Twitter for Anyone

Security & Privacy

As a Twitter fanatic, I often forget that it’s still a new medium that confuses most new users.

When I started tweeting 2007, it took a while to find out how to make Twitter part of my life, or why I even would. Now I know that it’s the perfect way to share and enjoy observations, jokes and content from around the world.

Twitter is both business-friendly and casual. It’s silly and serious. A passing fancy and completely addictive. When the game is on or news is breaking, Twitter is the perfect way to have a conversation with the world. If you get your feed right, it’s like a never-ending cocktail party with the people you want to hear from most.

That all may sound nice. BUT WHAT IS IT REALLY?

That’s what a colleague at F-Secure wanted to know. So he sent me series of questions that he called “Twitter for Dummies”. I hope he doesn’t mind but I decided to turn my answers into a blog post since his questions are the perfect way to introduce to service to a new user.

1. What’s a tweet ?
A tweet is a 140 character message. That includes punctuation and emoticons. The limit inspires a precision of language.

Want to know what a popular tweet looks like? Go to You’ll see most are quips or jokes. But nearly every publication and writer in the western world is on Twitter. Ricky Gervais, Stephen Fry and Steve Martin all tweet.

Here’s an example of one of @Mikko‘s most popular tweets:

“Siri, I’m bleeding really bad, can you call me an ambulance?”

— Mikko Hypponen (@mikko) December 27, 2011

2. Who sees it when I send one?
The only people likely to see a tweet are the people who follow you. At first, that may be no one or not many people. BUT it is important to note that unless you protect your tweets in your settings it still could be seen by anyone—if they go looking for it.

Twitter has two privacy settings: public and protected. Nearly all users choose public. And of course, even if it’s protected, the information in your tweet could be shared by anyone follows you.

3. Where do I send it to?
First you need to sign up either by going to or by downloading the Twitter app for your phone. There are other ways but going to the website is easiest. You’ll need to choose a unique user name that isn’t more than 15 characters. You’ll also be able to write a bio and choose an icon to identify you. But these are optional steps that you can do later.

Once you have an account, Twitter can search your webmail accounts to find out if you have any friends on Twitter. You surely do. Once you follow them, they’ll likely follow you.

Now you’re ready to tweet. Go to the Compose a tweet button and type directly into the pop-up.

4. What does this symbol signify…#xxxxx
It’s called a hashtag and it was invented by Twitter users as a way to create a channel or thread of people discussing the same topic. Most TV shows and events have their own hashtags these days. Companies use them to promote themselves. Often they are added by users as jokes as in #TMI or #firstworldproblems.

5. What does this symbol signify…@xxxxx
That indicates a Twitter username. It was also invented by Twitter users. When you tweet someone’s username in that format, the person gets a notification—that they probably turned off but they can still your message even if they’re not following you by clicking on the @Connect tab on

6. Can I add pictures?
Yes! It’s very simple now to add pictures to a tweet. When you have the Compose window open, click the camera button. Add your photo in the same way you’d add an email attachment. Your mobile app will have a similar button that works about the same way.

7. Links ?
You can add a link to any tweet—if there is room. Don’t worry. Twitter both on its website and its mobile app automatically shortens your links so they take up about 20 characters and won’t let you tweet if you’re over the limit.

8. How do I ensure I don’t mess up?
Excellent question. It happens all the time. People have lost their jobs for Tweets. At least one man has been arrested for a tweet. Yet millions and millions of people tweet all the time, enjoying mostly positive experiences. The easiest answer is don’t tweet anything you wouldn’t say in a crowded room of colleagues. If you do, delete it as soon as possible.

If you’re very worried about what you might say, open an account with an email account you don’t regularly use. You can then obscure your identity and tweet with impunity—as long as you don’t threaten or libel anyone.

There’s lots more we can go into. But I think this is more than enough to get started—if it sounds interesting to you.

If you’re already Twitter user, what made you fall in love with Twitter? What should new users know and whom should they follow?


[CC iPhone image by SteveGarfield]


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