Is restricting who can reply to tweets a step in the right direction?

Is restricting who can reply to tweets a step in the right direction?

At the Consumer Electronics Show currently taking place in Las Vegas, Suzanne Xie, the director of product management for Twitter, has announced that users will soon be able to have more control over who is able to reply to their tweets.

In a change due to be implemented this year, users of the social media site will be able to select one of four settings for their tweets: ‘Global’, ‘Group’, ‘Panel’ or ‘Statement’.

At present, all tweets on Twitter are ‘Global’, meaning that anyone with a Twitter account is able to reply to them. Users who want to limit the number of people who reply to their tweets will be able to mark them as ‘Group’ (meaning only accounts the user follows can reply) or ‘Panel’ (which limits replying power to people mentioned in the tweet). Those who do not want anybody to reply to their tweet can mark it as a ‘Statement’.

So far, this announcement has received a mixed reception, with one clear advantage and one significant reservation being mentioned.

Tackling antisocial behaviour

The big positive of this move is that it limits the potential to reply to tweets abusively. With anyone with a Twitter account able to reply to any tweet, it means cyberbullies can go out of their way to find sensitive tweets and make hurtful comments. People who do this can be blocked and reported by the victim of the abuse, but this doesn’t change the fact that the antisocial comments have already been seen, and the damage often done.

By only allowing replies from within a community they trust, Twitter users may feel more able to communicate honestly and openly. Twitter says it wants to spare users the often unpleasant experience of their tweets receiving more comments than likes or retweets – something known as being ‘ratioed’ – and stop healthy chats among friends descending into arguments when outside parties get involved.

Disinformation and the ‘echo chamber’

Some analysts, however, have questioned what this does to tackle the growing problem of fake news on social media. If people are not able to call out a tweet as being incorrect or misleading, this could allow disinformation to thrive.

Additionally, even if a post is not ‘fake’, is it healthy to have a situation whereby anyone who disagrees with it – perhaps because of political or moral differences of opinion – is unable to comment on it? Doesn’t this run the risk of trapping Twitter users into an ‘echo chamber’ where they only see what they already believe, thus reinforcing their existing views without introducing them to new ideas?

In response to this criticism, Xie has said this is something Twitter will be “watching really closely”. She describes the move as an “experiment” and doesn’t rule out the possibility of “quote tweeting” – meaning retweeting something with a comment of your own on it – remaining an option even for tweets where replies have been limited or disabled.

How should businesses use these options?

At Engage Web, we encourage clients to feed their blog posts through to Twitter and Facebook, and to use social media actively to achieve greater reach. Naturally, under the proposed settings, ‘Global’ tweets would give them the best chance of doing this.

There may be times, however, when companies want to put out a statement that draws a line under an incident and not invite further replies. In these situations, the ‘Statement’ setting is an option.

Businesses should remember, however, that silencing critics on their page doesn’t cause them to go away and can lead rumours to spread in a way they cannot control. For example, J D Wetherspoon’s decision to shun social media has led to spoof accounts being set up in place of the genuine one. For that reason, businesses should think carefully about how much they want to talk with the Twitterverse, rather than talk at it.

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.
John Murray

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