With Twitter coming under increasing pressure over the use of its platform to spread misinformation and hate speech, the company’s co-founder and CEO, Jack Dorsey, has this week said that he would be open to considering new approaches, which could have a significant impact on how Twitter works.
As explained by The Washington Post, which interviewed Dorsey this week:
“Dorsey said that he was experimenting with features which would promote alternative viewpoints in Twitter’s timeline to address misinformation and reduce “echo chambers.” He also expressed openness to labeling bots — automated accounts that sometimes pose as human users — and redesigning key elements of the social network, including the “like” button and the way Twitter displays users’ follower counts.”
There’s a heap to examine here – on the first point, adding in alternate viewpoints, Facebook has done similar with its ‘Related article’ links on questionable posts, which provide users with more perspective in an effort to discourage the sharing of false reports.
How effective such measures are is difficult to say, but it does add another element, another option which could make users think twice before spreading such reports.
But how would that work on Twitter? I guess, really, it would function much the same – when you go to tap share or re-tweet on a post, it could expand into something like the Facebook example above, displaying contextual links. Done right, it wouldn’t be overly intrusive, though it would need to respond to a user action like tapping a share option, as you won’t be able to rely on users expanding a specific tweet before distributing it.
The second note, labeling bots, seems like an odd suggestion. Why not just remove them entirely?
The suggestion that Twitter has the capacity to label bots also suggests that they can, in fact, identify accounts as such. So why not just get rid of them? Is there a valid use-case for Twitter bot profiles?
More brands are, of course, experimenting with messaging-type bots, but Twitter can (and does) facilitate them within its direct messaging streams. There may well be alternate use case for bot accounts, but it does seem like Twitter would be better off just eradicating them entirely – which the platform has seemingly been moving towards in recent months.
And the last note here relates to how Twitter’s like button works, and how follower counts are displayed.
On the latter, it would be good to see Twitter move away from displaying follower counts, or at least looking to reduce their importance. A fact of human nature is that given a metric to compete on, people will do so, and over time, the more digitally-aware among us have come to know that a large follower count doesn’t necessarily signify a broader, receptive audience.
But it is still relevant – while you may know that someone with a million followers is not necessarily as popular, or indeed, as influential as that figure may suggest, if that person gets in touch with you, you are likely going to give them extra attention.
Many Twitter users look to wield such followings like a bat to beat brands with, calling them out publicly and pressuring them with their large audience seemingly looking on. And while brands should always strive to provide the best service they can anyway, it’s often the case that such ‘influencers’ are not who they seem, and such behavior is simply not necessary, nor helpful.
And that’s before you consider the case of influencer marketing and brands wasting money on ‘influencers’ who can’t actually prompt their audience to take any measurable action. If Twitter can work to provide more relevant numbers, in variance to follower counts, that could be a good move.
On one hand, it’s good to see Twitter looking into its options, and seeking solutions. But the larger hope is that Twitter might be able to sort their internal thinking out more thoroughly, and provide solutions which are uniformly actionable across all its departments and regions.
In the past – in the case of Twitter verification, for example – Twitter has been somewhat its own worst enemy, with different internal groups implementing such process based on misaligned interpretations of the platform’s own rules. Such confusion still seems apparent, with Dorsey tweeting various explanations of their processes, then clarifying or backtracking, while other Twitter employees openly debate the same via public forums.
Dorsey appears to encourage this, saying that they would like to be more open with their thinking on such changes, but from an outside perspective, it often just seems like the platform is not mature enough to handle its business, or lacks the fortitude to simply take hard action.
That also may be what leads to outsiders suggesting their own solutions – like removing anonymity from the app or even building their own brand ‘block lists’ to hurt Twitter’s bottom line in order to force action. Facebook regularly comes under similar scrutiny, but The Social Network doesn’t have the same level of outside suggestions being broadcast in the mass media.
Is that because Facebook is simply better at managing its business, or is it because Facebook generally has a defined policy on each element, which, whether you like it or not, is what they stick to, while Twitter seems to be flailing at times, looking for answers?
That apparent lack of cohesion could be what inspires more people to offer their advice to Dorsey and Co, which fuels the narrative that they don’t really know what they’re doing. Twitter could counter this by taking a harder line, but then, of course, they need to know themselves what that line actually is.
Essentially, Dorsey’s desire for openness on such matters is admirable, but there’s a reason that approach is not common. Maybe Twitter can handle the criticism that comes with such, but by failing to take definitive actions and rulings, and stick to them, the company only appears to be opening the door for increased judgment, which has long defined Twitter’s company narrative.