Earlier this month, Twitter posted a job listing for a new position working on a project called ‘Gryphon’ which, the ad explained, would be focused on “building a subscription platform, one that can be reused by other teams in the future.”
Subscriptions for tweets? How would that work?
Twitter has since confirmed that it is indeed working on “subscriptions and other approaches” as potential revenue opportunities, and this week, some users have reported seeing a new Twitter survey which asks them about a range of potential options that they might be willing to pay for, another step towards the next stage for the project.
???? Here’s a list of features Twitter may be considering for its paid / subscription service
Which would you be willing to pay for? pic.twitter.com/w8vYumrpx3
— Matt Navarra (@MattNavarra) July 31, 2020
The options which could be made available via Twitter subscriptions include:
- Undo send – An option to recall your sent tweets within a 30-second window
- Custom color options – New ways to customize your Twitter profile presentation
- Advanced video publishing tools – The capacity to publish significantly longer videos in your tweets
- Profile badges – A profile badge that links back to your business/employer
- Auto replies – The capacity to add auto-response options to use in your tweet replies
- Social listening – More insights into your tweet engagement and discussion around your Twitter handle
- Brand surveys – An option to run surveys about your Twitter ads to get more feedback
- Custom stickers and hashtags – The capability to create custom stickers and ‘hashflag’ emoji-linked hashtags
- Job ads – Optional job ad listings
- Administrator role management – New options to define how staff/contractors can control Twitter your account
- Insights into other accounts – More analytics options, including the capacity to see all your past reactions with any account
- Education resources – Access to more Twitter training courses and tools
Probably not exactly what people had in mind when they first considered subscriptions for Twitter.
In addition to these, Twitter is also asking users if they’d be willing to pay to see no ads on the platform, which seems somewhat separate to these more business-focused options.
Definitely, this is not the direction I was expecting Twitter to go with on a potential subscription model. The framework which seemed to best fit was something similar to Facebook’s Fan Subscription tools which enable high-profile users to offer exclusives to paying subscribers, including specialized content, members-only discussion areas, discount options and more.
That could also work via tweets, especially with the introduction of Twitter’s new controls on who can reply to a tweet. That seemed to be the direction Twitter was headed – but these survey options seem more specifically aligned to brand use, and providing tools for businesses, not consumers, who are willing to pay for extra services.
Personally, I don’t find any of these options overly impressive.
For one, most of them you can already facilitate via other means:
- Custom color options are available in your account settings
- You can set up auto replies in your DMs, while you can also set up template tweet replies in various social management platforms
- Social management platforms also facilitate social listening, as does Twitter’s own TweetDeck
- Brand surveys are already available for managed accounts in most regions
- Various third-party tools provide insights into other accounts, and there’s a Chrome extension which provides you with a listing of your interaction history with any account you view
- Twitter already provides a tweet education program in its Flight School
- Third-party management tools – as well as TweetDeck – also offer administration tools to manage posting permissions
So, given this, you’re now looking at:
- Undo send – Which Twitter has talked about previously, and could help to catch errors, if it could ever work
- Longer videos – Do people want to watch longer tweet videos?
- Profile badges – Seems relatively minor – you can already include URLs and a description
- Custom stickers and hashflags – I don’t see how Twitter could offer these options at scale
- Job ads – No
Overall, given the availability of other tools and options, these don’t seem like overly enticing options, and I can’t imagine many brands would be willing to pay for such. Unless Twitter was to severely restrict its API, and stop third-party tools from providing these tools – but that would also largely go against CEO Jack Dorsey’s push for a more open internet.
But then again, maybe I’m missing the point – maybe the whole idea of this initial survey is just to put out the feelers and see what people might be interested in. Many new business users, in particular, wouldn’t be aware of the functionality of various third-party Twitter management apps, and maybe, having all of these tools and options in a centralized system would be better.
Maybe users just want these tools all built into the one platform. But would they actually pay for such?
Maybe. I guess.
In some ways, the proposals here reflect the issues Twitter faces because of its open, public nature. Facebook made much of its graph private, which essentially forces you to use its own management tools to get the best results. LinkedIn limits access – but Twitter is the most utilized API for third party management options simply because it both allows for such, and Twitter doesn’t provide great, native options for the same within its own product suite.
TweetDeck is the prime example – TweetDeck actually is a good, handy tweet management platform, but it’s been given limited focus by Twitter since it acquired it back in 2011. Even in that instance, a third-party developer created a better management tool than Twitter itself had – and really, if Twitter replicated all the functionality available in other Twitter analytics and management tools, and incorporated them into TweetDeck, then made all of it available for a small subscription fee, that would probably be a better option than what it appears to be proposing.
But it’s not necessarily proposing such yet. Again, this is early days, and Twitter is just testing the waters and seeing what people might want.
My response would be ‘none of this’, but we’ll wait and see what comes next.
Twitter Faces Advertiser Boycott Due to Failures to Police Child Abuse Material
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.
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’.
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.
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.”
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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