Why Didn’t Jerry Follow Me Back?

It came as a surprise to me yesterday, that someone tweeted, I think (hope!) gleefully, that I’d followed them back and I wondered why. Then it occurred to me that I only follow about one third of the number of people who follow me and I thought it was probably time to explain why.

First of all, I’m totally amazed at the number of people who follow me. I started an account in 2015, but didn’t use it after that first day until 2020. At the time, I had two followers, my younger brother and a friend who was with me the day I opened the account. Early 2020, I was locked down due to Covid-19 restrictions and decided to reactivate the account. I had a lofty goal of reaching the same number of followers as another brother who had over 600. I now have 24,000 and am still wondering why and what it is that I say or do which is of such interest to so many people. I started by tweeting some photos and short stories related to my bike riding, I ride a lot around the city I live in, Zhongshan in Guangdong but I’ve ridden across China three times and that is of interest to some people.

The first day that I tweeted photos of riding through Xinjiang, my account started to take off — some because they didn’t believe me and challenged me. Which, given the amount of media stating that it’s a closed of and secretive region, is hardly a surprise, others because I was providing a glimmer of hope that the narrative of Xinjiang could finally be challenged, or even debunked — it still hasn’t been debunked but we’ve certainly put a dent in the level of belief and hopefully started some critical thinkers on the path of realisation.

Some of them follow because they want to ridicule or criticise me, that’s ok, if anyone wants to challenge or debate what I put on Twitter, I have no problem at all. I stand by what I tweet. For me, RT’s are usually endorsements of how I feel — I’m not sure if people realise when they place the words: “RT does not equal endorsement” in their bio that they are giving themselves barely minimal legal protection against future litigation caused by someone taking offence with the original tweet — an amplification of that tweet, is an endorsement, if the original is found guilty of libel/slander/defamation, would mean that any subsequent amplification is as guilty as the original; liability damages may be vicariously passed to the “RTer”.

I write a lot about China, I live here, have done for 17 years, I’ve worked here for 15 of those years and am now retired and live in a property I own. Life is good, it’s much better than I could find in the country of my birth, England; or the adopted country Australia, whose passport I hold. Because my life is good, because the government, at all levels has been fair to me and because living standards and facilities in China have improved every single year that I’ve been here, because this is the safest, and many would be surprised about this, the cleanest environment I’ve ever lived in. I like it. I’ve travelled to almost every province and region, sometimes for work, sometimes on a bike for recreation. I’ve also been actively involved in charity and poverty alleviation and have travelled to places where running water, electricity, windows in the walls, fitted doors and solid floors were considered a luxury until just five or six years ago.

So, while I recognise China isn’t perfect, I also submit to the readers that it’s a close as we’re going to get in terms of policymaking, governance, lifestyle improvements and opportunities. Obviously then, I tend to have nice things to say about China.

Those people who criticise me come from, or hold a point of view that doesn’t have nice things to say about China. For the most part, I don’t follow these people back. I do engage in discussions and debates, but I will block anyone who’s rude, or attacks me personally rather than my message. I need to do that, in order to keep sane — I do have a short fuse and a block is the appropriate response given that I try hard not to be insulting, rude, impolite or profane in writing. All of these things, would, quite rightly get me, at least warned, possibly suspended or, in really serious cases have my account deleted — to date, I’ve never received any warning, suspensions or ban on Twitter, so, I think I must be doing something right.

Most of the people who do follow me and interact with me hold similar points of view, they approve, even if only broadly, of what China is doing, has done and continues to do. These are the people I see and follow back. Some might say I’m creating an echo chamber of agreement and they may be right. But what is Twitter? It’s not a political platform, it’s definitely not a free speech platform, it’s a form of entertainment — why shouldn’t I be entertained when I’m on it; and, having a lot of free time, I can be on it several hours a day. So, I want it to be positive and in agreement rather than adversarial all the time.

I try hard to view every single account that follows me but sometimes I might miss one or two. My notifications overnight are always more than 100 and of these, new followers tend to number about 60 a day, but is often more. So, you might be wondering why I don’t follow you, it may be simply because I missed you. Please feel free to DM me and I’ll take a look and reply back to you.

Which brings us to who I don’t follow…

One of the criteria I have of not following back is those accounts who have no tweets at all — what’s the point in following a number? If you’re one of those people, reading this and thinking to yourself: “I followed this guy on my first day or two on Twitter and now I’ve got loads of tweets”, please feel free to direct message (DM) me, or mention me in a Tweet, I’ll take a look and follow you back if you don’t fall into one of the next few categories.

If you only tweet in a foreign language, I’m sorry, my timeline (TL) has a lot of Chinese in it and I don’t have the time to translate every tweet, no matter how interesting it might be. So, since it’s China I’m most interested in, I tend not to follow languages other than Chinese. I have a lot of Pakistani, Ethiopian and Slavic languages, not sure why but also a lot of Spanish language following me too, mostly from South America. If the language is mixed with English, I’ll often follow back but if I scroll down the first few tweets and only see one language I can’t read, then I usually won’t. I know this is causing me to miss a lot of information and perhaps miss some interesting articles and I do feel some guilt about the fact that I’m so ignorant I know how to read in only one language — I’m sorry, especially to those people who have polyglot skills.

