How to Survive Your Tweet Going Viral in Trumpland

Of all the ways for a tweet to go viral, having one picked up by hardcore Donald Trump supporters is one of the less pleasant. But that was me over the weekend, when a five tweet thread I fired off late on Thursday night expressing my frustration at the Senate voting to avoid calling witnesses in the president’s impeachment trial.

Mostly, I wanted to let the gloating MAGA trolls making Twitter miserable know that at some point, the con that they’ve been drawn in by will unravel, and nobody will come to their rescue when it does. Basically, I called Trump voters an aspirational cult devoted to a con man who promised them riches and comfort, and is delivering nothing.

Here’s the first tweet in the thread. It’s pretty insulting, I must say:

It started going viral pretty much right away, and once I went to bed an hour later, it was piling up retweets by the hundreds. All told, the five tweets in the thread got 9,000 comments and 7,300 retweets total. I had almost two million Twitter impressions in two days, which is way way more than usual for me. In fact, it’s more than the vast majority of tweets get. We’re used to every day bringing a new Twitter superstar, and if you’re a high-profile person, this deluge of comments and retweets is probably what almost every tweet is like for you. But that’s not me.

Or at least not usually. This time, I went viral within both Trump lovers and Trump haters. But mostly Trump lovers. It was scary, fun, and a little disturbing. My mentions immediately became a firehose of people defending Trump, people agreeing with me, incoherent trolling, memes, gifs, insults, QAnon followers telling me I’m “triggered” and in a “panic” (I was neither!) and some truly disgusting stuff. It could have clogged up my Twitter and eaten my entire weekend, blocking and responding to everyone.

It could have made me crazy. Instead, I employed a few simple security measures, many of which didn’t exist until 2016, making going viral before then a real nightmare. More than that, I tried to take it all in stride. In the process, I learned a lot.

I also understand that my experience on Twitter is that of a white guy, and any public facing person who is not a white guy probably sees this tide of deranged conservative trolling every day. And I appreciate that I don’t.

In any case, just in case the president’s vocal and definitely not deranged and violent followers make a tweet of yours viral, here are a few things you should do and not do:

Do: congratulate yourself – you wrote something that engaged with people and rose above the ear-splitting white noise that makes up social media. That’s something!

Do: Lock down your notification filters – I can’t stress this enough. I’ve got my quality filter on, which everyone should, and also filter notifications from new or unconfirmed accounts. But when the tidal wave of comments started, I also filtered notifications from people who don’t follow me and who I don’t follow. This probably cut down on legitimate comments that I saw, but it had to be done. I could have even muted the entire conversation, but I didn’t feel like I had to. At that point, I was only seeing comments from accounts that I follow and who follow me: which slowed the firehouse down to a trickle. Of course, If I went to the tweet itself, I still saw the comments, and I did respond to some. But the vast majority came and went without me even knowing they existed.

Do: Take breaks – It can be addictive to watch the numbers climb on a viral tweet, and especially to see new followers finding you by the hundreds. But it’s important to walk away and do other things, or else you can waste a day just on responses to trolls.

Do: Respond to people who compliment you, if you can – just a fav on a complimentary comment will make you feel like the site isn’t just a cesspool of hate.

Do: Report threats – Anything that feels like a threat should be reported to Twitter, assuming you see it.

Don’t: Panic – it will die down eventually, and within a day or two, your mentions will be back to normal. Vitality and longevity don’t mix.

Don’t: Feel like you need or want to read every comment – most are garbage and should be ignored. If you miss a few that aren’t, or hurt someone’s feelings, it’s okay. Your priority is your own online experience, not other people getting their nose out of joint.

Don’t: Engage with obvious trolls – they want to draw you into endless circular arguments and get you to waste more of your time. Don’t bother, you can’t win and you don’t really want to, anyway.

Don’t: Respond to spam DMs – my DM’s are open for the purposes of interview requests and messages from people looking to get out of conspiracy belief. But if you don’t need to have open DM’s, don’t. And if you get someone wanting to argue with you via DM, just delete or report it.

Don’t: Turn your filters off just to see what it’s like – When the firehose started to die down, I pulled back on the filters, removing most of them. Within *seconds* I had a notification for comment calling Adam Schiff a necrophiliac. And the filters went back on immediately.

Don’t: Expect other tweets to go viral while one is – you might get a lot of new followers, but that doesn’t mean you’re a Twitter celebrity.

Don’t: Back down or apologize – I had a number of conspiracy believers warning me that my tweets “wouldn’t age well” and that I’d delete them. But deleting viral tweets only shows weakness and indicates that the trolling has gotten to you. That’s not to say you should never delete something, but generally speaking, these people don’t go away just because you backed down.

Ultimately, with Twitter actually having some decent tools to filter out harassment (though not all of it, by any means) going viral doesn’t have to be the terrifying train wreck that it was even just a few years ago. So you can sit back and watch your tweet worm its way around the internet, and be forgotten just as quickly.

Enjoyment and Edification

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