Home Science Communication Being John Malkovich, and six other Twitter users

Being John Malkovich, and six other Twitter users

by Eva Amsen

2016-05-25 13.19.43What if you could be someone else for a day? Well, you can’t. You’re stuck with being you. But you can experience Twitter as someone else, and that’s almost as good, if not better.


What? How? Tell me more!

The app Antipersona, created by Anastasios Germanidis, let’s you pick a Twitter user, and will show you their timeline (based on the public accounts they follow) and their notifications (follows, retweets and mentions).

I decided to play with this a bit, and take a look at how other people experience Twitter.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”Will seeing Twitter through others’ eyes change my views on the world? … There is only one way to find out, and that is to become seven different Twitter users.”[/perfectpullquote]

Hopes, dreams, goals, wishes and expectations

Will seeing Twitter through others’ eyes change my views on the world? Will it expose me to new ideas? Or will I just find some new accounts to follow? There is only one way to find out, and that is to become seven different Twitter users.


Bugs and caveats

The app is designed to only let you hold an identity for 24 hours, but even that is much longer than I would ever want to look at anyone else’s Twitter account. I couldn’t find a functional way to switch people, though, other than deleting and reinstalling the app, so that’s what I did, several times, to become all these different Twitter users.

In the process of playing with the app, I also discovered that the timelines it shows are not complete, so it not only shows a snapshot in time, but also just a subset of people that this person follows.


Disclaimer about how I am normal and totally non-creepy

Is this creepy? It’s a bit weird, isn’t it? I feel weird. I would just like to reassure the people whose Twitter identity I passively wore that I am not a creepy person. Of course this is exactly what a creepy person would say. But do feel free to use the app to take on my identity in return.


Super scientific experimental results

2016-05-23 17.05.43Who? Nathan Fielder (@nathanfielder)
Why? I picked comedian Nathan Fielder first, because in his most recent season of Nathan for You he took on someone else’s identify himself, for a ridiculously elaborate stunt, so I figured he wouldn’t mind if someone looked at Twitter through his eyes.
Expectations: I thought his timeline and mentions might be interesting, but, in stark contrast with Nathan’s own work ethic, I didn’t really do much research before embarking on this mission, so I didn’t have very specific expectations.
Results: Nathan mainly follows comedians and news outlets. He also, and I should have anticipated this, follows pretty boring business news pages in particular. His mentions were cute, though, with people talking about how much they love his work, or sending him random tweets.

2016-05-24 11.17.42Who? Maria Popova (@brainpicker)
Why? Brain Pickings is an amazing website full of interesting bits of information about interesting people. Maria is a brilliant curator both on her blog and on Twitter, and who wouldn’t want to be her?
Expectations: I thought I might find her timeline interesting, because she must filter what she publishes out of what she reads.
Results: Okay, I guess you can have too much of a good thing. Her timeline is a never-ending stream of intellectual curiosities, but it’s just too much for me. This is why we need Maria to filter out the best things, and why, in retrospect, I don’t want to be like her. Her mentions are all retweets and new followers, because she uses Twitter mainly to broadcast and not so much to interact.

2016-05-25 06.56.49Who? Michael Nielsen (@michael_nielsen)
Why? It was through a (re)tweet of his that I found out about this Antipersona app in the first place, so he had it coming, really. Michael and I worked together on projects in the past (we’re responsible for the first SciBarCamp in Toronto) and I know he generally likes things that are cool, so I was curious what his Twitter timeline looks like.
Expectations: I thought his timeline might look a bit like my own, but perhaps point me to new accounts that I wasn’t following yet. I also expected a lot of mentions, as Michael actively uses Twitter to communicate with people.
Results: Expectations met! I found some new accounts to follow, and saw some interesting Twitter discussions resulting from a question Michael asked.

2016-05-25 13.20.16Who? John Malkovich (@johnmalkovich)
Why? So the title for this blog post would make sense.
Expectations: None at all. This was purely a gimmick Twitter-identity-view.
Results: Oh. Right. I quickly learned that John Malkovich is probably bored to death with “Being John Malkovich” jokes. Sorry, Mr Malkovich. Pretty much every other mention he gets on Twitter is a reference to the film. Well, too bad, I’m keeping this title. The timeline didn’t work for him at all – it didn’t pick up any of the 13 people he followed. This is where I started suspecting the timeline part of the app wasn’t working very well.

