07:42 10th Jan, 2020
Twitter’s Troll-Control Can Overturn Its Business Model
The company is testing a series of steps that users could activate to control their conversations including one that allows no replies or @mentions as we know it
Recently a Twitter acquaintance-turned-colleague-turned-friend was bemoaning the fact that it was no more possible to have a conversation on the social platform without attracting toxicity. Looks like Jack Dorsey and his team has taken note of this trend, with one of the main propagators being none other than President Donald Trump.
Of course, President Trump couldn’t care less about who’s responding or who’s trolling him, nor would Prime Minister Narendra Modi for that matter. But the fact is social media has become increasingly anti-social with hardly any civility or tolerance in sight. ‘Play the man’ seems to be the rule rather than the exception now.
In a studied response to the problem, Twitter announced at CES 2020 that they are testing a feature to block all replies and is part of a strategy that would be continued through the year in order to make social interaction less toxic. In fact, the company spoke about four options to control conversations.
These include (a) anyone being able to reply to a conversation (b) only those who is followed by the user can reply (c) only those tagged to a post can reply and (d) nobody can reply to certain tweets, which essentially boils down to a “Do not @Me” feature that could well take away all the fun from the social interaction.
Kayvon Beykpour, VP of product at Twitter told CES 2020 delegates that the key motivation was to give control to users by building on the theme of authors getting more control based on the fact that there is always more than one analog on how people communicate in real life. Silencing the other person with a mute button isn’t one of them though!
The company had launched the feature allowing users to hide replies that they didn’t want to appear on the timeline, which essentially meant sifting through them in the first place. In the Spring of 2019, Twitter had said in a blog that their efforts are to proactively remove toxic content without users having to report the same.
The company’s director of product management Suzanne Xie revealed that Twitter would soon add a new setting for “conversation participants” at the compose tweet screen with four options viz., Global, Group, Panel and Statement – each allowing users to set limits on who can reply and who cannot.
However, the company is still only testing the process as part of its research to make Twitter a safer place for conversations with officials suggesting that the mock ups are part of the experiment that would be run in the first quarter. The global launch may happen based the results of these experiments and could be pushed to 2021.
Meanwhile, toxicity can continue unabated. For, having conversations controlled by users seems to take away the heart and soul from a social chat that is not necessarily between friends or acquaintances but with others whom one doesn’t know. If users need to limit who could respond to their comments, one could just end up as another Donald Trump who seldom listens but keeps tweeting to his heart’s content without ever a fear of censure.
A better, if tougher way of ensuring reduced toxicity would be to enhance focus on removing objectionable content using AI-ML just as search engines did in their infancy to curb showing adult content to impressionable minds. They could also enhance the pace at which objectionable content is removed based on complaints.
However, putting the onus on users to decide who can reply doesn’t quite cut it. For e.g. would it help a brand like Techtree.com to set such boundaries on Twitter when its effort is to actively engage with more and more people socially? Wouldn’t it be better if Twitter itself could run regular checks and block content that is categorized as profanity or objectionable or both or something even more?
Looks like Jack Dorsey needs to change his thinking hat on this one!
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