How To Not Mess Up Online (and How To Apologize If You Do)

One of the jobs I think I’m very good at is not messing up online. A friend referred to my Twitter presence as controlled chaos - it may seem like I’m just going out there and posting whatever (I am), but there is a layer of control to it where I know exactly what lines not to cross, what not to post, what not to retweet, and so on.

I used to be quite guarded with what I posted, in particular due to one time where my boss got mad at me for having a cordial yet direct conversation with a Harmonix employee about Rock Band’s DLC (seriously). I kept it relatively simple on Twitter for a while (until I left that job), then let my freak flag fly when I realized that reporters actually follow and talk to regular human beings versus weird PR automatons. They like it! They like real people, and they like to talk to real people about real things. As long as you’re not endlessly gross, most don’t mind.

I briefly pulled things back in 2018 when the following tweet lost me a seat at the table with a potential big client - ironically one that refers to “zero friction, omnichannel communication” - because the head of marketing read it and was offended. I will tell you how much the amount was a month I didn’t get in private. It was enough that I am still mad.

There was definitely a level of embarrassment to go with it - the feeling that you are stupid, and you have said a stupid thing that cost you money - but also the general feeling that any client that would not hire you because of a single, inoffensive tweet is probably one that is not worth working with.

Nevertheless, I kept the F-word from my tweets for a while, and then realized it really didn’t matter at all, because someone who’s going through your tweets is likely looking for a confirmation to not work with you versus a reason to get to know you.

I have led with the negative rather than the positive - I have also met large amounts of reporters and got and kept clients as a result of being on Twitter, because ultimately Twitter can be a great place to post, and ultimately people want to hire real people that have followings and conversations and connections, the latter of which Twitter is great at. It’s a quick and easy way to connect with someone and is more likely to create a real conversation.

So, how should you post on Twitter?

Be Yourself (To An Extent)

The first evaluation you should make with what you post Twitter is how likely the person paying you is to look at it, and then if they were to look at it, how likely would they be to care. In most cases, one or both of these are fairly low, unless you’re working for a person who thinks they’re extremely online but is actually a Brian Solis huckster-type that just posts and retweets the most guarded, boring marketing crap in the world.

Post your lunch, or a funny link, or a picture of your dog, or retweet some cool shit you saw. Post funny things you see, and quote tweet and comment on stuff you see that you like. Respond to people’s tweets with your thoughts, but don’t automatically correct/argue with them (I’ll get to that shortly).

Follow people that you genuinely find interesting, but also people you would like to meet someday, just because that may actually happen and they’ll notice if you do or don’t follow them.

What To Do If You’re Mad (And When To Log Off)

So, the best thing you can do if you’re mad - especially at something on Twitter - is to not post. Don’t post! If you’re in a bad mood, don’t post. Don’t go online. If you’re finding Twitter is upsetting you, don’t go on Twitter, have some self-control. If someone you follow is annoying, unfollow them, or mute them so that they don’t get their feelings hurt.

But really, the easiest thing you can do when you’re feeling emotional is simply not log on at all. It’s so easy. You can’t post if you’re not on the place for posts. And if you’re emotional and angry, you’re likely to say stuff you’ll regret, and without a career of working out what you can and can’t post, you’re going to make mistakes.

Hell, I’ve made a billion posts, and I still try and avoid Twitter when I’m mad. It’s not worth it. Nothing you say when pissed off is going to really help you. You can make some passionate, meaningful statements when you’re able to control your temper, but that’s playing with fire.

A good exercise for any person posting is to calculate their reaction based on the stimulus.

For example, if someone disagrees with you, is your reaction that they should literally die? Or get hit by a bus? Or hurt in some way? Probably a good time to not post, and indeed a time to stop posting for a bit. Cool off.

Talking about a situation and find yourself describing it in terms that involve a lot of swearing and a lot of ill-wishes? Again, great time to not post that, and, indeed, to log off and not post for a bit until you relax.

Generally, if your reaction to someone is laced with poison and anger, it’s a point to take a step back and wonder why you’re reacting like that and not, say, calmly. It’s probably not even about their post. It’s you! Something happened to you, and you’re reacting to it in another place.

