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Twitter Provides a First Look at Coming Feature Which Will Enable Users to Limit Who Can Reply to their Tweets

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In October last year, as part of an interview with The Verge, Twitter’s head of product Kayvon Beykpour noted that he and his team were investigating the potential of a new capability which would enable users to restrict the audiences of their tweets.

As part of a broader discussion about the rise of ephemeral messaging, and its potential for Twitter, Beykpour, noted that:

I’m very interested in exploring how we might give customers more control. Where ephemerality is just one of those dimensions, I think there are other dimensions that, while we can get excited and talk about ephemerality because there’s lots of other standards of how other apps do this, I think other dimensions, like control around who can see or control around who can participate, is really critical.”

Twitter has now moved a step closer to making this a reality – during a presentation at CES this week, Twitter’s director of product management Suzanne Xie showed this image of a new process in development which would enable Twitter users to define the audience for each of their tweets, direct from the composer window.

Twitter audience control

As you can see in the first screenshot above, the new option – at least as its currently constructed in testing – would provide the user with four different audience settings.

Those settings are:

  • Global – Anyone can reply to the tweet
  • Group – Only people you follow or mention would be able to reply
  • Panel – Only people you directly mention within the tweet text itself would be able to reply
  • Statement – No tweet replies would be allowed 

The new process, which is set to be rolled out later this year, could have a range of potential use-cases. Initially, in Beykpour’s original discussion of the functionality, he noted that live chats were often difficult via tweet, and defining who was allowed to reply might help.

“It’s actually quite difficult to have a fireside chat when you have a billion people screaming into your ear. Like imagine we had tens of thousands of people in the studio with us right now, talking into our ear while we were talking to each other.”

With this update, if you were to limit the respondents to only those who were tagged in the discussion, Twitter would be able to facilitate interview-style discussions, which could be great for hosting live chats, or even major celebrity interviews, which are often flooded with spam on dedicated hashtags. 

Those hosting Twitter chats could also use the new audience restrictions as a vehicle to boost their overall following – if you want to participate in the chat, the host could limit chat replies to only those who follow them. You could even separate part of a Twitter chat to an interview-style approach, only allowing the tagged interviewee to reply to the first few tweets, before opening it up to all participants in the second half.

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In some ways, this goes against the broader ‘public square’ ethos of Twitter, in which everyone gets a say. But as Beykpour notes, at times, it would be easier to facilitate and follow along with a Twitter discussion if the secondary noise could be toned down a little bit. 

The tool will also have clear benefits for those suffering from cyberbullying or other forms of abuse – with the capacity to limit your replies to only those you choose, you could keep out unwelcome remarks, while you could also share your thoughts without concern for direct recourse via the ‘Statement’ option. 

Of course, people could still tag you in their own tweets, as opposed to replying to that one specifically, but more control is likely better in this respect.

But then again, more control could also lead to more abuse.

Various Twitter users have noted that the capability to limit who can reply to a tweet will also mean that people can lessen the exposure of those who disagree with their views. Brands could water down criticism by choosing respondents who are more likely to be positive, while political leaders could quiet dissent, giving a false perspective on a statement’s popularity.

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Twitter says that it’s looking into these potential misuse cases (for example, Twitter says that allowing quote tweets would still enable people to share their views, even if they can’t do so directly in the replies), but it could be an unintended, and problematic consequence of this update.

How much of a problem that might be, we won’t know till it’s implemented. Twitter says that it plans to begin testing of the audience restriction options in the first quarter of 2020, with a small subset of users. 

We’ll keep you updated on any progress.

Socialmediatoday.com

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Twitter Faces Advertiser Boycott Due to Failures to Police Child Abuse Material

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Elon Musk Launches Hostile Takeover Bid for Twitter

Twitter’s no good, very bad year continues, with the company this week being forced to inform some advertisers that their ads had been displayed in the app alongside tweets soliciting child pornography and other abuse material.

As reported by Reuters:

Brands ranging from Walt Disney, NBCUniversal and Coca-Cola, to a children’s hospital, were among some 30 advertisers that have appeared on the profile pages of Twitter accounts that peddle links to the exploitative material.”

The discovery was made by cybersecurity group Ghost Data, which worked with Reuters to uncover the ad placement concerns, dealing another big blow to the app’s ongoing business prospects.

Already in a state of disarray amid the ongoing Elon Musk takeover saga, and following recent revelations from its former security chief that it’s lax on data security and other measures, Twitter’s now also facing an advertiser exodus, with big brands including Dyson, Mazda and Ecolab suspending their Twitter campaigns in response.

Which, really, is the least concerning element about the discovery, with the Ghost Data report also identifying more than 500 accounts that openly shared or requested child sexual abuse material over a 20-day period.

