Today brings news that Twitter is rolling out a new functionality: It's giving you the option to receive Direct Messages from any follower, whether you follow that person in turn, or not.
Do not be indignant. The new system—rolled out only to select followers, and not yet officially announced by Twitter—is, at least at this point, merely opt-in. So the whole ability-to-receive-DMs-from-any-follower is not so much a violation of the sanctity of the DM as it is simply a new functionality that you, dear Twitterer, can use (or not). But it's a new functionality that recognizes Twitter's expansion beyond a communications platform and toward a more commercial one: The promiscuous-DM capability is especially useful for people who use Twitter not simply for people purposes—conversation, link-shares, updates—but also for more transactional ends: corporations who want to hear from customers. Journalists who want to hear from sources. Public figures who want to hear from that public.
So it's a win-win-win—for Twitter, for Twitter users who want to be accessible, for Twitter users who don't.
And yet. There is one loser here. And that loser is awkwardness. Social awkwardness. Public awkwardness. The meta-, there-should-really-be-a-German-word-for-it awkwardness that occurs when awkwardnesses of both social and public strains join forces. Awkwardly.
I'm speaking, of course, of the "please follow for a DM" tweet. The "you're not following me" tweet. The tweet that expresses sadness/indignation/consternation about something that has become clear only after the tweet's sender has attempted to DM the tweet's receiver, and failed. It's a category of tweet that, in its canonical form, is punctuated by a sad emoticon. :(
The least-awkward version of that tweet is directed at, and sent from, companies:
@StacySyphax I can look into this for you. Can you please follow us so I can reply via DM? ^BD— Chase Support (@ChaseSupport) October 15, 2013
@SonySupportUSA can't DM you unless you follow me— Deb Ochs (@DebOchs) October 15, 2013
@Quaker hi guys you dm yesterday, I am a winner but can't DM you back because you don't follow me PLEASE FOLLOW me so I can get you my info— Tina Harris (@Tastiecake731) October 15, 2013
But the much-more-awkward version of it—the Platonic version of it—is directed at other people.
These tweets range from the pragmatic ...
@kayboycott Hi Kay, thanks for the message I can't DM as you don't follow though.— John Daulton (@mr_jonnyd) October 15, 2013
@CLoprestiWFAN Hey Chris... can you follow so can DM for a quick question? Thanks...— Steve Sanpietro (@SanpeteRTU) October 15, 2013
To the sympathetic ...
RT if you have ever felt worthless, or ugly. Because I will Dm you something. You will have to follow for a dm to work Please ♡— ♡ Jamie ♡ (@clifforstyle) October 15, 2013
To the desperate ...
To the melodramatic.
@blowlukey I want to know but you don't follow me so I can't DM you *cries*— follow me jai (@datjaibrooks) October 15, 2013
Some of the tweets will acknowledge the non-following awkwardness directly:
@gaskarthemmo96 this is awkward I can't dm you my Instagram bc you don't follow back— kelsie possibly (@ashcraicniall) October 15, 2013
Awkward you dm'd me and I can't dm back because you don't follow me.— Desiree (@_desireeeayyyyy) October 15, 2013
Tried to DM u a numba and u don't follow me :( — Wellllll this is awkward.... http://t.co/7w5dByOEEs— SmootyBaby (@Sydney_11) July 15, 2013
Others will acknowledge it passive-aggressively:
That awkward moment when your about to DM someone a number for those DM me a number tweet and they don't follow ya back :(— The Preacher (@_chulo69) October 15, 2013
@PennoX the awkward moment when I can't DM you for advice cos you don't follow me :(— jess lees (@jessslees) November 22, 2011
And still others will philosophize about it:
Across the variations, however, there is one thing that unites these tweets: They are delightful. They are, as @MikeIsaac put it, funny. They are a reminder that Twitter is not just about public performance, but also about humans, being sensitive and talkative and occasionally petty.
And the Awkward "Follow for DM" is something else, too: It is, in its way, too big to fail. Even as Twitter re-imagines the DM inbox, its users will still experience failed attempts at DMs. They will still make awesomely awkward public statements about that failure. They will still use sad emoticons to express their feelings about that failure. And yet—as Twitter re-imagines the DM inbox—the power of the AFFDM message will also be, inevitably, compromised. We'll be seeing fewer "I can't DM you" laments. We'll be seeing more "please check that little box that allows any follower to DM you" messages—which are not only less elegant than "FFDM," but also less awkward. The window for akwardness will become, ever so slightly, narrowed. Which will be a good thing for most of us users. And a very, very sad thing for the ambient, awkward literature of Twitter.