During a press briefing at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show, executives from Twitter outlined policy changes that’ll affect the social network’s over 330 million users in the months to come. Twitter product lead Kayvon Beykpour focused on three core tenants in his presentation: Health, conversations, and interest.
“Public conversation is only valuable if it’s healthy enough that people would want to participate in the first place. If people are feel fearful of being abused or harassed in the platform,” he said. “[We need to] ensure the integrity of the information that people are consuming on the platform is high.”
Conversations and topics
On the conversations side of the equation, Twitter plans to take different parts of conversations and stick them in a slicker global view. It’ll pull out pieces like users’ names, their verified statuses, and more in tweet details in a Reddit-style tree layout, making it easier to follow threads.
Perhaps more significantly, Twitter intends to roll out controls over conversation dynamics, which in the coming year will allow users to choose who’s able to reply to a given tweet: (1) Anyone on Twitter, (2) a group of people you follow and mention, (3) people you know, or (3) no one. Twitter calls this last option a “statement,” and they’re denoted by an icon in the lower right corner of the tweet indicating that they can’t be replied to.
Suzanne Xie, who joined Twitter by way of last year’s Lightwell acquisition, said that the intention is to make user feel safer when chiming in. “We’re really excited about this, because not only does it help people feel … more comfortable as a … community, but also [because it] allows us to create a whole new format of conversation,” she said.
The features build on the moderated replies feature Twitter rolled out last year, which allows people who start conversations to hide replies to their tweets, and they appeared first in the Twttr app in late 2019. By way of refresher, Twittr is a beta app used by the social network to test changes before widely rolling them out.
Where topics are concerned, Twitter — which introduced the ability to follow topics earlier this year — says it’s growing the total number of topics followable on the network. Nearly 1,000 are available in multiple languages today (up from 300 in English at launch), all of which are curated by Twitter based on popularity. Not to be outdone, lists on Twitter — groups of Twitter accounts that show streams — will soon gain a new discovery page that’ll recommend topical lists or those that might interest you.
“We’re trying to lead by example … in terms of earning interest of our customers with every decision that we made,” said Beykpour.
Twitter has faced an uphill struggle as it strives to make its platform a less daunting place to spend time — bullying and abuse are genuine threats for anyone daring to engage with others on Twitter. But relying on user reports and human moderators to remove abuse is a near-impossible challenge on a platform of Twitter’s scale, which is why it has turned to machine learning tools to automate much of the process, just as Facebook is doing.
As of October 2019, Twitter said it now removes half of all abusive tweets proactively, without relying on anyone to report them. (That’s double compared with the year before.) According to the company, the increase was largely attributable to “improving our machine-learning models in Q3” to detect potential policy violations, even though these policies don’t always apply to everyone equally.
Twitter has in recent times made a number of changes to its platform as it seeks to encourage businesses and the public to hang around. In early 2019, the company rolled out a controversial “hide replies” feature that allows users to curate responses to their tweets, raising the risk that high-profile figures such as politicians will whitewash responses to dubious claims they make.
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