If your entire content is about cats — I’m sorry, I have no interest and don’t enjoy cat videos, photos or even the presence of cats. It’s personal, I like cat people, but for some physiological reason I can’t explain, I don’t even like to be in the same vicinity as a cat and will not go where there are a lot of cats. Something is wrong with me, I know but it affects some of my followers and I apologise, it’s not you, it’s your cat(s) ☹. I don’t have the same issues with dogs!

If your entire content is about God or Jesus, I’m not interested. If you’re a believer and mention it, I’ll scroll down the TL to ensure there’s other aspects that interest me and often follow back — I grew up in a large family with parental God-botherers and whilst I sincerely respect your right to do so, I do not believe in God. My personal belief is that we have a conscious, it helps guide us to do the right thing, it gives us guilt if we do the wrong thing and provides a moral compass for us. If there is a God, then He/She/It is inside us all, we don’t need external stimulus and I certainly don’t need to be told when to sit, stand or kneel to seek in a building that smells of burning spices for guidance on what I know I need to do. Again, nothing personal, many of my friends are very religious and I accept their belief is just different to mine. So, feel free to believe, I do follow many believers but don’t follow zealots who have nothing but God to talk about.

If your account is only about football, or even worse, basketball, I’m not interested. I played football as a kid, I loved it, but have no interest whatsoever in sitting down with beers and watching a game on the weekend. I’d rather be out doing something and I’m definitely too old to play. I do enjoy some sports and don’t have a problem following others who do too. References to football or basketball, don’t mean I won’t follow you but if the entire TL is about a single sport, then it doesn’t interest me enough to put into my TL, unless it’s cycle touring — by that I mean travelling, especially through different countries, on a bike, not racing like the Tour de France. I love cycling and will often follow or follow back fellow cyclists.

If your account is photos naked bodies or videos of sex acts, I won’t follow back. Not because I’m a prude, I actually enjoy viewing and watching if it’s beautiful, I don’t enjoy watching most porn as there’s no beauty in that. The reason I don’t follow you back is because I am attempting to be a serious contributor to the site and following porn accounts tends to give detractors some ammunition against my message — imagine I’m talking about alleged genocide in Xinjiang and someone replies with a: “this you?” message linking me to a porn site — there are people who have nothing better to do than troll a person’s followers and following in order to belittle them. Hard to believe but true and I don’t wish to provide them ammunition!

Cryptocurrencies hold no interest to me, but even less so since I followed a few in the early days and they immediately DM asking me to invest — I don’t have investment money, I’m living on a small pension and as, a 63 year old guy, I certainly don’t need some 24 year old geek telling me I’m foolish because this epheria, cryptocoin, dogcash or whatever, is the next thing to make me a millionaire — if it is, then you don’t need my money to get rich, go ahead and make your money, I won’t feel jealous of you, I won’t feel disappointed because I didn’t do it. I’ve made all the investment I’m going to make in my life, my wife and I own two properties, I have a pension in the UK being paid out now and an even smaller income, I also have some spare cash for that rainy day, but not enough to invest in your schemes — sorry.

There are some accounts I have no idea what they are. I think they may be gamers or coders, I read the first few tweets and am totally confused by why this person might follow me, but even more confused by why anyone would follow this account — perhaps it’s just my ignorance, but if you are one of these accounts where all your tweets looks like: “qwaty.lu-54/se” or something like it, then I won’t follow you. If every one of your tweets is a screenshot of some monsters, soldiers, or bombsites you’re proud of, then that’s great for you, but again, your games may be fascinating and addictive to some, but hold no interest for me. Games interspersed by news or commentary, I’m happy to follow back.

Instagram or YouTube users — if all you’re ever going to tweet is a link, I have no idea what it is you’re linking me to I’m not going to follow you. If you put a photo or clip, or even a few words of description, then I may find that I’m interested, click on your links and follow you back, but if all I see is link after link, with no other information, it’s not going to work — I don’t think I’m alone in being too busy (or too lazy) to click on links I when I have no idea where they will take me.

I have an instant block on people who follow me with nefarious intent — It’s actually happened, some HK people decided that being pro-China means I’m anti their movement. They may be right, but I simply don’t know enough about the HK issues to make judgements on who is right and who is wrong, I do however tend to take the side of the group less prone to the sporadic violence and targeted racism we saw in 2019. I was once targeted by a large group of these and spent over an hour blocking them when it was pointed out that one member of the group was calling on all the others to report me — for what, I’m not sure, but it included some very important names from the HK narrative and now they wonder why they are blocked without ever interacting with me.

Same goes for people who add me to lists — if you want my input then follow me and interact with me, put me in a list, I’ll look at the list, if I approve, you’re ok, if I don’t like the content, you’re going to get blocked. And, as it states clearly in my pinned tweet (at the moment), you list will survive without me.

If someone is following me with a profanity in their name, they are unlikely to be followed back, simply because I love the English language and see no need for expletives. Not that I don’t use them, of course I do. However, I feel the written word is a permanent record of our thoughts and try not to use profanity in writing. Over a beer with my friends, I’ll cuss along comfortably.

I think I covered everything but once again, let me emphasise, if you are following me and I haven’t followed you back, you’re still able to DM me and we can discuss, debate, argue, agree to disagree as long as we remain civil.

I’m British born Australian citizen. I live in Guangdong and have an MA in Cross Cultural Change Management. I write about China experiences on and off my bike