On Wednesday, Sports Illustrated rolled out its “Twitter 100,” a list of athletes, news outlets, and media personalities that Joe Sportsfan should follow on the popular social network. Large media outlets regularly do this — see also: TIME’s 140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2013, Business Insider’s 100 Tech People You Have to Follow on Twitter, The Wired 100 — and then smaller outlets make counter-lists, and everybody retweets and shares and talks about it on Twitter. Nobody says, “Hey, are we seriously using this medium to talk about a frivolous and subjective list of who uses this medium the best?”
It’s bullshit. FUCK best-of Twitter lists.
In case you’re unfamiliar with how this farce works, here’s a step-by-step breakdown:
- Media outlet honors select Twitter users who have 20,000 followers. Or 75,000. Or 500,000. Or a million.
- Those users, flattered by the selection, tweet the link to their army of followers.
- Media outlet enjoys increased traffic to the collation that required far less work than making original content.
That simple process can mutate, too. In SI’s case, it went the extra mile to service those it had serviced: in the first nine hours after its list was published, SI retweeted THIRTY of the “Golly, look who got selected for SI’s list” tweets outlined in Step 2. More impressively, SI savvily got a luxury car brand to sponsor its shiny listicle. I’m hardly against sponsored content online — it regularly pays my bills, and I’ve happily dropped Applebee’s mentions into videos for the last month — but the naked capitalism stamped on this salt lick of media consumption feels too blatant even for my permissive tastes.
Best-of-Twitter lists are not a service to readers or Twitter users; they’re cynical clickbait garbage, and the same people who mock and shame Bleacher Report’s SEO-gamed lists and BuzzFeed’s nihilistic, micro-targeted “demolisticles” will happily share a best-of-Twitter list if they happen to be on it. The honorees can hardly be faulted here — except, perhaps, for naïveté — because it’s natural to thank the parties responsible for the warm feeling you get from recognition. That’s what makes best-of-Twitters list so pernicious: the esteem of a major outlet and the gratitude of respected voices cloud the fact that it’s just a media circle jerk.
There is an obvious counterpoint here: that I, a low-level sports media personality, have sour grapes about not being named to the list. It’s an easy straw man, and it will burn hotter with the little bit of timber in there: I have not, to my knowledge, ever been named to a best-of-Twitter list — not even to the tongue-in-cheek one published by the sports blog I founded. You, fair citizen, will simply have to take me at my word that I do not give a teaspoon of shit about not being named to an arbitrary list of people sending bursts of text to the internet. Or don’t. I will live either way. (UPDATE: Since writing this, I was named to a list of snubs. It doesn’t change the way I feel about all this. It’s still gross.)
Twitter is incredibly useful. I love that it’s revolutionized the media, and that it’s flexible enough to be different things to people with different interests — news, sports, humor, music, anything. But it can also be an echo chamber, where everyone you follow has X opinion about Y subject, thus cementing your certainty that opinion X is Truth. It shrinks the world down to what you want to see of it. In reality, one in five Americans don’t use the Internet. Facebook is far more useful in driving traffic. Nobody gives a shit which famous person blocked you. Twitter is excellent for breaking news and sharing information, but it’s still just a tiny-ass fraction of the communicating world.
So let’s all collectively dial it the fuck back on TWITTER USERS YOU MUST FOLLOW. You don’t have to follow anyone. You don’t have to be on Twitter. And you sure as shit don’t need to click on a list of Twitter accounts curated NOT for your interests, but for a media outlet’s profits. You know People’s “World’s Most Beautiful” list? It’s made up of the stars who were available for a photo shoot, and it’s still less offensive and nakedly self-serving than lists of Twitter accounts you should follow.
Follow who you want, and share the things you like. Fuck Twitter lists.