In an effort to make Twitter seem less like a cesspool, the company is rolling out new settings that will allow all users to control who can reply to tweets. Twitter began testing the feature earlier this year and said the results of that experiment convinced it to make the tools available to all users starting today.
“We’ve seen people use these settings to have conversations that weren’t really possible before,” Twitter’s director of product management Suzanne Xie wrote in a blog post. “Starting today, everyone will be able to use these settings so unwanted replies don’t get in the way of meaningful conversations.”
Twitter has been under pressure to do more to combat chronic harassment, misogyny, disinformation, and hate speech on the social platform. In recent months, Twitter has cracked down on COVID-19 disinformation, hidden and labeled some tweets by President Trump, and acquired Lightwell to improve the quality of conversations. The company has also been experimenting with an ephemeral tweet feature called Fleets. And Twitter job postings indicate it is working on a new subscription platform.
Overall, this represents a bit more aggressive approach to product development for a company that has often been slow-footed to address issues or to introduce new features for fear that it may face a backlash from core users.
But that conservative approach has allowed a rash of fundamental problems to fester. While many users embrace Twitter for the open nature of its service, that also means anyone can wade into a conversation by simply replying to a tweet. The result is that users can face a swarm of angry tweets from strangers and bots that flood their mentions.
With the new settings, users will be asked to choose from three options when they are about to post a tweet:
- Allow anyone to reply (this will remain the default setting).
- Limit replies to people you follow.
- Restrict replies to users you specifically mention.
If either 2 or 3 are selected, Twitter will place a label on the tweet and the reply button will be grayed out. While that functionality limits replies, it still allows anyone to retweet and like the tweet.
According to Xie, the ability to control replies has led to new formats such as hosting interviews or conducting panels. Participants are less worried about being buried under floods of tweets, and the feed remains cleaner for people following the conversation.
“These settings help some people feel safer,” she wrote. “People tell us they feel more comfortable tweeting and more protected from spam and abuse.”
She also stressed that other people can still see the tweets and react to them by starting their own conversations via retweets. Likewise, Xie said the experiment showed that people would go in search of these other viewpoints if they knew a conversation had been restricted in some way.
“Twitter serves the public conversation, so it’s important for people to be able to see different perspectives,” Xie wrote. “We’ll keep working on making it easier for people to find the entire discussion through retweets with comments. Also, we’re trying out a new label to make it more obvious when these conversation settings are used.”
The company is continuing to develop the new reply features. In the coming months, Twitter intends to create a way for users to invite people into conversations.