In brief: Everyone who’s been waiting for the ability to clean up replies to their tweets will soon be able to do so, with Canadians being the first next week. This is Twitter’s latest attempt at giving its user proper moderation tools, and the company wants to gather feedback before it decides on a global release.
Twitter today revealed plans to start testing a new feature that will supposedly allow users to moderate the conversations they start on the platform. Starting next week in Canada as a limited trial with a global rollout expected sometime next month, the feature will allow you to select any replies to your tweets and use the new icon from the dropdown menu to hide the ones you deem as distracting, irrelevant, offensive, or simply out of place in the discussion.
It’s worth noting that once you hide a tweet, it won’t be deleted but instead be missing in the normal view. The balancing option here is a grey button that will appear at the bottom of your tweet, allowing other people to view replies you’ve hidden – although it’s not exactly clear if they’ll also be able to interact with them in any way.
Twitter’s Brittany Forks and Michelle Yasmeen Haq explained that “we know that distracting, irrelevant, and offensive replies can derail the discussions that people want to have. We believe people should have some control over the conversations they start. So we’re going to test a new feature that gives people the option to hide replies to their Tweets, […] and will be looking at how this feature gives more control to authors while not compromising the transparency and openness that is central to what makes Twitter so powerful.”
The company currently has around 16 million users in Canada if you go by Comscore. Michele Austin of Twitter Canada told CBC that the feature is intended as a softer alternative to muting or blocking, and that the reason for choosing the country for the pilot is the quality and diversity of its conversations on the social platform.
Twitter first talked about the Hide Tweet feature in March this year, and the same criticism around the potential for abuse remains. If the company fails to strike a balance, this could be turned into a censorship tool that could further raise the toxicity and hostility towards free speech that is currently rampant on the platform.
It also seems unlikely that all users will take the time to manually sift through a large number of replies. On the flip side, the company has already started using machine learning to automatically remove tweets that are offensive towards certain groups of people and don’t contribute anything useful to the conversation.
Perhaps more worrying is that the company has still not figured out a way to allow users to edit tweets, which should also help users clarify their replies, or simply express a change of views. In the meantime, Facebook and Instagram offer users far better tools for moderating their posts, such as the ability to shadow ban offending accounts.