2016-05-26 18.42.27Who? Danielle Lee (@DNLee5)
Why? Danielle is very outspoken online about diversity within science and science communication. I thought she’d be supportive of the idea of people trying to see the world through someone else’s eyes, so I chose to see Twitter through her eyes for a bit.
Expectations: I expected her to have a very different timeline than I do, but, like with Michael’s timeline, I thought there would be familiar accounts as well, since we do roam some overlapping online circles. I hoped to find new accounts to follow and perhaps learn some new things about identities in science/scicomm.
Results: It was at this point in the experiment that I was certain the timeline on the app was not working properly, because it only showed me a handful of the more than six thousand (!) accounts that Danielle follows. Still, even from the partial timeline I could see that she’s getting a very different Twitter experience than I am. She’s seeing many more tweets about issues that affect minorities. I get to see some of that in my timeline, but certainly much less of it, and usually only when things get bad enough that everyone is talking about it – not the day-to-day issues. Danielle’s notifications included lots of retweets, but also lots of replies, because she’s very active on Twitter, and engages with a lot of people.

2016-05-26 23.51.45Who? Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump)
WHY!? I thought I needed to really broaden my horizons and experience Twitter through someone completely unlike me, with vastly different ideas of the world.
Expectations: Trump doesn’t follow very many people, so I had little expectations there, but I was bracing myself for his mentions. Would they be mainly negative? Would I find lots of Trump-support? Would I be able to sleep at night after having seen Trump’s Twitter mentions?
Results: Trump’s timeline includes Fox News and Piers Morgan. His mentions are full of people either yelling at him or people yelling with him, and he gets followed by a lot of Twitter eggs.

2016-05-27 00.04.47Who? Cath Ennis (@enniscath)
Why? I needed a safe space after having been Trump, so I picked a friend. What’s more, I already have experience taking on Cath’s identity! For an April Fool’s joke in 2011 we swapped blogs with near-identical blog posts, because at the time we were regularly mistaken for each other online. People were confused but not amused, and we were the only ones who thought it was funny.
Expectations: Cath’s cats went crazy viral on Twitter a while ago, and I expected to still get some retweets of that, because the internet never lets go of a good cat meme. Otherwise, I expected this take-over to be very similar to my own Twitter experience.
Results: Lots of familiar faces in the timeline, mixed in with Canadian news and craft beer. Someone did indeed retweet the cat picture again!


[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”[Trump’s] mentions are full of people either yelling at him or people yelling with him, and he gets followed by a lot of Twitter eggs.”[/perfectpullquote]

I stopped here because I got bored. I was planning to become a few more people, but I could already see where it was going (I would realise our similarities and differences were reflected by our Twitter experiences) and I wanted to wrap this up. I didn’t want to be other people anymore!


Some serious thoughts: What did I learn?

Seeing what Twitter is like for someone else reminded me that the world in general is different for everyone else. Like on Twitter, our real life experiences are also very much determined by who we listen to and who we talk to. You befriend people – both online and offline – because you share a worldview, and by befriending them you make that overlap even stronger.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”Seeing what Twitter is like for someone else reminded me that the world in general is different for everyone else.”[/perfectpullquote]

You normally don’t get to see what the world looks like to someone who is different from you, but being able to briefly look at someone else’s Twitter timelines and mentions at least gives you some idea.

That being said, I didn’t pick people who were that different from me. Trump was the most different, but everyone else had at least some shared interests or ideas. Why didn’t I pick, oh, let’s say, a teenager, an athlete, a beauty blogger, a farmer, someone in Nigeria, a parent of a sick child, or any of the many other types of people who have far less in common with me? Because I just didn’t even think of that. That’s how hard it really is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes (or timeline).

If you want to see what Twitter is like for me, or for someone more interesting, you can get the Antipersona app in the iTunes app store.



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