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Facebook Tests New ‘Spotlight’ Conversation Option to Facilitate More Focused In-App Chats

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Facebook’s testing out a new way to host more focused public chats in the app, via a new ‘Spotlight Conversation’ post option, which, when enabled, separates replies from specific users into a new chat thread.

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As Facebook explains in these intro screens (shared by social media expert Matt Navarra), Spotlight Conversation enables you to invite specific people to respond to a post, with their responses then separates into ‘a dedicated spaces without interruptions’. Other users can still see your post and comment on the chat, but their replies are placed in another tab within the reply stream.

Facebook Spotlight conversation

As you can see here, the original post shows the invited contributors to the chat, and the discussion between the host and guest/s is then displayed in a dedicated ‘Spotlight’ chat stream, with all other replies on an ‘Other Comments’ tab.

Which is actually very similar to Twitter’s reply control options, which it added last August, enabling users to limit who can reply to their tweets to only those they @mention.

Twitter reply controls

Part of the impetus behind that update was the case of people using tweets to conduct live-stream interviews, which were often difficult to follow along with, because anyone could reply to a tweet thread. By limiting who can actually reply, that makes it much easier to stay on topic, and for viewers to read through a dedicated stream of back and forth responses between the focus profiles within a tweet thread.

Facebook looks to be honing in on similar here, which could provide more means to share real-time chats in the app for popular users, and could expand the utility of Facebook reply threads to Q and A, celebrity interviews, product info sessions, etc.

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It seems like a fairly minor addition, but one that could be of specific benefit – and it may well be that by sharing one-on-one interviews and discussions within the app, that could open up new possibilities to reach a larger audience with such, and maximize response to your Facebook posts and discussions.

I mean, Facebook users, of course, generally want to reply for themselves, and participate where they can. But maybe, there’s also value in restricting your reply threads in certain cases, and facilitating more direct chats.

There could also a level of risk there. Say ‘Antivaxxer 1’ wants to interview an ‘expert’ on vaccines, and keep that reply chain separate from doubters. That could facilitate new forms of misinformation and reinforcement, which could be problematic.

It’s also somewhat similar to another Facebook test in threaded replies, which doesn’t enable participation, as such, but does add another angle to post reply threads.

Facebook threaded replies

It seems that Facebook is looking for more ways to utilize posts and replies to expand your potential options, each of which will have specific use cases and benefits, without major technical implications on Facebook’s end.

That could open up new opportunities – there’s no word on the full scope of this new test, but both Spotlight Conversations and threads are now available so some users in the app.   

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Twitter Agrees to $150 Million Fine from the FTC Over Past Misuse of Users’ Personal Information

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Elon Musk Launches Hostile Takeover Bid for Twitter

The hits just keep on coming at Twitter HQ.

This week, Twitter has agreed to pay a $150 million settlement to the FTC over a past misuse of user data, which saw information submitted for personal identification confirmation purposes mistakenly then used in Twitter’s ad targeting efforts.

As explained by Twitter:

On May 25, 2022, Twitter reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding a privacy incident disclosed in 2019 when some email addresses and phone numbers provided for account security purposes may have been inadvertently used for advertising. This issue was addressed as of September 17, 2019, and today we want to reiterate the work we’ll continue to do to protect the privacy and security of the people who use Twitter.”

The issue, as Twitter notes, was made public in 2019, when Twitter disclosed that it had been using information submitted for account security checks within its data targeting process.

Twitter revealed the initial finding in its Q3 2019 results, in which it noted that the correction of this element would have an impact on its overall revenue performance.

As Twitter CFO Ned Segal explained at the time:

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We ask people a series of questions before we put you into a timeline when you’re new to Twitter. Among the questions we ask are if we can use your device settings to figure out the best ads to show you. It turns out there that, that setting wasn’t working as expected, and we were using device settings even if people had asked us not to do so. So when we discovered that, one, we Tweeted about it, which we often do to try to be transparent with people when things aren’t working as expected. And two, we turned off the setting so that it would work as expected. That has a negative impact to revenue because it’s one less input that you’ve got when you are figuring out which ads to show people. So instead of getting a partial quarter impact, you get a full quarter impact in Q4.”

So, essentially, Twitter’s system did not respect user privacy inputs, and that flaw had been in place for six years, between 2013 and 2019.

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Which is a significant privacy breach, hence the $150 million fine from the FTC.

As per the FTC’s announcement:

“Twitter asked users to give their phone numbers and email addresses to protect their accounts. The firm then profited by allowing advertisers to use this data to target specific users. Twitter’s deception violates a 2011 FTC order that explicitly prohibited the company from misrepresenting its privacy and security practices.

While the case itself is not new, and the flaw at the heart of the issue has been resolved, it’s another blow for Twitter, which is in the midst of a cost-cutting push as it works to meet its own, tough revenue and growth targets, while also navigating a hostile takeover push from Elon Musk.

Twitter had factored this fine into its forecasts, so the hit won’t be as significant as it may sound, but even so, $150 million is a lot to take off its books – though it will clear the way for a new era if/when Musk does take over the app.

Which still seems like a ‘when’, despite Musk’s protests about the platform’s fake profile count and other transparency issues.

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Whatever comes next, this does help to clarify Twitter’s ledger, as the FTC fine had been hanging over it for almost three years.

The case also highlights, once again, that even a relatively minor flaw like this can have a big impact when you’re operating at the scale that social platforms do. A small error with a few hundred people is a problem, but when it impacts millions, the extent of that issue is amplified significantly.

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And there may be other flaws yet to be found – though Twitter says that it’s since implemented a range of checks and processes to ensure that it’s no longer misusing any user data.

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