You never have to make any post ever, and you definitely shouldn’t make one when you’re angry.

Don’t Immediately Argue

Following people and replying to them is fine, and good, and honestly what to do. Have real conversations with people, and be aware that they may disagree or agree with you, and you should try and act and react normally to these things. You can say something sucks, but don’t make that your opening gambit to someone you’re just getting to know - if they don’t know you and their first introduction to you is either you shitting on something they like or correcting something they said, that’s your first impression, and it’ll stick forever.

Post whatever you want as long as it’s not gross or mean. Sports stuff is fine - even opinionated stuff like “Carson Wentz is not remotely worth the kind of trade that the Lions got for Matt Stafford,” and people may or may not agree with you, or even respond. That’s fine! If they disagree, don’t say “you’re a moron” or other stuff like that.

A fairly good rule for online arguments is to realize that you are 99% of the time not going to change someone’s opinion, and even if you do, what value is there? If it’s a fairly benign conversation about sport, sure, say some stat stuff, and if they disagree that’s fine.

In fact, here’s a great rule: we are in a beautiful world of different opinions, and in the case of sports, or food, or games, or whatever, there’s no harm in someone disagreeing.

Politics

Though I don’t do this, I’d recommend not talking about politics online. If you do, keep it simple, and non-confrontational - I like Joe Biden, Joe Biden is good, cool. If you’re conservative, well, I don’t agree with you and I’d say now’s one of the worst times in the world to say “oh I love the GOP,” not that I have ever believed there’s a good time to say that, nor be a conservative, but also this is my newsletter.

Politics is a fractious world, and arguing about it is like trying to convince someone God does or doesn’t exist. If someone doesn’t believe everyone should have a roof over their head and be able to eat as a human right, they are probably not going to suddenly agree that that is the case, because they are lacking in basic human empathy. And it isn’t your job to convince them.

It is so easy to avoid the bait with this stuff. If someone says they’re “just asking questions,” what they actually mean is “I am trying to be racist” or “I love to be contrarian.” They don’t actually want an answer to the questions they are “just asking,” they want to draw you into a circular, unproductive debate where they’re just going to cherry-pick stuff and you’re just going to get mad.

If you post you like something that Joe Biden did and someone replies he sucks, just ignore it. It’s fine. Move on. Joe Biden doesn’t care, and neither should you. People are gonna disagree with you.

You can approach these subjects - but you just have to realize you are playing with fire if you veer into certain ones.

In my case, I am a constant pro-medicare for all person, and I talk about that proudly and loudly. If someone disagrees with me, I will just ignore them or say 𝙎𝙃𝙐𝙏 𝘿𝘼 𝙁𝙐𝘾𝙆 𝙐𝙋 because I don’t really care about their opinion - I believe that universal healthcare is a human right and no weirdo chud (or centrist) is going to convince me.

You too can post opinions like this that are generally pro-humanity - which is a good way to gauge whether you should say a political opinion. Is it something that would, by and large, benefit the human race? Then it’s fine! Good stuff. If you’re saying that we need to kick homeless people off the streets, that is not something pro-humanity, that’s actually anti-humanity.

Another example would be discussing the issues with crime and homelessness in San Francisco. I have seen a lot of tech bros talk about the homeless as a problem without the empathetic edge of “we need to give these people homes, and we need to give them their lives back through X Y Z,” as they usually go to the “we have shit and piss and needles on the street!!! It’s unsafe!!!”

It’s perfectly reasonable to not like your streets to have pee or poo on them. But this is a great time to also ask: who the fuck cares if you talk about that? What are you adding to the world by complaining about it? What does your tweet about how bad the streets in San Francisco add beyond more grist for the mill of people who think the homeless are the problem versus a symptom of a problem of equality?

If you read that and are frustrated that you have to add extra bits to a post about something - welcome to not messing up online! Welcome to being a full human being! That’s what this is all about!

Now, I totally get if some people say “but I like to talk about politics!” to which I say “sure, but recognize what comes with doing so.” Furthermore, please, please read up on what you’re actually talking about, and read a lot about it. And even then…why? Why do you need this in your life? Do you really need the conversation?

