.

The use, and uses, of Twitter seems to grow daily. Its role as a source of news on Iran during that country's current unrest has been widely reported, for example. For most people, however, Twitter is simply a convenient social networking tool, but as such, it is even more open than Facebook--which is all the more reason to employ what safeguards you can on its network. (Note: This article doesn't cover such issues as the growing problem of spam on Twitter or reports of its use in phishing-like attacks.)

At the end of this article, we'll also offer a brief guide to Twitter commands.

Twitter Never Forgets

The disaster: Nelson knows everyone who follows his Twitter feed and didn't think much about trashing a coworker on the service. Months later, long after he'd forgotten about it, the coworker began to follow his tweets--and, with a little digging, found Nelson's insult, creating an awkward office environment.

The solution: Unlike Facebook, Twitter has no mechanism for ap­­proving who follows you on the service, and anyone can read your full tweeting history. That is, unless you protect your updates: Click Settings and check the Protect my updates box. Your tweets now won't be visible to anyone not approved as a follower. However, anything you've al­­ready sent out will stick around, especially on third-party Twitter interfaces.

Locking Out the Twitter Twits

The disaster: Vicky regularly tweets (nastily) about a former friend, and naturally doesn't want that person to follow her on Twitter. How does she keep that person out before it becomes an issue?

The solution: First, your account must be marked as 'Protected', as described in the preceding item. Then, assuming you know the person's user name, simply block that user on Twitter. This op­­tion is on the profile page, in the 'Ac­­tions' section. It removes you from their Following list and prevents your updates from showing up on their page and from adding you to their Following list again. But your current friends can still copy and paste your tweets, or save them through screen captures.

The real lesson: It's probably best not to bash anybody on Twitter if you're afraid they'll find out about it.

Linking Twitter With Facebook Can Be Trouble

The disaster: Dan thought he was being a good Web citizen and killing two birds with one stone by linking his Twitter account to his Facebook profile (visit apps.facebook.com/twitter to set it up for yourself--but finish reading this item first). The idea is sound enough: Update your Twitter status, and your Facebook status updates along with it, automatically. However, a Facebook connection isn't always a good idea. If you're live--tweeting, say, a sports event or a conference, you might post 20 tweets or more in an hour. That may fly on the rapid-fire Twitter, but on Facebook it's over the line since it clogs up your friends' news feeds.

The solution: In Dan's case, a Twitter/Facebook link may not be appropriate, and he may be better off simply unlinking the two networks.

The best way to unlink is to browse to Facebook, click the Applications button on the bottom-left corner, and then select Applications. Find Twitter on this page and click the X to delete the app from your Facebook profile. (If you use a third-party application like TweetDeck to access Twitter, you'll have to unlink your profile through that app.)

Be Careful What You Link To

The disaster: In one of his daily tweets, David linked to an article expressing a strong view on a controversial issue. Before he knew it, David was being bombarded with tweets rebutting the article. David found many of these statements to be factually lacking, but still felt compelled to counter them in tweets of his own. Hours passed. Soon the afternoon was lost, and David was left frustrated by the challenge of making cogent arguments in 140 characters or less (Twitter's limit).

The solution: David didn't want to 'Protect' his tweets because he believed that the openness and public nature of the service are central to the Twitter concept. David should have considered that this openness means people he knows nothing about can see his tweets and the things he links to.

Second, when it became clear that David had become involved in a protracted debate with another Twitter user who wasn't making much sense, he should have blocked that user by going to the person's profile and clicking Block next to the person's user name. Problem solved. Afternoon saved.

The Story of 'Cisco Fatty'

The disaster: Unlike the hypothetical examples in this story, this one is true (see ciscofatty.com). Connor was offered a job at Cisco, the big networking company. While weighing her op­­tions, she idly tweeted to her followers that she now had to decide whether the "fatty paycheck" she'd draw from Cisco would justify her "hating the work." Problem is, a Cisco employee saw the tweet and called her out on it, prompting an outpouring of scorn from the Twitter community, as well as a lot of embarrassment for poor Connor.

The solution: Connor obviously should have protected her Twitter account via the 'Protect my updates' check box, as described in "Twitter Never Forgets," above.

But here's the larger lesson: Many people keep tabs on Twitter using filtered keywords, especially company names--and the use of the term "Cisco" in her tweet was what killed Connor's job prospects. A better ap­­proach would have been to leave the company anonymous, or--better yet--not to tweet about her job offer at all.

Twitter Commands Reference Guide

Here's a guide on how to use and understand Twitter's special commands.

o @username The basic building block of conversations, for public replies to a tweet by the user noted after the @ sign.

o D username For a "Direct message" to only the user in question. "DM" also works.

o RT @username For "Re-Tweet," or a tweet you want to rebroadcast. Prefaced with the original twitterer's user name.

The following commands ask Twitter for information or tell it how to behave:

o ON username or OFF username Turns mobile phone notifications on or off for a single user. STOP and QUIT will cut off all Twitter SMS messages for all users. Only cell phone notifications are affected.

o FOLLOW username and LEAVE username To see-or stop seeing-the tweets of a user. Twitter displays a drop-down message saying it has carried out your command. However, to truly take them off your list, go to their Twitter profile and click Remove next to 'You follow username'.

o WHOIS username Pops up a brief amount of information about the user.

o GET username Retrieves a particular user's most recent tweet.

o STATS Tells you how many followers you have and how many are following you.

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Christopher Null

PC World (US online)
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