This past weekend, almost 300 women working in various areas of the tech industry noticed something odd: Their Twitter followers multiplied exponentially, for seemingly no reason at all.
They have one woman to thank. On Saturday, Tracy Lee, the co-founder of This Dot Labs, posted a Twitter list of women in tech she recommends following. As list members learned about the tweet, they began paying it forward, making the list even larger with their own suggestions of women to follow.
The effect was almost Oprah-like: You get a follow! Now you get a follow!
Although the reciprocal follows came quickly, the list wasn't made overnight. Lee started compiling it a few months ago, originally as a way to keep track of the "awesome women" she met at conferences and came across online. It didn't stop there. "I started following all women I see in tech as a simple way of supporting them," she told Refinery29. "It’s kind of amazing what serendipity can happen and what pops into your Twitter life with such a small act."
Lee didn't choose anyone on the list on the basis of their follower count or influence alone. This helped her sidestep a common problem: The echo chambers that tend to form online because people follow their friends and and individuals with public status whose views align with their own. During the last presidential election — before all talk about social media turned to the impact of Russian bots — there was a lot of discussion about this phenomenon and how it impacted the election. When Democrats, whose feeds were full of #ImWithHer, wondered how Trump could have won, others suggested they try following a few Conservatives on Twitter and Facebook. The same went for Conservatives who couldn't understand why people supported Hillary Clinton.
But when we're not in the midst of a major election cycle, the push to expand our circle of follows dies down. As Lee reminded us with her tweet, this shouldn't be the case. After all, echo chambers don't only produce one-sided political views, they create one-sided anything. In tech, an industry that's publicly dealing with issues of racial and gender bias, Lee's list may become an important tool for building a more diverse community.
"It’s so cool to see such a small act actually contribute to increasing the voice of diversity in tech — if even just on Twitter," Lee said of the response to her tweet. "I’m sure the long term effects will be more women empowered to want to speak at conferences and lead, and more awareness of women in tech who can be invited to conferences to speak, too."
Now, who are you going to follow next?