Monday, June 18, 2012

An Open Apology for Twitter Behavior Unbecoming

This post has been percolating a week and I’m still not sure where it is going. I want to start with the meat of the matter. I want to apologize to anyone on Twitter who has interpreted any of my tweets to be rude, inappropriate, or creepy. Those are the words that have been directed at me, so that’s what I’m going to say although I must admit that Creepy bothers me the most.

The backstory: I’ve been active on Twitter about 18 months now. I’ve made some great connections and recieved some outstanding opportunities from connections made on Twitter. This story is unfortunately about the opposite side of the equation. 

Sometime in the past month, I’d discovered someone missing from my timeline. We all know that Twitter occasionally unfollows people for us. So I tried following her but the program said I was blocked. I’ve also experienced that before where I was blocked by accident, so I sent a message from another account asking about it. She never answered and that account was blocked.  At that point it was obvious to a blind man that I'd done something that makes her not want to have any connection to me. Unfortunately, I had no idea what. I tried to shrug it off. I even solicited advice from Twitter and they all told me to ignore it and press on. I tried, I really did, but for some reason, I couldn’t accept the situation as it was. This is someone I thought of as a friend. I’d never met her in person, but we’d had a lot of good interactions. In 20/20 hindsight, I’m glad I asked even if I don’t like the answer. 

Knowing the person wasn’t going to see a tweet from me, I found an email address from earlier interactions and sent a request to find out what I had done wrong? Here’s a portion of the request:
…I don't want to argue or bring drama into your life. I just know that we have had many friendly conversations. I assume whatever I did wrong is something I can apologize for or correct. I also know I can never correct the behavior if I don't know what I did wrong.

I’m not sure how she would feel about me quoting her response, so I’m going to paraphrase it:
During the past few months, you’ve sent some inappropriate and/or sexual tweets to me or others in conversations I was watching. It wasn’t all the time, but enough that I noticed. I didn’t think you meant them in a hurtful way, but it finally got to the point where I couldn’t handle following you anymore. I didn’t think we were close enough friends to confront you about it. To a certain extent, I think it may be generational. I did the easiest thing which was to block you. I really wasn’t sure about answering this query, but there have been times we did get along on Twitter so out of respect for those times I responded. Now, I must insist you leave me alone.

My response (in part):
As you surmised, I did not mean to make you uncomfortable. So I am sorry for that.
Frankly I wish you would have said something before it got this far. Yes, this is a learning experience for me. Messages that sound ok in my voice, don't carry as well in text. 

That was a tough day for me. In many ways I was more confused not less. I’d always thought of my tweets as light-hearted and funny. Yes, some of the tweets had sexual overtures, but they were meant to be funny. I’m a 50 year old, married man; I’m not flirting with anyone.

This is a new means of communication for me. I’ve been sending emails & posting on various forums for a long time. But Text messages and short-form character limited chat is new to me. I thought I was identifying jokes appropriately with emoticons and/or LoL. ROTFL, etc. As most children do, I learned by mimicking those around me.

After the exchange above, I actually tweeted a question to see who else may have felt the same way. One person was brave enough to speak up. Since those tweets are in the public record, I’m going to quote them here. My messages start with J:; their messages with X: (for no reason other than to be random).

X: Personally I find your random sexual overtones in conversations not involving you highly inappropriate, creepy, and a titch crazy.
J: I got a ? about "conversations not involving you." We're all posting in the clear here. How do you tell you're not wanted?
X: It is NEVER, EVER okay to make sexual innuendoes / allusions to any one if the conversation is not directed SPECIFICALLY at you.
X: You may think you're flirting, but many of us feel like you're being predatorily and creepy.
J: I'd like to talk more in a longer form. Please email me an example 7shore on gmail. I don't want anybody to be upset w me.
X: No, I'm not emailing you. I'll put it in this context: You're at a bar. You two two girls having a conversation. You eavesdrop.
X: You jump in the conversation and input something wholly inappropriate and unwarranted. They would tell you to feck off.
X: You ask Y U NO TALK TO ME? It's because you don't sound like a flirty, fun having guy, you sound like a sexual predator.

I still wish she was willing to converse in a longer form. I understand her analogy, but I cannot for the life of me recall a single incidence that seems anything like that scenario. I looked back over one month's tweets and didn't find an example.

I’m still uncertain about how an open Twitter conversation becomes a private event I’m eavesdropping on. As I said, I’m mimicking what I’ve seen. Plenty of conversations start back & forth between 2 people, and then a 3rd or 4th join in and you see tweets running out of space because of all the twitter handles included to keep everyone in.

As I tweeted in response to another question: Because we're all screaming in the parking lot, it is easy for someone (especially me) to butt in where they're not wanted.

I don’t remember ever being the first to bring sexual innuendo into a conversation. I still don’t know why some people took my messages as creepy. 

