Never Change, Awkward 'Follow Me for DM' Tweet—Never Change

As Twitter lifts its limitations on Direct Messages, an ode to the tweets that lamented them

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:

But the much-more-awkward version of it—the Platonic version of it—is directed at other people.

These tweets range from the pragmatic ... 

To the sympathetic ...

To the desperate ...

To the melodramatic.

Some of the tweets will acknowledge the non-following awkwardness directly:

Others will acknowledge it passive-aggressively:

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. 

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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