Twitter to launch a ‘hide replies’ feature, plus other changes to its reporting process

In February, Twitter confirmed its plans to launch a feature that would allow users to hide replies that they felt didn’t contribute to a conversation. Today, alongside news of other changes to the reporting process and its documentation, Twitter announced the “Hide Replies” feature is set to launch in June.

Twitter says the feature will be an “experiment” — which means it could be changed or even scrapped, based on user feedback.

The feature is likely to spark some controversy, as it puts the original poster in control of which tweets appear in a conversation thread. This, potentially, could silence dissenting opinions or even fact-checked clarifications. But, on the flip side, it also means that people who enter conversations with plans to troll or make hateful remarks are more likely to see their posts tucked away out of view.

This, Twitter believes, could help encourage people to present their thoughts and opinions in a more polite and less abusive fashion, and shifts the balance of power back to the poster without an overcorrection. (For what it’s worth, Facebook and Instagram give users far more control over their posts, as you can delete trolls’ comments entirely.)

“We already see people trying to keep their conversations healthy by using block, mute, and report, but these tools don’t always address the issue. Block and mute only change the experience of the blocker, and report only works for the content that violates our policies,” explained Twitter’s PM of Health Michelle Yasmeen Haq earlier this year. “With this [‘Hide Replies’] feature, the person who started a conversation could choose to hide replies to their tweets. The hidden replies would be viewable by others through a menu option.”

In other words, hidden responses aren’t being entirely silenced — just made more difficult to view, as displaying them would require an extra click.

Twitter unveiled its plans to launch the “Hide Replies” feature alongside a host of other changes it has in store for its platform, some of which it had previously announced.

It says, for example, it will add more notices within Twitter for clarity around tweets that break its rules but are allowed to remain on the site. This is, in part, a response to some users’ complaints around President Trump’s apparently rule-breaking tweets that aren’t taken down. Twitter’s head of legal, policy and trust Vijaya Gadde recently mentioned this change was in the works, in a March interview with The Washington Post.

Twitter also says it will update its documentation around its rules to be simpler to understand. And it will make it easier for people to share specifics when reporting tweets so Twitter can act more swiftly when user safety is a concern.

This latter change follows a recent controversy over how Twitter handled death threats against Rep. Ilhan Omar. Twitter left the death threats online so law enforcement could investigate, according to a BuzzFeed News report. But the move raised questions as to how Twitter should handle threats against a user’s life in the future.

More vaguely, Twitter states it’s improving its technology to help it proactively review content that breaks rules before it’s reported — specifically in the areas of those who dox users (tweet private information), make threats and other online abuse. The company didn’t go in-depth as to how it’s approaching these problems, but it did acquire anti-abuse technology provider Smyte last year, with the goal of better addressing the abuse on its platform.

Donald Hicks, VP Twitter Services, in a company blog post, hints Twitter is using its existing technology in new ways to address abuse:

The same technology we use to track spam, platform manipulation and other rule violations is helping us flag abusive Tweets to our team for review. With our focus on reviewing this type of content, we’ve also expanded our teams in key areas and geographies so we can stay ahead and work quickly to keep people safe. Reports give us valuable context and a strong signal that we should review content, but we’ve needed to do more and though still early on, this work is showing promise.

Twitter also today shared a handful of self-reported metrics that paint a picture of progress.

This includes the following:

Today, 38 percent of abusive content that’s enforced is handled proactively (note: much content still has no enforcement action taken, though); 16 percent fewer abuse reports after an interaction from an account the reporter doesn’t follow; 100K accounts suspended for returning to create new accounts during Jan.-March 2019, a 45 percent increase from the same time last year; a 60 percent faster response rates to appeals requests through its in-app appeal process, 3x more abusive accounts suspended within 24 hours, compared to the same time last year; and 2.5x more private info removed with its new reporting process compared with the old process.

But these are largely “vanity metrics,” as they don’t offer real, hard numbers about the extent of abuse on Twitter. One hundred thousand accounts may have been caught, but how many were not? Three times more abuse accounts suspended — but how many were there? How fast is private info actually taken down? How many people appealed their reports? How many feel the report resolved their problem? How many abuse reports in total are there? Is that number growing or declining? What percent of the user base has used the reporting process because of harassment towards themselves? And so on.

