Twitter is testing a new feature that could fundamentally change the nature of the platform.
On Wednesday, Twitter announced that it would test new controls that would allow a user to select, tweet by tweet, who could respond to their post.
With a new permissions button that appears in the bottom left corner of a tweet, users will be able to choose whether they want any Joe Schmo to be able to reply (currently the norm, and the default going forward), whether “people you follow” can reply, or whether “only people you mention” can weigh in.
A “small” percentage of users have received the test, and Twitter didn’t say whether it will be rolling out more widely in the future.
For the past few years, Twitter has been studying and testing various ways to improve “conversational health” on the platform. That’s a fancy term for cutting down on trolling.
Twitter doesn’t explicitly connect the test to that initiative. But in a blog post announcing the feature, it says that “we’re exploring how we can improve these settings to give people more opportunities to weigh in while still giving people control over the conversations they start.” The blog post references “reply guys” when it explains that “unwanted replies make it hard to have meaningful conversations.”
If a person does come across a tweet they’re not allowed to respond to, the reply button will be grayed out. If a person tries to reply, a pop-up will explain what’s going on.
Being a place where anyone can weigh in on any conversation (unless your account is private) is a double-edged sword. It can lead to connections and creativity, and so many funny memes. But it also has enabled harassment and toxicity.
Twitter users might be upset about the power this gives “blue check marks” (people with verified accounts) to make conversations closed and elitist, especially if they use that “people I’m following” setting. Some users, like Lil Nas X, are already joking about their exclusive tweets.
Ok this is a test of a new tweet feature. Only people who I follow can reply. And I want to see how it works.
All you other dirty peasants stay on the other side of my velvet rope pls
— 🧑🏻💻☕️ (@hunterwalk) May 20, 2020
FEELING GENEROUS❤️ SENDING EVERYBODY WHO REPLIES TO THIS $100 ❤️❤️
— nope (@LilNasX) May 20, 2020
Jokes aside, the settings could also be a useful way to facilitate conversations with experts, or free tweeters to share opinions with less fear. Plus, the “everyone” reply setting is still the default, and anyone can still “Retweet with comment.” Twitter just made it easier to follow “retweets with comments,” too.
The move to rein in a nasty reply thread is not totally unprecedented. In November 2019, Twitter gave users the ability to hide replies to their tweets from specific users.
There is a lot to test with the new feature. Will it change Twitter too much? If so, how angry will people get? And will Twitter roll it out to everyone?That’s up to Dorsey and co. to decide.