Stop Following Me!
I’m being stalked by a man on Twitter. And it’s my dad.
I’ve never had any illusions that Twitter was private, and I’ve always been acutely aware that I should never tweet something unprofessional. But all of a sudden Twitter felt a little less fun: Anything I tweeted I’d likely have to discuss with my dad later, even if it was as harmless as going to a gallery. If I wanted to tell him about it, I would. Living in a city hundreds of miles of away provides a grown daughter with the privacy to selectively edit your weekend plans, or not have to tell Dad whether or not your scintillating comments lit up the conference room. Anything that I hinted at on Twitter I had to be prepared to answer for later. I couldn’t block him. I didn’t have the heart to do so. Instead I applied the test “Will I want to talk to Dad about this later?” to anything I tweeted.
Even as I became more aware of the degree of my dad's Twitter stalking and started gently teasing him about it, he was not deterred. When I saw him in person, he’d make a point to ask me in front of other people, “So how many Twitter followers do you have now, Katherine? It’s over a 1,000 now, isn’t it? Is it over 1,500? She has OVER 1,500 followers!” He’d brag to anyone in earshot. He loved the idea that this number somehow denoted a kind of status. “I only have 200!" he would add. Isn’t the dream of every father for his children to be more successful than himself?
I think the pinnacle of my dad’s Twitter mania came when Slate launched our newsblog, "The Slatest," which I oversee. Since he’d sort of gotten the hang of the retweeting thing, anything I tweeted related to the launch he’d retweet within minutes. He became one of the first followers of the newly created Slatest Twitter account, and because it had few followers in the beginning, when you looked at the list of @mentions, seven out of 10 of them were from my dad. I knew he thought that he was helping me succeed. I imagined he concluded that if he retweeted all of the stories, it would noticeably bring the site more readers. That’s how social media works, right? All he had to do to show his support was push a button.
He was in such a flurry about "The Slatest" that he even called me during the middle of the workday to discuss it. Twice. For my dad, there are few things more sacred than hard work. Calling me during office hours was the sort of thing I thought he’d only consider if someone had died. But Twitter also changed that. The tweets were so instant he couldn’t hold back his responses. “I saw your tweet and I was just so excited that I wanted to say congratulations again! How’s everything going?”
I found myself using the service less and less, keeping it mostly to news links that caught my interest. I started relegating my increasingly fewer updates about my life to Facebook. Dad seemed less into Facebook, and there wasn’t any easy option for him to get real-time updates sent to his phone. While he still brings up things he sees me tweet, over time he started to tone it down since there was less fodder. Maybe a bit of the novelty wore off. Maybe he started following more people so it became harder to focus solely on me.
My mom, although she has a Twitter account, for the most part had stayed out of the whole frenzy. She sheepishly admitted that she didn’t read all of my tweets and just let my dad fill her in on the most important ones. (Fine by me!) As my dad’s intensity waned, I thought the chapter on parental Twitter stalking had come to a close. Recently, I tweeted out to my followers that I was taking suggestions of possible topics for a four-week long-form project. I immediately got an email about it, but it wasn’t from my dad. It was from my mom. “I just saw your tweet, and I wanted to tell you …”
Katherine Goldstein is the Innovations Editor at Slate, involved in site-wide innovations related to social media, traffic, and new editorial technology.