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Fixing Twitter by Blocking Trump... is Wonderful

Written by on June 6, 2017

Let me show you a very simple trick to make Twitter about a million times better, and also how to get Twitter 'back on topic' so that it can actually be used again as a tool for work. I'm talking about blocking Trump from Twitter.

We have a problem.

The media has this absolutely insane obsession with tweeting about Trump. Sure, there are some important news items that need to be covered, like when Trump decided to drop the Paris agreement, but most tweets don't have any real news.

As a result, people are sick of it. Publications such as Quartz now have a 'Trump snooze button', and apps like Nuzzel have introduced a (very expensive) Pro plan, that allows you to block out things like 'politics'.

This alone should tell you how the public really feels about what the media is focusing on. People are sick and tired of Trump, and they want something else.

But the media doesn't stop, because Trump creates outrage and that in turn creates a whole lot of traffic. So, instead of thinking about the future, we have turned the media (and especially Twitter) into this sinkhole of despair.

Just notice how many people tweet this:

Wakes up. Checks Twitter . . . uh . . . Regrets checking Twitter. Goes back to bed.

What we are doing right now is digging ourselves into a hole, because we are making people hate using the media. And this applies to everyone.

I recently asked a friend of mine about it. He is one of those weird people who doesn't use Twitter, and also generally doesn't use Facebook. Even he was annoyed by the constant barrage of Trump related stories, most of which have no real information but feel more like an episode for the new low-end reality TV show: "Trump's White House".

For me it's even worse, because, as a media analyst, I'm constantly surrounded by journalists and editors and, through my work, I need to look at what they do. As such, my Twitter has pretty much stopped working.

This morning I decided to count just how many tweets there were about Trump (directly or indirectly), and it turns out that it was about one in every 3-4 tweets.

That means that my Twitter experience is: Trump . . Trump . . Trump . . Trump . . Trump . . Trump . . Trump . . Trump . . Trump.

That's insane!

And I have started to feel sad about using Twitter, as in, it actually had a real impact on my mental state. Some days, I would wake up, read Twitter, see all this insanity about Trump, get angry, and then I would start my work.

But because I was now in a negative mood this had a negative impact on my ability to write constructively and efficiently. And as one who makes a living from writing about the media, this is catastrophic.

So, I have now (partly) fixed this problem, by very aggressively blocking all mentions of Trump from my Twitter feed.

This is my current list of blocked words:

Note: There are several ways you can do this. I have set this up in Tweetdeck, because that is the main way I use Twitter, but you can also do it for Twitter as a whole. Here is a text version of the block list.

What this does is that it excludes any tweet containing any of these words. And the result is that, instead of 1 in every 3 tweets being about Trump, with the block in place, it's now 1 in every 15 tweets.

It doesn't completely block Trump, because people often Tweet about him without mentioning him or his associates by name, but it clears out a lot.

Some of the extra filters I added are because of how the media just can't help itself.

For instance, you will notice that I have #Covfefe as a blocked word, because the media's obsession with Trump turned this into a tweet storm. CNN even asked a spelling bee student to spell it on live TV.

Are you kidding me? Stop with this Trump obsession! Not every story has to be about him. This student is a remarkable person, but CNN completely ignored that story and turned it into another Trump thing.

So, this is not a fixed list. This is a constantly evolving list that I modify whenever something becomes too noisy.

The result of doing this is remarkable. Twitter is now once again useful to me. I don't get angry when I look at it anymore (well, I can still get angry at a single tweet, but I don't get angry using Twitter as a whole). And this has a big impact on my day-to-day level of happiness.

But more to the point, by blocking these, I can now also use Twitter for work again. Meaning that, as a media analyst, I can once again look towards Twitter for news and insights about the media industry as a whole.

These tweets were there before, of course. But with Trump's absolute dominance, I just didn't see them. Now I do, and it's wonderful.

