The Twitter Inc. logo is displayed on the company’s preliminary prospectus arranged for a photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Don’t Let the Trolls Get You Down

(Bloomberg View) -- I began sharing my work online two decades ago as one of the early financial bloggers. I started on Yahoo Geocities in the 1990s, Typepad in 2003, and finally on Wordpress at my own domain in 2008. That is where the Big Picture still resides.

In those days, blogs had robust comment communities. They were a terrific source of discussion and intellectual exchange. I even wrote the first draft of “Bailout Nation” with about 1,000 co-writers: the blog commenters who suggested ideas, links and breaking news. It was truly a collaborative process.

Alas, a classic case of the tragedy of the commons struck, rendering comments mostly worthless as they were overrun with spam advertising and trolls. Managing them was a giant time suck, with no effective technology solution. It was with some reluctance that I finally decided to close down my blog comments. For the same reasons, you will not find a comment section below my Bloomberg View columns.

The parallels to Twitter are readily apparent. Anonymity was a factor in the worst comment behaviors (racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, etc.), and we have seen similar behavior on Twitter. Arguably, blog comments were where the modern forms of “fake news” and FUD  blossomed before they invaded social media. I have previously argued that “unlike Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter hasn’t found a foolproof way to deal with its jerk factor.” 

Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive officer, seems to be making some progress in the company’s response as it begins cleaning up its act and banning some of the most egregious offenders. It has also given users more tools to help them avoid the worst of the trolls. This is good news for those of us in the financial community, as Twitter is a tremendous resource.

Reading discussions between a few law professors about their Twitter usage (see this and this) reminded me of this. Because I find Twitter to be enormously helpful, I want you to also take advantage of its resources. Here are a few ideas that can help you, too:

Do you want to produce or consume content? This is a key question to ask yourself. Be a consumer for a while before trying to be a producer. Creating worthwhile tweets is a thought-intensive, time-consuming process. My partner is up to 1 million followers on Twitter because his tweets are that rare combination of insightful and hilarious.

Get breaking news: When the Boston Marathon bombs went off, we first heard about it not on CNN or Reuters or the Associated Press, but Twitter. For traders and others for whom seconds matter, Twitter has become the new ticker. Bloomberg integrated a Twitter feed into the terminal for exactly that reason.

Create expert lists: Twitter’s list function is for me its most valuable innovation. I have a list of media outlets and journalists I follow, which I find very useful generally. Broad topics such as “economics” and “market related” are a firehose of information. I find more specific niche lists to be especially valuable. “Psychology and behavioral finance” practitioners who I follow are very useful to me; so is another list of “scientists and technologists.” “Comedians, music and entertainment” is another list worthwhile for off-duty time. I even have a list of all the members of my firm, just to stay up to date with what’s happening beyond our firm’s Slack account.

These lists are often my starting point for deeper research. The narrower and more focused your list is, the more manageable it is. Remember, your tweet streams are not a book that you must read until the last page, but rather a river that you can occasionally dip into. Refine your lists if they become overwhelming or not useful.

Enlist mutes, blocks (soft blocks, too) and reports: Use these tools to manage your flow and keep out the unruly elements. My rule is that I mute the annoying and block the intellectually dishonest. The truly dangerous and offensive jerks get reported (doing this helps the community police its worst elements). And you can import other people’s block lists via a free service called Block Together (but it can result in some false positives, meaning some blocks you may have wanted to keep).

I also have been known to “soft block” people, a quick block/unblock and mute so that a) they no longer follow me and b) I no longer see them. It reduces the jerk factor dramatically.

Avoid forecasters, too: When they are correct, it’s mostly random, and when they are wrong, the advice is hilariously expensive. Steer clear of the relentless self-promoters. When PR people tweet at me, I not only block them on Twitter, but I also blacklist them everywhere else I can.

Be wary of blocking people whose views are diametrically opposed to yours. Try to find people with whom you can respectfully disagree. This will encourage you to be civil and help you avoid creating your own biased ideological bubble.

Finally, keep clear of the jerks. The world has 8 billion people in it, and if only one-tenth of 1 percent are jerks, that is still 8 million people you don’t need in your life. Focus on the positive contributions made by the other 99.9 percent.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Barry Ritholtz is a Bloomberg View columnist. He founded Ritholtz Wealth Management and was chief executive and director of equity research at FusionIQ, a quantitative research firm. He blogs at the Big Picture and is the author of “Bailout Nation: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy.”

  1. Fear, uncertainty and doubt. It is a  disinformation strategy  used in sales, marketing, public relations, talk radio, politics, religious organizations and propaganda; in business, it is the deliberate attempt to use misinformation to intentionally put a competitor at a disadvantage.

For more columns from Bloomberg View, visit http://www.bloomberg.com/view.

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