TweEtiquette: my struggle with unwritten social rules

I have just started to use twitter. A couple of weeks ago a brilliant tech-savvy colleague nudged me: “Your blog is doing great Leah. Now you have to get on Twitter.

In response, I think I produced a nervous giggle and then rolling my eyes ventured, “Uh… ya… about that, I think I am already at the farthest edge of my technological ability, and I don’t even own an iphone or a blackberry, and I certainly don’t text!

You can use Twitter on your computer.”

And… because I love a challenge, or I am comfortable with the uncomfortable, or because I am avoiding fitness class of late, or, well I don’t know – but now I seem to be tweeting and learning a whole new set of unwritten social rules that apply in this new arena.

I was thinking of how this experience mirrors that of H and others with social thinking challenges. The difference however is that, unlike my son who is on the Autism spectrum, I have an understanding that there might be social rules or expectations about which I am unaware. I can just sense it and when I am aware that that I might be unaware – I step carefully and with caution. In this particular situation I am observing and inferring and making connections about what I am seeing others do and the thinking of others that is likely behind this. When I think I may have stepped outside the unwritten rules – I check by asking someone, or observing more closely before my next move. I am fortunate that I have a natural understanding that others will be thinking thoughts about me based on my actions and behaviours. I also know that others’ minds may hold the answers to my growing lists of questions. In spite of these strategies, I have a made a couple of minor gaffs, but those affected were most understanding because they could glean that I am new to this realm and they offered support, not condemnation.

My child needs this kind of support regularly – not for twitter of course – but for social interactions, visits to the local pool, and hanging out with peers, to name just a few. He needs help in understanding that others will have thoughts about him based upon what he says and the way he acts, and that what is going on in his mind is not necessarily the same as everyone else. We all have our own thoughts and sometimes H misses that. It would be so wonderful if all of us involved in the greater social realm would offer people with challenges such as this support instead of condemnation – because every new encounter is just that – new.  More than that, every new encounter is an opportunity for H and others like him to gain a little skill, and for the rest of us to gain a little insight and understanding.

Hmmmm…. so I was thinking that maybe I am not much of a Tweeter, perhaps more of a chirper (or if I’m really riled up – then perhaps a squawker). I was also thinking that I need some kind of framework or set of rules so that I will know how to conduct myself without unintentionally offending the cyber-world of Twitter.

So I am going to start one and to commemorate this moment I am creating a new word: TweEtiquette!

The TweEtiquette Communication Codebook:

• Do not steal any fellow tweeter’s original tweet. You can repost it- but you have to credit the original thought to the original tweet.

• If others follow you- you can reply “Thanks for the follow...”

• It seems as though you can repost a link without retweeting it by going to the original source, and I am noticing that this is considered OK (however – I am not entirely certain).

• You can’t message anyone who is not following you.

• Often people you follow will follow you back – chances are, the inverse of this is expected (a sort of social reciprocity, or symbiotic relationship)

Please correct anything that I may have misunderstood and please, PLEASE, add to the list…


30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2011)  

About Leah Kelley, Ed.D.

Leah Kelley, M.Ed, Ed.D., Writer, Consultant, Activist, Speaker, and Educator, working with Teacher Candidates at UBC. Authors blog: 30 Days of Autism. Projects support social understanding, Neurodiversity paradigm, Disability Justice, and connecting Disability Studies in Education(DSE)to Educational Practice. Twitter: @leah_kelley Facebook: 30 Days of Autism: Leah Kelley
This entry was posted in Aspergers, Autism, Behaviour, Communicate, promote social understanding and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to TweEtiquette: my struggle with unwritten social rules

  1. suvarna says:

    hee hee, I knew we’d get you there eventually. Okay here is some clarification on the social rules. Yes it’s nice to thank people for following but remember that it can take a lot of valuable time if you have followers in the 100s. Not that i think you shouldn’t thank people but it’s possible to do that in chunks. Like, thanks all for the follows, etc.
    Second, You shouldn’t feel obliged to follow back everyone who follows you as there will be many who follow who do so only to promote services. Just sayin’


  2. I know this is an old post but…

    “The difference however is that, unlike my son who has autism, I have an understanding that there might be social rules or expectations about which I am unaware. I can just sense it and when I am aware that that I might be unaware – I step carefully and with caution.”

    That’s not all that different from me, except that if I were to write it, it would read something like “I have and understanding that there ARE social rules or expectations about which I am unaware. This has always been true, and since I know this, I try to step carefully and with caution, while doing everything within my power to learn what those rules are and how I should go about following them.”

    The difference? There’s no “sense I might be unaware” – I (now) have enough self-awareness to know that I’m completely blind to the rules and must learn them explicitly. I’m terrified of making a mistake, because there’s no real way to rectify it – if you screw up, people simply give up on you. You don’t have the opportunity to fix it or often, learn what it is you did wrong. Twitter is *still* confusing me to death and I’m not a big fan at this point. I feel like I can’t keep up, since there’s too much said, unless I’m on there 24 hours a day, which is not how I like to function. I have other things to attend to first.


    • Leah Kelley says:

      E, thank you for sharing your perspective so eloquently. I love the way you are able to relate to what I have shared of my experience and then you deepen my (and others’) understanding by adding your own experience. I take these comments with me (well… figuratively) when I work with students and they also positively impact my interactions with H. I suspect that your experience is likely very close to that of my son’s – but he does not yet have the language and insight to so clearly describe what it is like for him.
      I so appreciate this E.
      Please keep commenting!! It really does make a difference.


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