I’ve just read another blog post about someone who was accused of arrogance for not following people on Twitter just because they happen to follow him. And it’s driving me crazy – crazy enough to have left a comment on his post, and crazy enough to adapt it below.

There are many people out there who will tell you it’s a hard-and-fast rule of etiquette: if you don’t follow back, you’re a boor. (Some of them have suggested it’s a crime.)

This arbitrary law of mandatory reciprocity actually makes Twitter less useful, because unless you’re incredibly lucky, there are going to be people who follow you who aren’t that interesting to you. Maybe they tweet about their cats all day. Maybe they’re zealots for a religion, a political view or an operating system (cough) that you don’t believe in, share or use. Maybe their entire Twitter feed is devoted to complaints that other people don’t follow them back.

Or maybe they’re following a few dozen people, but you have several thousand following you, and if you follow them all back, then it’s going to flood your feed and you’ll miss some conversations you’d really like to have.

The functional purpose of following someone is because you want to hear what they have to say. That’s why Twitter created the feature; that’s how they suggest you use it.

If you just want to show your appreciation to someone for having followed you, then courtesy already offers a tool for that: the thank-you. It’s been around for millennia, and it has the virtue of being unambiguous. Twitter’s pretty good at delivering it, too.

What’s being invented here with the creation of arbitrary rules like following back isn’t etiquette; it’s a whole bunch of new reasons to take offense at someone else’s behaviour. And when we tell people have to make a tool less useful in the name of being polite (which is what demanding that people use lists to follow the people they’re actually interested in boils down to), all we’re doing is throwing up barriers to genuine connection and conversation.

Isn’t that the opposite of why we have courtesy in the first place?

 First ancestor of the social media consultant.