Op-Ed | Who I Follow

Who I Follow: Molly Jong-Fast

How do the best accounts on Twitter use Twitter? How do they balance their Tweeting with their day job, how often do they check their mentions, and, most importantly, who are their favorite follows? In Who I Follow, we explore the habits of our favorite follows. In today’s edition, we’re talking to Molly Jong-Fast, journalist and podcaster for The AtlanticVogue MagazineThe Daily Beast, and more 


I read all my news on Twitter. I have three teenagers and three dogs, so I get everybody up and going around 6:30 a.m., which means mornings are chaotic. It’s going to sound a bit like evangelizing, but that’s where Twitter Blue comes in. It’s like an RSS feed — the Top Articles  are all what people in my network are sharing, so it’s really useful. My notifications are set so that I only see interactions from people I follow. That makes my mentions pretty tame and cuts down on some of the noise so that I can focus. I tend to look at [Twitter] throughout the day, then go back to my writing. Though I like to know what’s going on right now, I’m very distractible, so I sometimes have trouble moderating [my use]. But I’m getting better at it.

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I started my career in the ‘90s when stories came out in fancy, glossy magazines, and that meant there was limited room for discourse once a story was published. Now, when I Tweet out my stories, it has the same chance of trending no matter where it's published. It gets even more attention on Twitter than on the publication website or even the email list. You really have the sense that good content rises to the top [on Twitter], even if it’s published in a place you’ve never heard of.


That being said, there’s so much smart journalism happening on Twitter, and it can be very helpful. Writers like Perry Bacon, Jr.Jamelle Bouie, and Sarah Macdonald are geniuses and do fascinating things in real time. Twitter allows me to see what’s going on in their lives; it’s a holistic way to interact with people. 

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When it comes to what I share with my audience, I try to be extremely thoughtful. I’d rather Tweet a good article than a hot take, and I like to promote local news — pieces written by a local reporter or a smaller, nonprofit organization. It’s not that I don’t love the big outlets like The New York Times or The Atlantic, but if I can improve the discourse by amplifying the work of The Texas Tribune or The 19th, I’ll keep my eye on that. Twitter is very egalitarian; no one person is better than another. You can have a teenager somewhere who Tweets a thought on something, and suddenly everyone has seen it. 


One thing I’ve learned though, especially recently, is that I don’t have to have a “take” on everything, and if there’s a question about the information or what’s happening, don’t touch it. If something doesn’t look real or seems unverified, trust your instincts and don’t elevate that content. I’m careful to only Tweet or Retweet things from reputable outlets, especially breaking news or medical information. 


People under use open Direct Messages. Everyone should have open Direct Messages, so you can just write to people — that’s one of the best things about Twitter. In the real world, you probably don’t feel like you can just walk up and talk to someone you admire, but you can in messages. I get sources, stories, and just people wanting to talk in my Direct Messages all the time. It’s fascinating. I do a podcast at The Daily Beast that requires me to book around seven guests a week, and Twitter is great because almost everybody I can potentially book is on it.


However, I do prioritize being pretty liberal with blocking. If someone clearly doesn’t exist in the same universe as me or is always just commenting to dunk on me, block. If they’re saying hateful things in my Direct Messages, block. That’s how I try to protect my emotional state and be careful.

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These days, I’m really enjoying Twitter Spaces. There’s an opportunity there to go the way of highly curated content, and I’d like to see that more. As a podcaster, I believe there’s room for live, radio-like conversations [in audio mediums], and the chance to interact with news, newsmakers, and writers makes Spaces unique in that way. Kara Swisher is doing such a good job of it already. One of the great things about Twitter is you can have access to these industries, so 30- to 45- minute curated Spaces could do well. I would love to listen to op-ed writers and politicians.


It’s also important to pay attention to how I engage with certain things. If I want to highlight a specific point in an article, I’ll Tweet a screenshot of a portion of the article with a link. It elevates and supports in a way that credits people for their work, and it also gets the important info out there. I’ll also use a screenshot (without a link) for bad actors on social media to not contribute to the engagement algorithm. For certain groups, engagement, good or bad, can be used to raise money, and I’m careful of that. Your attention is your real currency.


Illustration based on photograph by Lanna Apisukh.

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Who I Follow

How do the best accounts on Twitter use Twitter? Explore the habits of our favorite follows.