An idiot's guide to Twitter

As the social media platform moves into its second decade, We Are Social looks back at classic Twitter errors

Members of the British government have recently come under heavy tax scrutiny, and tweets of yore have come back to bite them on the backside. (Yes, we’re talking to you, David Cameron.) This is "Bad Tweeting 101," a completely avoidable misfire from the PM.

We’re now officially in the second decade of tweeting. It seems almost unfathomable: Twitter feels so fresh, and yet, even after such a long stretch in the sunshine, certain people are struggling to master the basics.

What’s needed here is a refresher course, so we thought we’d run through some of the rules again, just in case you’re still in the dark about what you should/shouldn’t be saying/doing online.

Don’t confuse Twitter with a Google search bar

As the politician Ed Balls will probably attest to, just unwittingly writing your name into a Twitter feed can morph into an impossible-to-shift and humiliating act of self-sabotage.

His defense was that he was absent-mindedly searching for an article posted about him, but that’s where the lesson is to be learned. Take Twitter seriously, and always concentrate on what you’re writing. You could end up looking like a right plum (see also: Goldie Hawn).

Don’t over-estimate your popularity

2014 will forever be the year when Rita Ora seriously misjudged her online clout.

To refresh your memory, "The X Factor" judge had a new single coming out, and thought she’d engage her millions of disciples by declaring that she’d release it the following Monday if she got 100,000 retweets.

Fewer than 2,000 retweets later, the original message disappeared.

Don’t trust technology

Microsoft ended up with very eggy faces when their AI chatbot Tay morphed into a venomous right-winger spewing forth all kinds of offensive rhetoric.

The poor robot may have been the victim of IRL internet trolls, but the lesson is a powerful one that stretches even beyond man and his Frankenstein’s Monsters — it’s that you shouldn’t entrust your feed to someone (or something) you don’t have an implicit understanding of. Anything can happen.

Always check your hashtags

The problem when you clump a load of words together behind a hashtag is that they might form other, ruder words without you realizing — just look at Susan Album Party, which looks innocuous enough, until you get rid of the spaces, and suddenly Su is having an Anal Bum Party and everyone is invited (#susanalbumparty).

Think of every hashtag as a Countdown conundrum that needs to be carefully studied from all angles and gently prodded with a stick.

Always check that you’ve got the date right

It’s an unspoken truth that big companies will schedule their tweets in advance, which clearly flies in the face of the ramshackle spontaneity of all things Twitter, but that’s just how it is.

The key is to make this as subtle as possible, to not bound into the room clanging a pan, singing Happy Birthday before anyone’s had a chance to say, "Surprise!" yet.

So, give Tower Bridge a slow hand clap for somehow mistiming New Year. The lesson here is all about attention to detail.

Consider your future

The problem with Twitter is that it’s like a gigantic database of your thoughts and opinions that will lurk in cyberspace forever — so bear in mind that, at any time, you could be sucker punched in the nuts by a tweet from the olden days.

Not that Donald Trump seems to remotely care about that kind of thing, of course. But some voters should possibly take note.

That’s really just the tip of the iceberg; we didn’t have time to explain how Twitter doesn’t always understand sarcasm (which is just brilliant), or that you shouldn’t take Beefy’s lead and tweet your privates, and that you definitely shouldn’t over-hashtag #do #not #over #hash #t #a #g.

Josh Burt is a senior writer at We Are Social.

This article first appeared on

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