New feature puts the usefulness of Twitter in doubt.
I’m not sure when Twitter added their newest feature, nor do I care. The fact is, Twitter has made it possible to hide replies you don’t like.
Some will see this at a step towards countering trolls or hate speech but, in reality, what Twitter has done is put an end to any debate, dissenting opinions, and/or questioning of information presented as fact.
The tools for combatting abuse are already in place, and some would say, being abused. Options to mute or block users you didn’t want to interact with, or even see, have been functional for some time. The use of reporting accounts for everything from hate speech to hurt feelings has been weaponized to silence individuals who may carry alternative views.
Rather than simply… oh, I don’t know… not reading the Tweets of a user they disagree with, the norm has evolved into a campaign to remove the user completely from the platform or worse. Worse being fired by their employer, demonetization of video producers on YouTube, cancellation of financial services from platforms like Paypal or GoFundMe, and even loss of banking services from some companies. This is not unique to Twitter by any means.
Handling of this abuse is completely on Twitter’s shoulders though as they adjudicate these complaints not based upon any clear Terms of Service policies applicable to every user, but on an ever changing, subjective interpretation depending on who the individual is, and what ideologies they are espousing at any given time.
The newest tool, snuck into the arsenal with little to no fanfare, (none I was aware of), takes the censorship game to a whole new level for a platform which was designed to encourage debate and discussion.
Hiding a tweet no longer makes it invisible only to the user who did the hiding, it hides the reply from everyone. Mind you, there is a remedy… if you know about it and know where to look.
In the upper right hand corner of a tweet is a drop-down menu which does give you the option to show hidden replies. This option is in the same location for both the Twitter web and mobile applications. At least they are consistent with the placement.
Why is this tool so much worse than other personalization options on Twitter especially when you can simply unhide the replies? People will not do it each and every time they read a tweet. Many, myself included until recently, did not, and others will not, ever know there is an option to unhide the replies. More importantly, most will not care if there are hidden replies.
The thought process behind adding this feature becomes blatantly obvious with a bit of common sense and logic. People typically see those who they choose to see in their timelines along with other users who share similar interests, beliefs, and so on. As far as this goes, Twitter is no different than any RSS feed which displays information.
What is supposed to make Twitter, or any social media platform for that matter, different is the ability to interact with the information the user posts whether it is to commend, clarify, question, or disagree. By allowing the virtual removal of replies the poster does not like, what are readers left with? A whole lot of commendations regardless if the statement is even true… an echo chamber.
The reason the mainstream media has lost the trust of the people is the misreporting, misleading, manufacturing, and outright lies and propaganda which have been spread over the years.
The only way for regular people to question reporting from a multi-billion dollar news network, for example, has been platforms like Twitter where anyone can address the company and have, at least, the chance of being seen by others or to have their concern dealt with by the company.
The majority of mainstream news outlets online had disabled the ability for readers to leave comments some time ago. Entertainment sites like Netflix and Rotten Tomatoes have completely rewritten their codes to change the way reviews are counted essentially nullifying any benefit to trusting ratings controlled by the companies promoting the products.
The timing of Twitter’s latest weapon against free speech, unsurprisingly, arrives as the United States heads into the next Presidential Election. Politicians are supposedly not allowed to block Twitter users regardless of what they post (they can still be reported) but what effect will simply hiding replies of voters who choose to question or challenge the candidates have? I’d venture to say it could be huge.
Every political post made, be it policy or promise, will be followed by seemingly 100% approval from followers and users alike unless the reader is savvy and motivated enough to look for hidden replies…replies which might point out flaws, raise concerns, or add follow up questions, depending on the character of the poster and if they have the integrity to face criticism or simply hide it away.
This latest tactic leads me to wonder if there is any benefit left to being on Twitter. If you are looking for a forum to preach to the choir, start a blog. If reading non-interactive news is what you like, use a news reader and subscribe to RSS feeds. So what purpose is Twitter serving now?