Much-loved film critic Roger Ebert died on Thursday after a long battle with thyroid cancer. Surgery in 2006 had left him unable to speak, but he continued to be a prominent user of social media, and Twitter was a particular favourite.
Indeed, after some initial resistance, with Ebert proclaiming that he would “never become a Twit” and that Twitter represented “the end of civilisation”, he would go on to write more than 30,000 tweets before his death.
In a 2010 entry for the Chicago Sun-Times, the newspaper where he had been writing about movies since 1967, Ebert outlined how he used Twitter. There’s a lot to learn from and admire here (and I urge you to read the article in full), especially for newcomers to the platform.
Roger Ebert’s 8 Rules For Using Twitter
1. “I tweet in basic English.”
“Twitter is now a part of my daystream. I check in first thing every morning, and return at least once an hour until bedtime. I’m offline, of course, during movies, and don’t even usually take my iPhone.”
2. “I avoid abbreviations and ChatSpell.”
“One of the problems with written notes and computer voices is that, by their nature, their timing doesn’t work. I used to have good timing. Now in real life a conversation will be whizzing along and a line will pop into my head and by the time I write it down and get someone to read it, the moment and the context will have disappeared. Often everything will grind to a halt while I remind people what I was referring to. With a Tweet, what you are saying is all right there. Not an interruption. Not late. Not badly timed. Just itself. I can have timing on Twitter that is impossible to me in life.”
3. “I go for complete sentences.”
“I like people who tweet great links. I follow a lot of men, but I’m convinced women make the best tweeters. They tweet more about life, and less about facts. All I can say is, if I follow you, that speaks for itself.”
4. “I try to make my links worth a click.”
“There are millions of Tweeters, or Twits, as I prefer to think of us, and no doubt many of them are bores. Try reading the real-time stream if you dare. Those I follow give value for time. I’ll get a retweet from someone, and if I like it, I’ll go to that person’s Twitter page and scan 20-30 Tweets and make a judgment call. Some of my discoveries may only have a dozen followers, but I have a sixth sense. What I look for are people who generate a fair percentage of Tweets while speaking in their own voices.”
5. “I am not above snark, no matter what I may have written in the past.”
“Twitter for me performs the function of a running conversation. For someone who cannot speak, it allows a way to unload my zingers and one-liners.”
6. “I tweet my interests, including science and politics, as well as the movies.”
“I actually go looking for stuff to tweet. I have good friends who suggest things. I will tweet a link someone suggests on this blog. I will tweet good lines from comments here (with credit). I like to retweet.”
7. “I try to keep links to stuff on my own site down to around 5 or 10%.”
“When you think about it, Twitter is something like a casual conversation among friends over dinner: Jokes, gossip, idle chatter, despair, philosophy, snark, outrage, news bulletins, mourning the dead, passing the time, remembering favorite lines, revealing yourself.”
8. “I try to think twice before posting.”
“I’ve made a change recently. After writing my blog and reading two recent articles about internet addiction, I have looked hard at my own behavior. For some days now I have physically left the room with the computer in it, and settled down somewhere to read. All the old joy came back, and I realized the internet was stealing the reading of books away from me. Reading is calming, absorbing, and refreshing for the mind after hectic surfing.”
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