So, I highly recommend that you do this as well. It will save your Twitter feed, and also quite possibly your mental health :)

But... "Wait-a-minute", I hear you say (and some of you have). "Isn't this a bad thing? Isn't filtering out content a problem?"

Well, let's have a talk about that

The filter bubble, FOMO ... and the media trends

Whenever I have mentioned to people that I'm now filtering out Trump, many react with hesitation and skepticism.

Specifically, there are two concerns that people ask me about.

The first one is the problem of the filter bubble: The danger that by filtering out these things, I put myself into a filter bubble, which is distorting my world view.

The second concern is that of FOMO, being 'the Fear Of Missing Out'. When you do this, they say, don't you miss out on important news?

The answer to both of these is 'no', but let me explain why.

First of all, let's talk about the filter bubble.

Most people in the media think that any type of filtering forces you into a filter bubble because you only see what you want to see. And while this might be true for some people, it's generally not true for you and me.

This is because of what the media is.

I have talked about this before, but we have a very unhealthy focus in the media of only looking at the world in a certain way. The best way to illustrate it is like this.

In the media, we look at the edges of society, the people who do bad things, and then we dominate everything with just those people. The result is that we end up with a narrative that completely, totally distorts what the world is really like.

It's not just about Trump either.

There was recently a massive carnival in my country, with about 160,000 people attending. And when I looked at this on Instagram, I came across thousands of pictures of people having a really great time with a lot of amazing events.

But then, when I turned to the largest national newspapers in my country, none of them covered this. Instead, they had posted 3 articles about this event with an entirely different focus.

These:

Mind you, I'm not saying this isn't important news. What I am saying, though, is that the real world is about much more than what the media focuses on. We are distorting reality, not balancing it.

How sad is that?

So, the reality is that if I want to get a more balanced view of the world, I should spend less time reading the news.

It's the same with me filtering out Trump related topics. By doing that, I'm allowing more space in my Twitter to be filled up with other things. So, by filtering, I'm actually getting out of the filter bubble.

You see what I mean?

The reason you filter is to remove those elements that dominate your stream. Now that I filter out Trump, I see a much more varied world than before, and that helps me understand the real world in a better way.

As a media analyst, this is absolutely critical. I need to see as much of the world as I can, but I can't do that if one in every three tweets is about Trump.

Now let's talk about FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out.

The fear of not hearing about something is very real in the media industry. Every journalist and editor suffers from this.

The reality, of course, is that this isn't a problem in the digital world. FOMO is a completely irrational behavior that has no relation to how communication spreads online.

You know the saying: "If it's important enough, it will find you"? This is certainly the case online.

Let me give a simple example.

You will notice that one of the words I'm filtering out is "ailes", which is referencing Chairman and CEO of Fox News, Roger Ailes. But on May 18th he died, so guess how quickly I heard about that?

Here is a hint:

Yep, I actually saw people talking about this before the media started writing about it. It was only a few minutes before, but still.

It was the same when Trump announced he was pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Even with my block in place, I still heard about it within seconds of him announcing it (and I then spent the next two hours tweeting about it too).

This is how crazy the digital world is. We are so tightly connected that if a story is important, you will know about it as quickly as anyone else.

The only thing that filtering does is to remove most of the noise. But I still see tons of stories about Trump every single day.

In fact, we actually have the opposite problem. In that if you are not filtering, you will miss important tweets because they are drowned out by all the rest.

I have noticed this with my own Twitter feed. Before I started filtering my feed, I constantly missed important news about the media industry itself, because these tweets were buried in this sea of Trump related outrage.

Today, now that I am filtering, I see those tweets much more clearly, which helps me stay up to date.

Finally, let's talk about something even more important, which is the media trends.

Trump is not a media trend

Several people have questioned how I, as a media analyst, can filter out Trump, because, as they say, look at what he is doing to us (the media).

We also have tons of articles titled: "The future of media in the age of Trump", as if the media is now completely different.

My answer to this is quite simple. Trump has almost no influence on the future media trends.

I know what you are thinking. "Are you crazy", you ask?

