Twitter has announced new changes to the platform which can limit who can and cannot reply to tweets as a way of cutting down on toxicity, allowing users to have more control over their conversations. Because of the new update, users now have the option to share their tweet with either Everyone, Only people they follow, or Only people they mention.
These changes are being welcomed by users who can have meaningful conversations without unwanted replies getting in the way, as people feel more comfortable talking about topics that are happening when they can choose who can reply.
This has been the case for many victims of harassment, most notably women who according to studies by Amnesty, are abused on average every 30 seconds on the platform. Other forms of unwanted replies can be harmless, but still very annoying, such as the ‘reply guy’ phenomenon. Many women have noticed that one or two men sometimes, if not always, reply to their tweets. These types of users who are known as ‘reply guys’ and their responses come in a variety of forms such as bad jokes, grammar corrections, unrequested advice, and out-of-date and irrelevant memes. More often than not, they usually have about 30 followers, a profile picture which is zoomed in way too close to their face, and most likely are outstaying their residential invitation from their parents. Their annoying habits include giving overly familiar responses as if they know the person they are tweeting (which they don’t), and the everlasting commitment to weigh in on women’s opinions at every opportunity.
The addition of Twitter’s new feature serves to protect users from these experiences, as well as certain professions who are susceptible to abuse online, like teachers and athletes. ‘Teacher bashing’ has been a common theme within the online teacher community, where users reply to their tweets with judgey and petty comments. High profile footballers have also stated their frustration with the amount of accessibility others on the platform have to them. Now all users are equipped with a tool that lets them have more control over the interactions they want to have, an outcome that simply wasn’t possible with Twitter before this feature was introduced.
In the past, those dealing with abuse could only react in one of three ways. We can already hear the ‘reply guys’ weighing in on the discussion and giving their advice…
‘Why don’t you just delete your post?’ Well this can bring about further skepticism and criticism, as well as defeating the purpose of the platform in a way by not being able to share your opinions.
‘What about making your account private?’ This is an option, but it would effectively cut me off from the rest of Twitter
‘How about hiding comments, or making use of the block and mute buttons?’ For a tweet with a lot of interactions and notifications it can be extremely time consuming having to hide, block, and mute comments and users all the time!
The implementation of the reply feature now allows users to control who replies to a tweet before the conversation has even started. Even if the conversation isn’t something that is innately harmful, they can still be awkward, unpredictable and overwhelming.
We agree that the changes made on the platform are a much needed step in the right direction. These changes are off the back of a heartbreaking time where notable figures, such as reality TV stars, decide to take their own lives after being cyberbullied on Twitter. On the morning before her death, professional wrestler and reality TV star, Hana Kimura, took to Instagram and Twitter to document the abuse she was receiving online. Tragically suggesting the level of judgement she faced had taken a detrimental toll on her health, to the extent she felt she had to end her life.
Unfortunately this isn’t the first time this has happened. The passing of Love Island presenter, Caroline Flack, was shocking for the nation and as a prominent figure trying to battle possible domestic abuse charges, the public saw her actions as open to criticism. But she was put under intense pressure. Scrutiny from cyberbullies online and in mainstream media had a profound impact on her mental health, playing an undeniable role in her decision to take her life.
Twitter consciously redirecting their focus towards meaningful discussion could allow them to slowly move away from personal attacks, unwanted conversations, and worldwide judgement, of which we know can lead to horrifying consequences.
In the real world, people can have public conversations with family, friends, experts, and other intentionally chosen groups of people. Allowing users such as teachers and public figures to replicate some of this real-world control can allow people to discuss sensitive topics while feeling safe, as well as reconstructing the tone of Twitters interactions for good.