Despite Twitter’s attempts to solve issues around online abuse, it still drops the ball in handling what should be straightforward decisions. It’s not necessarily alone here, however. All of social media is at a crossroads, having built platforms that cater to engagement over health and safety; they’re now trying to back pedal furiously ahead of increased regulation.

But the problem is that human behavior is what it is. A giant public square will only bring out the worst of us. Twitter is a perfect example.

The changes to Twitter were announced as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey took the stage at TED 2019 on Tuesday, where he admitted the platform’s failings in terms of online abuse.

The company admits it still has more to do, and will continue to share its progress in the future.

Twitter confirms a new ‘Subscribe to Conversation’ feature for following tweets of interest

In addition to testing out a new format for conversations within a prototype app called twttr and other features like a “Hide Tweet” button, Twitter today confirmed it’s also developing a feature that would allow users to subscribe to individual conversations taking place on its platform.

The new option was first spotted by Jane Manchun Wong, a reverse engineer who often peeks inside popular apps to discover their yet-to-be-launched features and changes.

Wong tells TechCrunch she found the “Subscribe to conversation” feature within the Android version of the Twitter app, where it’s a user interface prototype for now. The button simply reads “Subscribe to conversation” and is positioned at the top right corner of a tweet view, she says.

Reached for comment, Twitter didn’t provide any details about its plans but pointed TechCrunch to its tweet confirming the feature’s development. The company’s short statement reads, “This is part of our work to make Twitter more conversational.”

Healthier and better structured conversations are among Twitter’s top goals at present, as the company tries to make its app easier to use and less prone to abuse.

The new subscription feature would allow someone to follow a thread without directly signaling their interest, or having to join in the conversation themselves. With a click of the button, users could instead opt to receive notifications when new tweets were added to that conversation.

To some extent, this feature is another example of how the change from stars to hearts as Twitter’s favoriting mechanism has had a ripple effect on Twitter’s development. The star had indicated interest, but didn’t convey an emotion. Twitter wanted to evoke a more positive vibe, so it shifted over to hearts several years ago. But as a result, people felt they could no longer save tweets they wanted to later reference using the default engagement mechanism, as it indicates an endorsement. (And not all tweets you’re saving are those you support.)

Twitter later addressed this problem with a separate tweet-saving feature, Bookmarks.

Now it’s creating yet another way to track tweets – and, in this case, the resulting conversation, too.

If Twitter had kept stars, it could have built out its “Likes” page with all these variations on tweet-saving and more. It could have added toggles for notifications, and who knows what else – keyword search across your saves? bookmarking with tags? private and public boards or collections, like Moments, but built from bookmarked collections?

Aggregating these features in one place could have made Twitter a valuable reference and “Read It Later” tool to rival apps like Pocket and Instapaper – or even web browser bookmarking itself.

But that’s not the path Twitter took, so now we’ll have Likes (hearts), Bookmarks, and conversation subscriptions, it seems.

Twitter declined to say when the new feature would arrive.

Elon Musk is in trouble with the SEC over his tweets—again

Elon Musk

The Securities and Exchange Commission has asked a federal judge to hold Elon Musk in contempt for tweeting last Tuesday that “Tesla made 0 cars in 2011, but will make around 500k in 2019.” In reality, Tesla only expects to produce 400,000 cars in 2019. And the SEC argues the tweet ran afoul of an October settlement requiring Musk to seek pre-approval from Tesla lawyers before tweeting out potentially market-moving information.

Musk agreed to this restriction to settle an SEC lawsuit over a previous tweet in which Musk claimed that he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private at $420 per share. The public soon discovered that Musk had not actually secured funding for such a transaction, and federal securities laws make it illegal for the CEO of a publicly-traded company to publish misleading market-moving information.