Ghost Data says that Twitter failed to remove more than 70% of the accounts during the time of the study.

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The findings raise further questions about Twitter’s inability, or willingness, to address potentially harmful material, with The Verge reporting late last month that Twitter ‘cannot accurately detect child sexual exploitation and non-consensual nudity at scale’.

That finding stemmed from an investigation into Twitter’s proposed plan to give adult content creators the ability to begin selling OnlyFans-style paid subscriptions in the app.

Rather than working to address the abundance of pornographic material on the platform, Twitter instead considered leaning into it – which would undoubtedly raise the risk factor for advertisers who do not want their promotions to appear alongside potentially offensive tweets.

Which is likely happening, at an even greater scale than this new report suggests, because Twitter’s own internal investigation into its OnlyFans-esque proposal found that:

Twitter could not safely allow adult creators to sell subscriptions because the company was not – and still is not – effectively policing harmful sexual content on the platform.”

In other words, Twitter couldn’t risk facilitating the monetization of exploitative material in the app, and because it has no way of tackling such, it had to scrap the proposal before it really gained any traction.

With that in mind, these new findings are no surprise – but again, the advertiser backlash is likely to be significant, which could force Twitter to launch a new crackdown either way.

For its part, Twitter says that it is investing more resources dedicated to child safety, ‘including hiring for new positions to write policy and implement solutions’.

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So, great, Twitter’s taking action now. But these reports, based on investigation into Twitter’s own examinations, show that Twitter has been aware of this potential issue for some time – not child exploitation specifically, but adult content concerns that it has no way of policing.

In fact, Twitter openly assists in the promotion of adult content, albeit inadvertently. For example, in the ‘For You’ section of my ‘Explore’ tab (i.e. the front page of Explore in the app), Twitter continuously recommends that I follow ‘Facebook’ as a topic, based on my tweets and the people I follow in the app.

Here are the tweets that it highlighted as some of the top topical tweets for ‘Facebook’ yesterday:

It’s not pornographic material as such, but I’m tipping that if I tap through on any of these profiles, I’ll find it pretty quick. And again, these tweets are highlighted based on Twitter’s own topical tweets algorithm, which is based on engagement with tweets that mention the topic term. These completely unrelated and off-topic tweets are then being pushed by Twitter itself, to users that haven’t expressed any interest in adult content.

It’s clear, based on all the available evidence, that Twitter does have a porn problem, and it’s doing little to address it.

Distributors of adult content view Twitter as the best social network for advertising, because it’s less restrictive than Facebook, and has much broader reach than niche adult sites, while Twitter gains the usage and engagement benefits of hosting material that other social platforms would simply not allow.

Which is likely why it’s been willing to turn a blind eye to such for so long, to the point that it’s now being highlighted as a much bigger problem.

Though it is important to note that adult content, in itself, is not inherently problematic, among consenting adult users at least. It’s Twitter’s approach to child abuse and exploitative content that’s the real issue at hand.

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And Twitter’s systems are reportedly ‘woefully inadequate’ in this respect.

As reported by The Verge:

A 2021 report found that the processes Twitter uses to identify and remove child sexual exploitation material are woefully inadequate – largely manual at a time when larger companies have increasingly turned to automated systems that can catch material that isn’t flagged by PhotoDNA. Twitter’s primary enforcement software is “a legacy, unsupported tool” called RedPanda, according to the report. “RedPanda is by far one of the most fragile, inefficient, and under-supported tools we have on offer,” one engineer quoted in the report said.”

Indeed, additional analysis of Twitter’s CSE detection systems found that of the 1 million reports submitted each month, 84% contain newly-discovered material – ‘none of which would be flagged’, by Twitter’s systems.

So while it’s advertisers that are putting the pressure back on the company in this instance, it’s clear that Twitter’s issues stem far beyond ad placement concerns alone.

Hitting Twitter’s bottom line, however, may be the only way to force the platform to take action – though it’ll be interesting to see just how willing and able Twitter is to enact a broader plan to address such amidst of its ongoing ownership battle.

Within its takeover agreement with Elon Musk, there’s a provision which states that Twitter needs to:

“Use its commercially reasonable efforts to preserve substantially intact the material components of its current business organization.”

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In other words, Twitter can’t make any significant changes to its operational structure while it’s in the transition phase, which is currently in debate as it headed for a courtroom battle with Musk.

Would initiating a significant update to its CSE detection models qualify as a substantial change – substantial enough to alter the operating structure of the company at the time of the initial agreement?

In essence, Twitter likely doesn’t want to make any major changes. But it might have to, especially if more advertisers join this new boycott, and push the company to take immediate action.

It’s likely to be a mess either way, but this is a huge concern for Twitter, which should be rightfully held to account for its systemic failures in this respect.

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