Cleanup Over on Aisle #UniteBlue

by Karoli on March 3, 2013 · 374 comments

In the past week, more has come to light on the UniteBlue issues I raised here and here. I want to correct myself as well as give my final thoughts on the model of UniteBlue as a “force” online.

About the ConnectTheLeft Twitter Account

I originally contended that @EileenLeft was the owner of the ConnectTheLeft twitter account, based on her contention that she was. Subsequent to that, Simon (@SayethSimon) supplied a screenshot of his confirmation email from Twitter dated August 30, 2011 in his rebuttal, and then followed that up with a screenshot of a confirmation email received for the same account name on August 22, 2011 which ties with the date of creation given by this website.

Screen Shot 2013-03-03 at 1.26.03 PM

The fine print is where you see that the account now known as @UniteBlue was created on August 22, 2011. A second account with the username ConnectTheLeft was created in August, 2012 at the time the original account name was switched to UniteBlue.

EileenLeft has been preoccupied with her son, who is having health problems and had a very difficult surgery yesterday. However, in the face of what Simon has presented, it seems clear to me that he had control over the account from its inception. I wish he had just said so from the start, but whatever the communications issues might have been, I see no reason to doubt what he provided as proof of ownership, and neither did the UniteBlue folks.

In Eileen’s defense, she was not simply “inactive,” either. She was actively maintaining a Tumblr blog with alphabetical lists of those who were part of ConnectTheLeft, and her most recent update was in what appears to be December (Tumblr doesn’t publish the date, just a sort of vague “two months ago” marker). Therefore, I think we may have a situation where both people were right about their individual contentions with one exception: Simon was always in control of the Twitter “ConnectTheLeft” brand.

If @EileenLeft has a rebuttal, I will gladly publish it here, but for now I accept Simon’s evidence on its face. You should consider my original post to be superceded by this one with regard to the issue of who controlled the twitter account. The website was never an issue for me since I didn’t even know there was a website.

Why I still think UniteBlue is not right for me

Please, haters, note the header. Not right for me does not mean I am telling anyone else what they should do. I’ve gotten an earful about how divisive I’m being by not simply going with this and jumping on the bandwagon with everyone else. Here are MY reasons for avoiding it:

  1. I’m still bothered by the name change from ConnecttheLeft to UniteBlue at the handover point.

    As recently as Wednesday of last week, people were discovering they were following UniteBlue simply because they followed ConnecttheLeft before the name change. This is Twitter’s failure in many ways, because by allowing for flexible screen name changes without notifying followers, they’ve diluted the identity stream without any notice.

    What could UniteBlue have done? Well, they could have started with a new account instead of changing one that existed as a different entity and affinity group. They could have followed all of the ConnecttheLeft followers. That’s one possibility, and one that would at least have given people the option to follow or not follow with full knowledge.

    What could Twitter have done? Dropped a notification in the stream that the account ConnectTheLeft had changed its name to UniteBlue. At least that would have raised some awareness of the issue, though I also freely admit that notifications dropped in someone’s Twitter timeline aren’t always seen, particularly if one is using a client.

    DesertCroneNM articulates my concerns better than I have. Read it here

  2. The structure runs counter to everything I know about best practices on the web for individual users. 

    Take, for example, this snippet from their page regarding best practices, where they instruct new users to follow between 50-100 people per day, and where they will assign you to a list. You can move up the list by following other members.

    Here are some people who are not members of UB: Just about all 143 members of my “writers/editors” list, which includes some of the best and top thinkers in the progressive twittersphere. Most of them do NOT follow me and that’s all right with me, because I’m interested in what they’re saying, not whether they like me or think I’m worth following.

    One’s Twitterverse rapidly becomes an echo chamber when one limits who they follow to who follows UniteBlue, and it dilutes the purpose of UniteBlue as well.

  3. Anyone who unfollows people because they don’t follow back hasn’t figured out what Twitter is.

    A direct quote from their best practices/getting started FAQ:

    I have followed 2000 and can’t follow anymore.
    Tweet you’re at the 2000 limit and ask for follows. Then unfollow folks who don’t follow you.

    More on that follows in the question “Who should I unfollow?” Answer:

    Only unfollow folks who didn’t follow you back after a couple of days. Wait at least 72 hours for a follow-back. Try not to unfollow folks who have hit the 2000 limit and need followers to keep following.

    It’s the old “team followback” technique! Anyone who has ever been followed by one of those spambots knows the routine. They follow and wait, and then make a “grand statement” that they are unfollowing YOU because you didn’t follow them. Their stream is filled with crap like “thanks for the follow” or echoing links to algorithm-ready blog posts.

    This is Twitter 101, folks. Repeat after me: Twitter was made for asymmetrical following. It does not require the Facebook friending scheme.

  4. No protection against Block/Spam-Block techniques, despite the hype.

    From the same “Best practices” FAQ:

    UniteBlue believes Twitter is a great place to discuss politics, current events, and common interests. As a member of UniteBlue, you have allied yourself with like-minded liberals who want to not only share their opinions, but afford themselves with a measure of protection against being targeted by others who use the Block and SpamBlock feature inappropriately. We endeavor to rise above such practices and bring a modicum of respect back to political engagement on Twitter.

    Noble motives. Method questionable, and no one needs protection against spam-blocking if they’re engaging with “like-minded people.” Those who play the spamblock game don’t do it randomly. They’re engaging with someone they don’t like. Easy protection? Don’t engage with them, and if you choose to do so anyway, do it without ever using the “reply all” feature, because that is where they get the spamblock traction. It’s the unwanted serial mentions in a “reply all” strand, combined with the block/report feature being used that earns suspensions. Easiest way to avoid that is to engage with those “like-minded” people and build a little community before rushing out to slay right wing dragons.

    No one needs to do that by reciprocal follows and listbuilding. List-building is a technique for marketing, not community. They are different things.

Those factors, taken in the aggregate, run so counter to my idea of online community and how I use Twitter and other social media that UniteBlue does not interest me in the least, even if their motives are purer than the driven snow.

What marketing on Twitter does to community

Over the past three weeks, I’ve seen a pattern not only with UniteBlue but with other marketing efforts, and it’s one that probably makes Twitter a ton of money but does very little to enhance my user experience. My timeline becomes a rolling echo chamber of hashtags promoting products, services, websites and links, each one jumping past the next until I simply begin to ignore the timeline altogether and stick with lists.

I don’t see that as particularly good for anyone, since there’s no guarantee my lists are comprehensive or inclusive enough to pick up on what someone might say that’s worth talking about. But here’s the other part: Weekdays are when this happens. On the weekends, the conversation reverts to a much more organic and interesting level, where people are actually engaging, and tweeting interesting things, even when it’s just the game they’re watching or the TV show they’re tweeting.

During the week it’s just a river of marketing meh. Is that what we’re building here? Progressive marketing meh?

Count me out. And count me as one who admits an error when she made one, so to that end, I have now corrected what I said about Simon and the original account. I am also convinced UniteBlue is not some vast right wing conspiracy. They are not that. But they are marketing meh.

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