But this is another example of the reality distortion field that exists in the media. Trump is not that influential.

First of all, when we talk about Trump and the media, we are really talking about an extremely narrow part of the overall media landscape. Specifically, we are talking about big national newspapers within their political editorial focus.

This might be very important for the New York Times and The Washington Post (and a few others), but for everyone else it's not.

For instance, if you are the Chicago Tribune, being successful in the future and getting people to subscribe has almost nothing to do with Trump. In fact, I'm pretty sure that if it started writing more about Trump, fewer people would subscribe.

It's the same with all the magazines. Think about magazines like Wired, Men's Fitness, Southern Living, PRWeek, Motor Trend and many others. None of what Trump is doing has any relation to their world of media.

So, while everyone in the media is obsessing over Trump, he has almost no impact at all. He is just a massive distraction.

For instance, most of my friends in the media were really upset about Trump having a meeting with the Russians, where he banned US media from attending. Instead, we had to rely on photos from a Russian photographer. And, from a general perspective, that was pretty bad.

But from a media trend perspective, it's a non-story, because even if Trump had allowed US media access, that would still mean just a few photographers from maybe NYT and AP.

If you are, again, the Chicago Tribune, you probably wouldn't have sent a photographer anyway.

So, we are talking about a form of media that represents a tiny part of the media world. Within that world, there are a lot of problems. But from a general media perspective, it's not part of any trend.

More to the point, as a media analyst, I look at the future of media. As a minimum, I look 3 years into the future, but often it's more like 5-10 years.

This means that the trends that I look at right now, all exist after Trump is no longer president. And I see no change in any of the macro trends because of Trump.

None!

At the same time, none of the really exciting new trends in the media relate to Trump either. You even see this at media conferences, such as the latest conference from INMA. Here, all the exciting talks about media were about things that had nothing do with US politics.

So, as a media analyst, having my Twitter stream filled with Trump related tweets is simply not helpful. It actually makes it harder for me to spot the real trends.

But this is not just about the media.

We even see this on a political scale.

There is a lot of talk about Trump and the environment, but what we forget is that the public has already changed. When Trump is talking about bringing back coal, we forget that that whole discussion is irellevant because the public are already demanding renewable energy.

So the trend is happening with or without him.

What Trump is doing to the media (and the rest of the US) is severely damaging the USA's reputation in the world. Remember, the USA's greatest strength in the past was its ability to export US culture.

For instance, Hollywood would never have been the Hollywood it is today, if it wasn't able to export US-style movies to the rest of the world.

But look at it today.

The US no longer looks like a shining example of progress in the world (think healthcare, obesity, living standards, income inequality, gun legislation, ethics and many other things), and this makes it harder for US publications to expand globally, and also to attract people from other places. A US centric culture is now an obstacle rather than a strength.

Finally, Trump is also hurting people's trust in the news. We see this quite clearly in several studies.

Remember though, when we say 'news' we are generally speaking about the type of stories published on the front page of the Washington Post (or similar). But, again, that is a tiny part of the realm of media.

For instance, do you trust the fitness magazine Men's Health? Or what about Sports Illustrated? You see how that whole question suddenly changes meaning.

So Trump is definitely hurting political media, or rather, he is dramatically polarizing its audience. But as soon as you look outside of that, the overall media trend is much less about Trump and far more about how we define the value we offer.

And when we look outside of the US, where there is an even bigger media world. How do the trends evolve here?

You see what I mean?

So, blocking Trump from Twitter is something that I absolutely recommend that you do, especially if you are working in the media. The exception is if you are the editor of a national newspaper or a political journalist, but most media people don't have that role.

The key is to bring balance back to Twitter, so that no single topic or person dominates your stream.

Blocking Trump (and Trump related tweets) will bring the value you once had on Twitter. It will allow to get out of the filter bubble you are currently in, to see more things that were drowned out before, and it will help your overall mood.

It won't stop you from learning about all the stupid things, but it will help you to not be dominated by them.

So... enjoy!

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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