Everything I Wish Someone Had Told Me about Using Twitter for News
I’ve been using twitter as my main news source for about 6 months now, and since I’ve had a few people on Facebook ask me how I do it, here are some general principles I’ve learned as a relative twitter newbie, as well as a “starter pack” of good people to follow. If you don’t care about my “how-to” stuff and just want to see the list of people to follow, scroll down to the “Who to Follow” header.
First, what this is not. As I said, I’m a twitter newb. I don’t use hashtags (I don’t really know how those work), I only have about 450 twitter followers, many of whom are bots, brands, or not active, and most of my own tweets only see 80–150 views, and usually don’t get any likes or retweets. So this isn’t a guide on how to become a twitter influencer. Nor is it a guide on how to use hashtags or otherwise be a power user. And finally, I won’t guarantee this will work for non-news topics. If you want to follow tech or business or chat with people about your hobby, that’s a different guide. It’s just a guide on how to follow smart people in order to quickly get the news.
I’m also no expert, so I’ll be pretty lax about approving comments from people who have their own suggestions—I’d love to learn about some good twitter rules and people to follow from this.
First, let’s fuck with some settings. Twitter will use a facebook-like algorithm rather than an instagram-like temporal feed if you let it, so the first thing to do is to go into your account settings and uncheck the box that says “Show me the best tweets first”.
I prefer not to have twitter tell me what to read, but to curate my own feed. If this isn’t your preference, then just follow a few publications and don’t uncheck this box, and twitter will do the rest for you, no need to read this guide. Unfortunately, you can’t 100% turn off these filtering “features” in the iOS app, but you can minimize the amount they show up.
While we’re editing your profile, make sure to add an avatar. Generally, if you have a default avatar, people will assume you’re a troll. If you have an anime avatar, people will assume you’re a Nazi (or at least a grade-A asshole). Yes, I am being serious.
Principles on How and Who to Follow
OK, so now when you go to twitter dot com you’ll see a flow of tweets from the people you follow, in chronological order. This means that if you don’t want to be on twitter 100% of the time (and you don’t), then to get the news from twitter you’ll need to make sure that any news get floated into your feed multiple times.
My preference on twitter is not to listen to brands, but to listen to smart people. “Brands” in this case includes publications and people who are just trying to brand themselves. A publication is trying to advertise to you to get you to click on their links, including to the crappy articles—an author is advertising their work, but also talking with other authors, working out their ideas before they write about them, retweeting other smart work that they read and liked, and more. So for each follow of a smart author, you get a lot more value than following a publication.
Think of twitter as a room where a bunch of people are chatting, and they totally don’t mind if you overhear them. Some people are conversing with each other, some people are just spouting off aphorisms, some people are just repeating what others heard, and here and there you have a radio playing. What would you rather do? Listen to two experts have a conversation, or listen to the radio advertise to you? If you answered the latter, this guide isn’t for you.
So that’s generally how to curate your feed: find people who 1) write smart things and 2) like to talk a lot about other things going on. In general for me, this means following people who tend to do news analysis, rather than breaking news. The news analysis people will retweet breaking news into your feed, but the breaking news people won’t retweet the good analysis into your feed.
Go back to that chatty room. Would you rather everyone talk about the same thing and agree with each other, or do you want to listen to people who disagree with each other, and with you? I prefer the latter, to a degree. My feed tends towards the center-left, since I tend towards the center-left, but you’ll find a few conservatives and a few Bernie-type socialists as well. But there are limits. I don’t follow any Nazis because fuck Nazis.
How to Find People to Follow
Once you have a feed going, you’ll want to branch out on your own. I’ve found people to follow in a few ways.
- When I read an article I really like on the internet, I click through to the author profile, and if they have a good twitter presence I follow them.
- When I see a really great tweet or article retweeted into my timeline, I’ll check out the account and if they’re consistently good, I’ll follow them, especially if they don’t have a huge follower list (because they’re less likely to get retweeted into my feed that way).
- If I see someone retweeted into my timeline a lot, I might try following them—although sometimes I find their best stuff finds its way into my timeline, and the boring stuff doesn’t, so I don’t need to follow.
- If someone I really like seems to disagree with but consistently and civilly engage with someone, I might give them a follow to broaden the types of views in my feed, which usually broadens the types of news I get as well.
- If someone I do follow tends to be more annoying or boring than they are helpful, I am pretty aggressive at unfollowing them.
RTFA (Read the Fucking Article)
Finally, you’re doing this to get news, not to only get analysis. It is thus important to actually click through the links and read the articles that are presented. Having a subscription to The New York Times and The Washington Post is a good idea, as they break a lot of good news and the Post’s opinion columns are pretty good. If you can only do one, do the Post—the opinion section is better, they break most the same news, and if you’re an Amazon Prime subscribe you get 6 free months, and then 40% off after that.
It’s easy to get in a habit of just reading Twitter for news, which means you’re just reading analysis, not the news itself. I know that it’s a fuzzy line and that facts aren’t as objective as we’d like to think, but you’re still better off reading the articles instead of just reading what people are saying about the articles. I say this as much as a reminder to myself as anyone else.
