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Twitter's changes to replies are a decade too late (and barely address the problem)

Dieter Bohn, reporting for The Verge:

[Twitter’s director of product management Suzanne] Xie says Twitter is adding a new setting for “conversation participants” right on the compose screen. It has four options: “Global, Group, Panel, and Statement.” Global lets anybody reply, Group is for people you follow and mention, Panel is people you specifically mention in the tweet, and Statement simply allows you to post a tweet and receive no replies.

This is a good change (on balance) that’s about a decade too late. Now it just looks tone-deaf.

Twitter’s foundational problem has always been the fact that anyone can jump into your notifications whenever they want. Very few worthwhile discussion can happen like that – try talking to someone on the street if every random passerby tries to interject.

I can’t remember where I read it now, but someone once argued that too many founders of social media platforms grew up in the 90s where liberalism seemed easy (for a certain few – there were always problems). That gave them the misguided notion that all we needed more of it – more connection, more discussion, both of which are by their nature good things – and everything would be great.

That sense of ease, of course, was predicated on a limited view of the world. Some people were disadvantaged for reasons that go beyond not having a voice. Some people were angry. Some people were awful, hateful, unrepentant.

Putting all of those people in the one place was asking for trouble. And not giving people the tools they needed to manage their discussions was asking for disaster.

I’m not sympathetic to Twitter. They should have seen all of this coming. But I do get it.

The the entire platform seems to have been built on some kind of techno-utopian vision of discussion. And, for a time, it seemed to have worked. People who were around for Early Twitter seem to have loved it. But that doesn’t scale. People need to be able to opt-in and -out of whatever discussions and micro-communities they want.

Constructive, worthwhile conversations need guardrails and boundaries. Or even just basic respect and good faith. People need space to be vulnerable. Twitter’s all-in environment doesn’t allow for that.

Unfortunately, the utopian view of things left people unprepared to responding to the kinds of abuse and vitriol Twitter helped foster. And their dedicated to strongly held – but maybe not strongly considered – ideas around “free speech” created an ideological logjam that prevented any actual responses.

So we get this.

Here’s the funny thing: had Twitter launched with the features they’re implementing now, Twitter would probably be a very different and a much healthier place.

But they’re years too late and the lack of anything like this has lead to much bigger problems that need addressing – some of which will be enabled by these belated changes. So they just look weak, ineffective, and cowardly.

You have to laugh.

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