How to Use Twitter to Actually Learn Stuff About the World

By: Emma Jones

I avoided using Twitter for a really long time. I found the interface really confusing at first, and didn’t know how to manage my feed in order to actually see stuff I cared about. But after many months messing around with my account, I’ve found that Twitter is actually a super cool place to engage with people who are doing interesting things all over the world. Here are some tips on how to use Twitter to its fullest!

1. Follow cool people. This one is obvious--the trick is figuring out who those cool people are and which ones you want to hear from. It’s up to you to curate exactly what kind of content you want to see, so I won’t try and recommend any specific people to you, but here are some general categories I recommend looking into.

a. Politicians and other people involved in politics. If you’re interested in following the movers and shakers of the political world, following politicians on Twitter is a good place to start. I found, however, that a lot of politicians don’t really manage their own accounts, and tend to publish a lot of fluffy public relations content, which really frustrated me. If you’re really interested in the nitty-gritty stuff, I recommend looking one step further at the people slightly more peripherally involved in politics. Campaign managers or campaign staff (you can often find this information online if you’re willing to look around a bit) are a good place to start. I also have found that unsuccessful candidates from races that are already finished can have some really spicy takes on stuff that the government (ie the people who beat them) is doing.

b. Journalists and authors. Lots of writers have taken to Twitter as a way to increase their public presence, which is a really cool opportunity to basically get bonus free content from them on the Internet. Commentators and reporters will often share their stuff on Twitter, so if you particularly enjoy someone’s work, it’s a great way to get notified as soon as they write something new. You can also bookmark stuff on Twitter, or direct message it to yourself if you see something while scrolling and want to save it for later. I especially recommend following local journalists in your area. They will often tweet about breaking news, local politics, or other stuff that could be super relevant to you.  

c. Scientists. There is super cool science content on Twitter! As someone in a liberal arts program, I’m always looking for ways to get a little bit of science into my life, and Twitter has been great for this. Lots of scientists will tweet short, super accessible things about new breakthroughs, common scientific misconceptions, or just cool facts.

d. Follow people from different countries. It’s clichéd now to talk about how the Internet is bringing the world closer together, but it’s true and you should take advantage of it! Following people who live in countries that vastly differ from your own can really help to give you an understanding of their day-to-day lives.

e. Follow people who tweet in different languages. If you speak another language and want some practice with it, Twitter is a cool way to do that. It’s a big world, and obviously, not everyone who uses Twitter speaks English. You can practice your second-language reading comprehension in very manageable chunks by following people who tweet in different languages!

f. Reach outside of your echo chamber. This is the one I find the most challenging. It’s hard to resist the impulse to follow a bunch of people you already know about, who you already agree with, and who are unlikely to challenge any of the beliefs you hold right now. There’s definitely still value to gaining more information or insight into opinions you already hold, but I really recommend challenging yourself to engage with content you don’t necessarily agree with. Follow people from political parties you don’t associate yourself with. Follow commentators who often present perspectives you don’t share. It can be super frustrating to encounter a bunch of content that is completely opposite to your own thoughts, so you don’t have to go overboard and fill your feed with things that are going to make you mad, but keeping your feed at least a little bit varied will help you stay tuned in to what the rest of the world is thinking. It’s also a great opportunity to engage critically with your own beliefs.

2. Read the replies. On that note, I also recommend reading the replies on tweets (at least sometimes). As much as comment sections on the Internet can become a cesspool of hatred and really offensive content, they also sometimes provide a glimmer of insight into the conversations that are being had in the real world. Don’t be afraid to open up some threads and see what people are saying. If it’s all gross and hateful, just close it again.

3. Make sure to log off sometimes. Scrolling endlessly day after day will probably lead to a lot more burnout than genuine learning. Just remember to give yourself space to reflect on the stuff you read, explore at least some issues in more depth than the Twitter character limit can go, and sometimes just take a break from the constant swirl of back-and-forth. Twitter can be a great gateway into understanding the world, but don’t let Twitter become your entire world.

Emma Jones