Should I protect my tweets?

Thinking about protecting your Twitter account? Here's a few reasons why you should.

When I signed up for a Twitter account in the summer of 2009 I spent some time thinking about whether or not I should protect my tweets. As a novice Twitter user, I had to decide whether the benefits of protecting my tweets outweighed the drawbacks. Looking back, I do not regret my decision to protect my tweets, and I'll tell you why.

When a person's tweets are protected, all followers of that person need to be approved by that person. This works in some ways the same as approving friends and colleagues on Facebook or LinkedIn. By protecting my tweets, I would be able to fend off spammers and bots on Twitter. As I understand it, bots on Twitter are computer programs that automatically send you an @message if your tweets include certain keywords.

If spammers and bots see any advantage to being able to follow me, I want no part of that. The downside to protecting my tweets is that they are not findable by people who are searching Twitter. My tweets also cannot be easily retweeted using the retweet button on Twitter. However, my tweets can be retweeted via standard copy and paste, which is fine by me. Just because I protect my tweets does not mean I don't want my tweets to be retweeted.

Several friends of mine have tried to convince me that by protecting my tweets I am being antisocial. I see it as quite the opposite. By protecting my tweets I am fending off spammers and enhancing the Twitter experience for others. Every person who follows me is someone I have accepted as a follower. By and large, these tend to be quite thoughtful people working as librarians, educators, journalists, free and open-source software advocates and nonprofit change-makers. If those are the kinds of people you'd like to follow, browse through my followers list to see if you find people you want to follow. My followers list is viewable to any and all – as is the list of people that I myself follow. As you might imagine, there is a quite a large overlap between these two lists, as I tend to follow people who follow me back.

I came to the conclusion that I needed to protect my tweets when I went to look at the people following Tim O'Reilly, founder of O'Reilly Media and one of the most interesting thinkers on Twitter. Tim's tweets are quite fascinating, but even more fascinating are the tweets of people who follow Tim – the people who think that Tim's tweets are fascinating. Locating those people is nearly impossible, though, because Tim's followers list is polluted with so many spammers and bots. Finding real people in that list could take you hours and hours.

One last reason I protect my tweets is by looking at the kinds of other people on Twitter who protect their tweets. This is currently a very small percentage, smaller than one percent of all Twitter users. Yet if you examine the kinds of people who protect their tweets, a large majority of these people are what I would characterize as deeply thoughtful people. If deeply thoughtful people tend to protect their tweets, then maybe my decision to protect my tweets was a sound one.

I should mention one other drawback to protecting your tweets. Some third-party Twitter services do not work if your tweets are protected. I find this to be mildly annoying, but not a large problem. I can get by quite well without those services. The third-party Twitter service I find most useful, Manage Flitter, works fine for Twitter accounts that are protected.

Twitter itself provides very little guidance or advice on whether you should protect your tweets. Perhaps Twitter might link to this blog post in their settings page to help Twitter newcomers with this decision.

The author is an educator and community-builder in the Washington DC-area. He can be reached at philshapiroblogger@gmail.com and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/philshapiro

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