Here’s what I learned that day and what I decided to do about it:
Some people use Twitter for professional connections. Others chat like they're hanging at the corner bar chatting with the guys. I've been both. I want to continue to be both, but I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable by my actions. So I split into two accounts. One for just Librarians; a professional account for professional conversations. The other for everyone in which I’m free to make jokes with a sexual aspect if I want to. 

Please highlight that aspect. I’m here to joke. That’s my personality. . I like to chat, banter, & party, but it isn't right for everyone and it isn't right with everyone. I do answer serious questions with serious answers, but I also love to joke around. If I can make a smart-alec, sarcastic response, I will.

I thank those who responded with direct concrete answers and I apologize to everyone I may have offended. It was purely unintentional. 

I really wish this had been handled before it got out of control. I wish someone had responded to one of those tweets with “I really don’t think that is an appropriate response to this conversation.” I got plenty of feedback in the line of LoL or ;-), or HaHa. Priceless. Responses that told me the joke had worked. As a comic, I can tell when the audience is going against me and I can change the direction. On Twitter, I only ever got positive response not negative. Communicating with people is the only way to learn. I hope should this come up for you, you'll share your point of view. Everyone won't listen, but those that do will learn something about themselves.

I’ve been appropriately chastised and I have changed my direction. I will be more sensitive in the future and resist the urge to respond immediately with a joke unless I’m 100% sure that it will be appreciated.

I wish anyone that can explain why I was taken as creepy could provide a concrete example. Also because this post won’t be seen by the people that I really need to apologize, I’d like you to advertize it widely.

Apologies again to anyone I may have offended. I assure you it was not my intention.


  1. Hey J, I understand your consternation about things that you tweet, and the "unintended audience" problem. I recently found out that my actual daughter is "highly embarrassed" about my tweets, particularly the ones that concern "my friend that dances".

    Somehow she thinks that I am not treating her correctly, when the honest truth is, she is not even in the equation at all.

    I had a blog post from last summer, one that I think was some of the best writing that I had ever done, about riding my motorcycle of all things, that caused someone who followed me on Twitter, because I am a fan of NASCAR, who blocked me, only saying that she did not want to read "boudoir material". She has come back and followed me again recently, but, I am careful not to post anything that might be misconstrued. The funny thing was/is, it was the blog post that set her off, not anything that I tweeted.

    So, I wish you luck in this direction. I noticed this weekend that it looked like I had "lost" about 40ish followers since the last time I looked, maybe a month ago. I guess that all my posts about going to see my friend that dances has put them off.

    We live and we learn. Know this, I was never offended by anything that you posted, and if it was in rsponse to my own salacious posts that got you in hot water, My apologies to you.

    Lee Flowers

  2. Two days after publication: On the day of publication, I got a lot of feedback. I've seen examples of what was considered creepy. I've come to understand it, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. It doesn't mater what I think about the post. If I've upset anyone, then I've failed at my goal to entertain.
    I've learned a lot about myself and the society that is Twitter.

  3. "I did the easiest thing which was to block you." No, that's wrong. The easy thing to do to stop seeing someone's tweets is to unfollow them. Blocking goes beyond unfollowing. Based on what I read, you were treated unfairly, but in the Twitter world with hundreds of followers, an occasional block is likely par for the course. Don't let it bother you.

    I myself have blocked one person. That person was simply harassing me on a regular basis at the time. I saw his tweet feed and saw that he regularly attacked person after person repeatedly for following a certain Christian organization he was defaming. You see, I follow lots of people from all sides, just like anyone else does; following does not imply endorsement. I tried to reason with him first and the harassment died down. Then a week later it just picked up where it left off. So I blocked him.

    1. Blame that on my paraphrasing -- She said that unfollowing wasn't good enough because I would respond to conversations that included her as an addressee. Only blocking kept her from seeing my inappropriate behavior.

      For the record, I understand why she blocked me. I can't say I was treated unfairly. I think I felt more friendly towards her than she towards me.

      Before anyone reads something sexual into that, I'm simply talking about the interactions of two adult humans. We've all had the experience of disliking someone as soon as we've met them. By the same token, we don't always match each others feelings. That's all I'm saying.

    2. And I'll add this. As we all know, communicating via Twitter is not the same as communication face to face. Subtleties and such, common in face-to-face communication, is completely absent in Twitter and like electronic communication means. Misunderstandings are easier to start and harder to stop online.

      Further, people might be extra wary online due to the anonymous nature of electronic media. As a result, people may have a shorter willingness to continue an online conversation. If everyone treated everyone nicely, people would likely give others a lot more leeway. Alas, electronic media seems to be ideal for anonymous troublemakers. As a result, people are less tolerant of kidding around.

      Assuming mere common playfulness, others may overreact. Given electronic media, I can't say that I can blame anybody. Myself I try to probe for malicious intent as I did with that guy who harassed me on Twitter. I actually quieted the problem for a week. Only when he repeated his behavior after our communication did I cut him off.

      Anyway, that's my immediate thoughts.

  4. Update. That person I said harassed me and many others so I blocked him? I have learned that his Twitter account has been suspended by Twitter.

  5. A good blog post on the topic