Who to Follow
The following list is in no particular order. Some of the best accounts are towards the bottom. I’ve tried to give you a sense of what each person focuses on or is an expert on, but everyone tweets about everything, that’s the beauty of twitter. Also, my account is at @adrianmryan and I retweet a lot of stuff, and sometimes write articles/tweets about politics and technology.
Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) — Race, politics, and photography.
Chris Arnade (@Chris_arnade)—Addiction, poverty, and McDonalds. On the “empathy for the white working class” train.
William Gibson (@GreatDismal)—Science fiction author, but his retweet game is on point. Politics, technology, futurology.
Geoff Manaugh (@bldgblog)—Architecture, climate change, cities.
Dara Lind (@DLind)—Immigration mostly.
Malcolm Harris (@BigMeanInternet)—Former Occupy Wall Street guy who writes a lot of smart economic and social criticism.
Matt Levine (@matt_levine) — Former Wall Street guy who writes about economics and Wall Street from a more favorable slant.
Jordan Shapiro (@jordosh)—Education.
Sarah Jeong (@sarahjeong)—Crypto, technology, internet culture, law.
Molly Crabapple (@mollycrabapple)—Middle East, Islam, art.
Ned Resnikoff (@resnikoff)—Politics, cultural criticism.
geminiimatt / mateo (@geminiimatt)—Crypto, technology, diversity in tech.
Jonathan Blanks (@BlanksSlate)—Criminal justice, policing, drug war, race. Is on the libertarian side of things.
Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus)—Climate science, climate change, meteorology.
Omer Aziz (@omeraziz12)—Middle East, Islam, Syria.
Anil Dash (@anildash)—Technology, diversity in tech, Prince.
Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior)—Authoritarian central Asian regimes, Trump as dictator. Can sometimes edge into conspiracy theory, but she’s called a lot of the Trump/Bannon plays before they’ve happened.
Bill Walters (@4b5)—I don’t even remember how I found this account, but it surfaces a lot of interesting articles. On the “Bernie would have won” end of things.
Adrian Chen (@AdrianChen)—Internet & Gaming culture, authoritarian regimes (Philippines), politics.
Susan Hennessey (@Susan_Hennessey)—Lawfare blog founder, former intelligence community lawyer, writes about the practical realities of the intelligence community. First source you should go to whenever intelligence or classification comes up in the news.
Casey Michael (@cjcmichel)—Nationalism, the alt-right, extremism, Russia. Does actual investigative journalism.
Christopher Ingram (@_cingraham)—Data journalist. Drug war, guns, extremism, Minnesota.
February Icon (@tehgeekmeister)—Tech, economics, weird and good stuff.
Evan McMullin (@Evan_McMullin)—Center-right anti-Trumper. Former CIA. Ethics in politics.
Clara Jeffery (@ClaraJeffery)—Mother Jones Editor in Chief. Don’t endorse her views, but she links to a lot of good investigative stories.
Tim Murphy (@timothypmurphy)—Focuses on internal leftist and Democratic politics. Great analysis of congress.
Prison Culture (@prisonculture)—Semi-anonymous black muslim woman who writes about activism, racism, and prison reform/abolition.
Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet)—EIC of The New Republic. Claims to have invented the tweet thread. Lots of hot air, but also lots of links to good stories and some decent analysis, just read with grain of salt.
Judd Legum (@JuddLegum)—Leftist politics, national political analysis.
David Fahrenthold (@Fahrenthold)—Investigative journalist. Broke a bunch of stories about Trump’s (lack of) charity work.
Joy Ann Reid (@JoyAnnReid)—Race, politics, etc.. Lots of good retweets.
Celest Pewter (@Celeste_pewter)—Congressional staffer. Good moderate lefty analysis of news about congress, laws that are currently on the floor. Calls out bullshit news a lot.
Adam Sewer (@AdamSerwer)—News analysis. Great bad jokes.
InfoSec Taylor Swift (@SwiftOnSecurity)—Someone pretending to be Taylor Swift who writes about crypto, tech security, and more. Good analysis of national news about technology.
Tor Ekeland (@TorEkelandPC)—Technology, crypto, data, law, activism.
JJ MacNab (@jjmacnab)—Anti-government extremism, including the Bundy’s, pizzagate, and more. Good investigative journalism.
Robert Costa (@costareports)—White House correspondent for WaPo. Regularly breaks news on Twitter, such as when the President calls him.
Russ Choma (@russchoma)—Investigative DC journalist. Lots of inside baseball, help look behind the news.
Benjamin R. Young (@DubstepInDPRK)—North Korea analyst.
Atul Gawande (@Atul_Gawande)—Medicine, insurance, systems thinking.
Sarah Jaffe (@sarahljaffe)—Leftist politics and activism.
Will Sommer (@willsommer)—Conservative politics, inside baseball, analysis.
DiDi Delgado (@TheDiDiDelgado)—Racial politics, activism.
Austin Walker (@austin_walker)—Video game culture, reviews.
Alexandra Petri (@petridishes)—So much funnier than Andy Borowitz. Seriously, Andy Borowitz is unfunny trash.
Endless Screaming(@infinite_scream)—Just an account that tweets screams over and over again.