When Julius Tarng, a former product designer at Facebook, logged onto Twitter this month after a year-long sabbatical, most of what he found did not “spark joy.” had been an important part of Tarng's personal and professional life—he worked in tech, after all—but his feed seemed crammed with digital detritus: accounts he’d followed back out of courtesy, a deluge of upsetting world news, and important thought leaders whose ideas he'd simply outgrown.
Meanwhile, the KonMari craze had swept the United States. The Japanese decluttering expert Marie Kondo had become an overnight celebrity thanks to her Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, which introduced American audiences to her now-famous method of relinquishing household objects that do not “spark joy.” Tarng figured he might apply Kondo's philosophy to declutter his Twitter feed.
The result of his efforts: a plug-in for Twitter called Tokimeki Unfollow that facilitates the process of scrubbing your feed clean. (Tokimeki is the original Japanese word that has been translated to “spark joy” in English.) It uses the same deliberate and tedious method that Kondo employs for cleaning out closets and bookshelves: review each account individually, ask if it “sparks joy,” and then unfollow it if it doesn’t. And just as Marie Kondo encourages people to give thanks to the objects they give away, the Tokimeki Unfollow tool includes an interstitial page to thank each account for “all the tweets you’ve enjoyed before” before crossing it off the list.
Like the KonMari method for tidying your bedroom, the Tokimeki process on Twitter requires clear eyes and moxie. “If you watch the Netflix show, you’ll see that a lot of people have trouble making decisions—like that one guy with a thousand pairs of sneakers. He was not getting through those sneakers because he didn’t set up any rules about which ones should stay and which ones should go,” says Tarng.
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Tarng has included some useful features to aid your decision-making. First, Tokimeki gives you the option to hide Twitter bios as you go through your culling process. “A lot of times, I follow people because of who they are and not the content of what they tweet,” says Tarng. It also includes the option to review accounts starting from the first ones you followed, which are often the easiest ones to let go of.
The Tokimeki tool presents each account you follow—tediously, one by one—along with a feed of their recent tweets. The tool asks: “Do the tweets still spark joy or feel important to you?” You get three options: keep following the account, unfollow it, or add the account to a Twitter list. The list option gives you a way to organize accounts into categories—like “tech journalists” for a curated feed of tech news, or “Twitter dogs” for when you need a cheer-up—without continuing to follow these accounts or see them on your main feed. (Seriously, this is the best way to use Twitter.)
It’s a time-consuming exercise. Tarng, who started the process a few weeks ago, has yet to make it through even half of the 1,000 accounts he follows. But like devotees of the KonMari method, Tarng thinks we stand to gain much more by plodding through each account one by one rather than using one of the automated tools currently on offer—those which just keep the accounts you engage with most often and unfollow the ones you don’t. “It’s important to really get to know your own timeline and really spend the time,” says Tarng.
That’s partly because the process requires you to make hard decisions about which parts of our online lives still hold meaning. Do we follow people on Twitter because we genuinely like what they have to say, or because we feel obligated to listen? “This phrase—spark joy—it doesn’t mean get rid of anything that doesn’t make you happy,” says Tarng. “On Twitter, if keeping up with activism or political issues is important to you, then you should keep those around. But if it’s actually making you really sad, then maybe you make the decision to keep up with that on the New York Times rather than on Twitter.”
Tarng built Tokimeki Unfollow on Glitch, a platform that functions like a modern-day Geocities for creating apps, bots, and other web tools. Also, Tarng's tool is open source, so others are free to remix or build on it with other ideas for making our Twitter feeds nicer.
Of course, Twitter itself feels increasingly less joyful. Unfollowing accounts can't bring the spark back to the platform—but it can make us feel a little more in control of what we choose to leave behind.
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“We have the data to back up what women have long been telling us—that Twitter is a place where racism, misogyny and homophobia are allowed to flourish basically unchecked.”The study looked at 778 women journalists and politicians in the US and UK, and found that 7.1 percent of tweets sent to them last year were abusive or problematic.