I got into this problem previously, but there is this weird pull that social media has that makes people think they have to discuss stuff. This isn’t the case! You don’t even have to post! There’s no need! Politics is totally fine to keep to yourself.

What To Do When Things Go Wrong

I previously said to not log on when you’re mad at something, but everybody makes mistakes. Maybe it’s that you told someone to go fuck themselves because they said that Rated R is the best Queens of the Stone Age album, or you genuinely hurt someone’s feelings that you work with, or you posted something off-color and everyone got mad at you.

Everything is relative, so I’ll start with the relatively minor stuff - you pissed someone off, you annoyed them, you overreacted, and so on - for the most part, the easiest thing you can do is simply say “man I overreacted, I’m sorry.” The person may not care that you are sorry, but you have now covered it for everyone watching - people are terrified of apologies, but really, seriously, just directly saying you’re sorry and acknowledging your screwup is fine. Most people are empathetic enough to know that emotions can run high, even in the case of stupid subjects, probably due to totally unrelated circumstances.

Just say sorry! Hell, you may make a bunch of pissed off posts about something. Just post afterwards that you had a rough day and that you went over the top.

Depending on the severity of said madness, it’s likely to just disappear. Hell, in most cases it’ll disappear. But some people, when pissed off online, can go overboard - especially novice posters - and speak hyperbolically, saying things like “I hope they die” and whatnot.

Regardless of what happened, a direct, transparent apology is always good. This also applies in real life.

Most people make the following mistakes with apologies:

  1. They try and dance around actually apologizing. Example: “I’m sorry I did X, but they were doing Y Z.” The “but” almost always eradicates the content of the apology. The justifications for whatever you did never help.

  2. They don’t actually apologize. Example: “I’m sorry that my actions made you feel that way.” The right way to say that is “it wasn’t my intention to cause this reaction, but I did, and I was ignorant, and I am sorry.”

  3. They don’t give a substantive apology. If you messed up and it was a complex situation, try and line-by-line explain the events that took place and take responsibility for everything. Say what happened objectively, transparently and in as much detail as you’re comfortable giving if such detail is necessary. If the answer is “I had a bad day cause my tummy hurt and I did doodoo and I felt bad” then, I dunno, maybe just say you had a rough day. If you had a corporate breach, explain in as clear a way as possible exactly what happened. If you said something dumb because you were ignorant, say that, and then nothing else.

    Basically, imagine how you would want to be apologized to. If someone does something really shitty, you probably just want a full apology, and then you’re gonna stay mad. If someone messes up something work-related, you’re going to want to know both how it happened and how it won’t happen again.

  4. They keep going. Most apologies need to get the apology out there and stop. Please stop apologizing once you’ve apologized. Oftentimes you do not need more detail, and if you do, it’s probably a bad idea to give it.

  5. They don’t realize that apologies aren’t always accepted. A classic mistake with people who apologize is that they immediately assume that everything will be fine. It won’t! You messed up! You’re in the doghouse! I recommend taking a day or two off Twitter, or more if you really badly messed up.

And, after all of these, you mostly just have to stay quiet. People are going to stay mad at you, and you’re just going to have to shut up. Don’t log on. People are going to keep bringing it up for a while, and eventually you can return to regular posting and just ignore them, because you’ve given a full apology.

People can’t help themselves, though, and keep arguing. Please don’t! There’s no need to! You aren’t gonna fix things, you are gonna help people! Just stop.

The Golden Rule: You Don’t Need To Post

You can spend your entire time on Twitter just lurking, reading, and maybe commenting on other people’s stuff. Totally fine. Logical, in fact. If you want to have fun, post stuff that really isn’t that offensive or challenging - and if you do, do it with stuff that doesn’t really matter or really offend anyone.

Truthfully, nobody really gets offended by swearwords or stuff like that - they get offended by context and actions. If you’re saying “this is a fucking atrocity” to the Capitol Insurrection, that makes sense. If you’re saying “this is a fucking atrocity” to software being down, that does not make sense. If you’re making a joke about a fat dog that can’t get a treat under a short table, that’s great. If you’re making someone for their body, that’s not great. It’s all fairly simple, but people think about it too much. I sure do, I wrote a huge newsletter about it.