Twitter is rolling out a feature that lets users mute other users without unfollowing them, a halfway house between blocking and unfollowing.
But what use is a mute button? Why not just unfollow or block someone?
There’s some debate as to whether the official Twitter mute function, which has been available in third-party Twitter apps like Tweetbot for the iPhone and Mac for sometime, is actually useful.
While blocking (which stops the person interacting with you by following, or sending an @ or direct message) or simply unfollowing are probably more useful for most people when dealing with abuse or people they don’t want to see in their timeline, there are some scenarios where muting is the best way to go.
Muting allows you to still receive mentions or @replies from users, although they will not be pushed to your device if you have that feature enabled. That allows you effectively remove a user from your Twitter stream without alerting them to the fact that you have them muted and are not seeing their normal tweets. Here are examples of times when muting is the best policy.
I really like you but don't want to listen to you
Following people can be a sign of respect, friendship or even love, but you don’t always want to actually read the inane drivel or shouty-rants some people spit out into their Twitter streams.
Muting those people, as long as you're careful, should work fine. Just be sure to check their streams every now and again, in case they said something you need to respond to, and to keep up the illusion that you read their every word.
I hate you but I’m afraid of you
Some people on Twitter are a dangerous unknown. They’re the kind of people who could do anything, like go on an all-out personal attack, and you can’t tell how they will react to being unfollowed or even blocked.
Muting could be the best strategy, as that person will see that you still follow him or her while you don’t have to listen to their tweets, thus avoiding making an enemy of them.
I want you to follow me but I don’t care about your tweets
Many people will not follow people who do not follow them. That means you have to follow people to be followed by them. (This chicken-and-egg problem is, incidentally, Twitter's biggest barrier to new users.) People often initially follow others just to get them to follow back and then unfollow them – but that runs the risk of them finding out and unfollowing you.
Muting is the safer option. In future we could see people who follow thousands of users, but only actually listen to a small minority of them.
I want my following list to look impressive
Who you follow on Twitter can be a sort of status symbol. Like books that you buy to look good on your bookshelf but never read, following a group of users on mute could make your online presence appear more high-brow or connected than you really are.
Of course, that falls down when others ask you what you thought of someone’s muted tweet, opinion or landmark statement, but it could be better than having to read a legion of incredibly dull tweets.
Stop tweeting about football
One of the uses Twitter suggests for the mute button is a temporary silencing of people you follow. Football fans who otherwise don’t talk about football go nuts during big games or cup finals, and with the World Cup kicking off next month, the mute button could come in handy.
Just remember to unmute them after the World Cup ends, or England/their favourite team are out.
The temporary Eurovision block
Another classic example of people tweeting about an event or subject that some other people loathe is Eurovision. Though the contest is over for this year, the mute button could have been ideal for temporarily removing Conchita Wurst references or Graham Norton barbs for the few hours that Eurovision took over the airwaves. (This will also work for the X Factor, the Voice, cooking programmes, and – perhaps – spoilers relating to Games Of Thrones, Mad Men and others.)
It's not me, it's your tweets
Sometimes people's deathless tweet prose turns to breathless turns to dead. They haven't become less interesting, and you’d rather not offend them, but you can’t be bothered to read their tweets anymore.
Muting them, but not unfollowing them, could prove the perfect solution.
The breakup mute
Less a problem on Twitter than it is on Facebook, but when a relationship dissolves then muting your former partner could be the kindest solution. Remove their painful reminders from your Twitter feed without looking as if you hate them by unfollowing or blocking them; even if you do.
Current work colleagues mute
In some jobs there is almost an obligation to follow your colleagues. Some are bound to be interesting, others not so much. Mute the dull ones, and just hope they don’t say anything that might affect you at work.
Possibly worth checking out their streams occasionally, just in case.
Mute old work colleagues
Do you continue to follow old work colleagues you were obliged to follow before you left their company? Many would unfollow or even block old work colleagues, but just in case you can’t afford to annoy – but don’t want to listen to their endless drivel about canteen prices any more – muting could be the best solution.
Mute a ranter
There’s been some debate as to whether Tweetstorms – individual rants that extend over dozens of tweets – are the worst thing to happen to Twitter since Justin Bieber joined. But while your opinion may differ, most don’t want to see or have their streams filled with rants, or even rapid-fire output that monopolises any Twitter stream.
Short of unfollowing frequent ranters, muting them just as they start ranting could be the answer, just for an hour or so, until they’ve calmed down and start tweeting interesting stuff again.
Stop someone appearing in retweets without blocking
When you don’t follow someone, their tweets don’t ordinarily show up in your Twitter stream. But if a user you follow retweets someone you’re trying to avoid, their tweet will be blasted into your carefully managed stream.
Muting those users will stop their retweets appearing in your stream, forever, and they’ll never know.
'Trial muting' as a precursor to unfollowing
For some, the choice to unfollow someone is a big decision; will your stream be better off without them, or do they actually enrich your Twitter experience on the whole?
Muting someone who is on the borderline will show you how your Twitter stream will look and feel without them, before going the whole hog and unfollowing.
You could simply unfollow them, but if you change your mind and want to follow them again, they’ll get a new-follower notification from you revealing your betrayal. Better to try it out on the quiet first.
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