Twitter users will be able to prevent others from replying to their tweets, the company has announced, in a move it hopes will prevent antisocial behaviour on the platform while improving the quality of conversation for all.
But the new features could undercut the social network’s ambition to prevent the spread of misinformation. It is unclear how Twitter intends to reconcile the two goals.
In a press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Twitter’s director of product management, Suzanne Xie, said the company would be introducing a setting for “conversation participants” at some point this year. It will let tweeters choose from four options, on a per-tweet level:
- “Global”: as today, anyone can reply to a global tweet.
- “Group”: only people who you follow can reply, as well as anyone mentioned in the tweet.
- “Panel”: only people mentioned in the tweet can reply.
- “Statement”: no one can reply.
The company plans to begin experimenting with the features in the first quarter of 2020, with a goal to introducing them globally by the end of the year.
“Getting ratioed, getting dunked on, the dynamics that happen that we think aren’t as healthy are definitely part of … our thinking about this,” Xie said, according to the Verge.
The proposal could solve some of the problems that have given Twitter a reputation as a “toxic” platform. Being “ratioed” – a slang term for when a tweet receives more replies than likes or retweets – can be an unpleasant experience. Similarly, a conversation between friends can be interrupted by strangers, potentially turning a friendly chat into something more antagonistic.
But it also appears to go against Twitter’s policies on misinformation. Unlike Facebook, Twitter does not have a fact-checking programme and it only bans narrow misinformation aimed at manipulating or interfering with elections. Instead, the company argues that “Twitter’s open and real-time nature is a powerful antidote to the spreading of all types of false information”, as its then head of public policy, Colin Crowell, put it in 2017.
“Journalists, experts and engaged citizens tweet side by side correcting and challenging public discourse in seconds,” he said. “These vital interactions happen on Twitter every day, and we’re working to ensure we are surfacing the highest quality and most relevant content and context first.”
The new features would instead allow purveyors of false information to simply mark their tweets as “statements”, preventing those “vital interactions” from occurring. A similar feature that allows users to hide replies to their tweets is already being used by scammers on the social network to remove replies that fact-check their lies.
In response to such fears, Xie suggested that the ability to quote-tweet such misinformation may remain intact but acknowledged it was “something we’re going to be watching really closely as we experiment”.