Who Can See My Tweets? – A Case for Wikipedia Brown

by Greg on October 18, 2010

I’m a huge fan of Twitter, but quite often, the way things work on there isn’t self-explanatory. In fact, it can often take Wikipedia Brown (Encyclopedia Brown’s cyber-savvy son, perhaps?) to sort out what’s what.

Take, for instance, the question of who can see your tweets?

Begin at the Beginning

Twitter’s default is that everyone who follows you can see what you tweet. When you tweet, it will show up in each follower’s tweetstream – the Home screen on Twitter.com – along with the tweets of everyone else they follow.

So, when I tweeted:

Everyone who followed me had that tweet appear in their stream. People who do NOT follow me didn’t see that tweet in their stream.

But it would be too easy if EVERY tweet was like this, wouldn’t it? Yes. Yes it would.

The @Difference

If you start your tweet with someone’s username -  @gregpincus, for example -  then the rule of who sees your tweet changes.

Below is a tweet I sent to my #kidlitchat co-host, Bonnie Adamson. It starts with her username, @bonnieadamson, and is, in effect, just a conversational tweet addressed to her:

That tweet would NOT seen by all my followers. Instead, it would only appear in the tweetstreams of the person I’m writing to (@bonnieadamson) and anyone who follows both me AND her.

In other words, starting with the @username limits the audience.

The Dot Effect

Quite often, you’ll see tweets that start with a period before a @username – I could have begun the above tweet with .@bonnieadamson, for example. The effect of that (or any other punctuation or letters like RT or words) is to make the tweet visible to everyone.

Why might you do that? Well, as Alvina Ling said (in a great Twitter chat she co-hosted with Deborah Sloan and Katie Davis), you might do that if you think what you’re tweeting would be useful or interesting to all your followers, not just the person you’re chatting with.

On the flip side, if you want to use Twitter purely as a one-to-one tool…

Direct Messages!

Direct Messages (DMs) are private communications – they are only visible to the person you send them directly to, no one else. Like with all electronic communications, there can be glitches with DMs, but the Twitter rule is that it is private.


When you retweet someone using Twitter’s built in retweet function, your action shows up in your followers’ stream BUT it appears as a tweet from the person you retweeted (while noting that you are the source of the sharing).

If you use a “classic” style retweet – putting RT in front of what you’re sharing – you are actually following the rules of The Dot Effect above – you’re putting something before the @username.

But Wait! There’s More!

On Twitter clients like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, it’s easy to set up columns that let you track conversations rather than people. For example, here are two columns from my own Tweetdeck setup:

This means that even if I’m not following someone, I will still see their tweet if they use the #140Conf hashtag or if they type SCBWI, with or without the #.

So when you tweet, people can see you if they’re following your subject matter or a hashtag you used, even if they aren’t following you. (Tracking conversations is a great way to meet people who share your areas of interest, by the way.)

Please see the comments below for a bit about lists, yet another way folks can see your tweets without following you (and vice versa, naturally!).

Perhaps most importantly, unless you have your account locked down and private (which I’m not a fan of, by the way), remember that your tweets are public: they show up in Twitter Search, on Google, and in the Library of Congress.

Can or “Can”?

It is true that just about anyone “can” see your tweets in the end… but the above, I hope, explains who can, and is more likely to, see ‘em based on how Twitter currently works.

As always, if you’ve got questions or comments, or other cases you think Wikipedia Brown needs to investigate, I hope to hear from you.

{ 117 comments… read them below or add one }

Joseph Dunlop Burns February 5, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Great thanks a lot, really useful stuff.


Kristian February 22, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Great article for beginners. Thanks.

I’m interested in the functionally in twitter that follows stock tickers, but I’m having some trouble getting my head around how this works. Do you have any ‘how to’ tips with regards to this?



BC March 8, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Friend sent me here – a good education for a beginning twit


Graham March 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm

I have 10 followers. I am not a celebrity or anyone with a book to push, just an ordinary bloke. How can I increase the numbers of followers?


charles September 1, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Just start following people of interest to you. People like Oprah, Rush, Nancy Grace or me. Or you could look at who is following them and you follow them …


R Manolakis March 14, 2013 at 5:49 am

Dear Greg,
Do you know if I can block all replies from my tweets? As for examples i can do with comments in youtube and Facebook?

thank you


kiruthika March 18, 2013 at 2:08 am

am very new to twitter…
so, can anyone pls clarify my doubts in this…
who can all see my tweets, only the persons whom am following else all the users using twitter and how can i see the replies i get through it


James March 26, 2013 at 3:14 am

hmm…..inspiring but i am confused with #140Conf

BTW……anyone wanna write a book on twitter then plz mail me at mail@worldadz.com


Graham Kendall April 23, 2013 at 9:17 am

I have a video on Youtube that I want to put onto Twitter for everyone to see. It is NOT a commercial enterprise. How do I do this please?


Graham Kendall April 23, 2013 at 9:18 am

Thank you, by the way…excellent information clearly put.


Brubie May 23, 2013 at 1:13 am

Hi Greg. Thanks for your clear explanations of the tweetersphere. However what I would would like to know is that when I am tweeting in a hash-tag site such as #lateline, which is a current affair TV program here in Australia, I don’t get to see my own tweets within the Lateline (for example) tweets? Thanks.


breda shannon June 1, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Hi Greg Thanks a last a post that explains easily for people who are not up to speed on Twitter your The man.


trk387 September 8, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Ok wait a second. So when we tweet? ONLY those following us and following them can see the tweet? I ALWAYS thought you tweet and the WORLD sees it? Can someone please explain? If that is the case? How the hell does the main stream media see tweets? Do you have to follow them and they follow you???

You can email me trk387@gmail.com thank you…


Dylan Jawahir September 26, 2013 at 7:54 am

Nice intro for people just starting to use Twitter! It’s excellent, actually! Thanks for getting noobs like me up to speed!


Teddy November 3, 2013 at 6:57 am

conversational tweets to specific people are great, but unfortunately anyone can simply visit your profile and see everything that you have tweeted


Mike December 18, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Great article just what I needed as I am a noob to twitter. Thanks.


Chris April 4, 2014 at 5:17 pm

I tweeted someone that I follow, and someone else who does not follow me, but follows that other person, favourited that tweet. How does that work? I did not know that you could see tweets sent by other people to people that you follow.


Chavdar Mihov April 9, 2014 at 12:41 am

Sometimes I find out my tweets retweeted by persons who do not follow me. How does this happen?


Gail Harper April 11, 2014 at 2:55 pm

I am very confused! Have only just joined Twitter and when I sent a tweet to my child’s school it did not appear when I went onto the school’s twitter site. However, when I looked at the tweets I had sent it was there. Why did that happen?


Diane April 26, 2014 at 6:01 pm

Question re “The Dot Effect.” Your answer to this topic says that when you use a dot in front of a username, “everyone” can see your tweet. Does that mean everyone following you and the person whose user name you mentioned, or everyone in the Twitterverse? I’m thinking you mean the former, but I’m really new to this, so I just want to clarify to be sure. Thanks!


June Rasheed July 14, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Hi ,
I tweeted to a celebrity . I follow him. But he is not following me. After I tweet . I cannot see my tweet on his wall . I have tweeted with @username .
Can you please help .


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