In his settlement with the SEC, Musk agreed to pay a $20 million fine and give up his position as the chairman of Tesla’s board. And to make sure Musk didn’t mislead investors again, the SEC required Tesla to develop a process for pre-approving all Musk tweets that contain potentially market-moving information.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Twitter bug revealed some Android users’ private tweets

Twitter accidentally revealed some users’ “protected” (aka, private) tweets, the company disclosed this afternoon. The “Protect your Tweets” setting typically allows people to use Twitter in a non-public fashion. These users get to approve who can follow them and who can view their content. For some Android users over a period of several years, that may not have been the case – their tweets were actually made public as a result  of this bug.

The company says that the issue impacted Twitter for Android users who made certain account changes while the “Protect your Tweets” option was turned on.

For example, if the user had changed their account email address, the “Protect your Tweets” setting was disabled.

Twitter tells TechCrunch that’s just one example of an account change that could have prompted the issue. We asked for other examples, but the company declined share any specifics.

What’s fairly shocking is how long this issue has been happening.

Twitter says that users may have been impacted by the problem if they made these accounts changes between November 3, 2014, and January 14, 2019 – the day the bug was fixed. 

The company has now informed those who were affected by the issue, and has re-enabled the “Protect your Tweets” setting if it had been disabled on those accounts. But Twitter says it’s making a public announcement because it “can’t confirm every account that may have been impacted.” (!!!)

The company explains to us it was only able to notify those people where it was able to confirm the account was impacted, but says it doesn’t have a complete list of impacted accounts. For that reason, it’s unable to offer an estimate of how many Twitter for Android users were affected in total.

This is a sizable mistake on Twitter’s part, as it essentially made content that users had explicitly indicated they wanted private available to the public. It’s unclear at this time if the issue will result in a GDPR violation and fine, as a result.

The one bright spot is that some of the impacted users may have noticed their account had become public because they would have received alerts – like notifications that people were following them without their direct consent. That could have prompted the user to re-enable the “protect tweets” setting on their own. But they may have chalked up the issue to user error or a small glitch, not realizing it was a system-wide bug.

“We recognize and appreciate the trust you place in us, and are committed to earning that trust every day,” wrote Twitter in a statement. “We’re very sorry this happened and we’re conducting a full review to help prevent this from happening again.”

The company says it believes the issue is now fully resolved.

Tesla is outgrowing Elon Musk

Article intro image

Tesla’s battle with the Securities and Exchange Commission could be the company’s biggest crisis in almost a decade. And it all started with a tweet.

“Am considering taking Tesla private at $420,” Musk wrote on August 7. “Funding secured.”

Tesla shares soared. But it quickly became apparent that Musk didn’t actually have a commitment from anyone to fund a buyout—at least not in writing. That caught the SEC’s attention. The SEC quickly began investigating Musk’s tweets for possible violation of securities laws, which prohibit manipulating markets by publishing inaccurate information.

Read 30 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Short seller sues Tesla, Elon Musk, claiming buyout tweets were fraudulent

Three days after Elon Musk tweeted that he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private, we still don’t know who, if anyone, has agreed to provide the billions of dollars needed to buy out the company. But plaintiffs’ lawyers aren’t waiting any longer for Musk to provide more details.

On Friday, stock trader Kalman Isaacs filed a class action lawsuit arguing that Musk’s Tuesday tweets constituted securities fraud. The lawsuit, first reported by Reuters, appears to be the first one claiming that Musk’s Tuesday tweets violated federal securities law.

At the time of Musk’s tweet, Isaacs was short at least 3,000 shares of Tesla stock. That means that at some point prior to Musk’s tweet, Isaacs had borrowed Tesla shares and sold them, betting that the price would fall and he would eventually be able to buy them back at a discount, pocketing the difference.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Library of Congress will no longer archive all public tweets, citing longer character limits

 The Library of Congress announced today that it will no longer add every public tweet to its archives, an ambitious project it launched seven years ago. It cited the much larger volume of tweets generated now, as well as Twitter’s decision to double the character limit from 140 to 280. Instead, starting on Jan. 1, the Library will be more selective about what tweets to preserve, a… Read More

Twitter launches ‘Happening Now’ to showcase tweets about events, starting with sports

 Twitter is today releasing a new feature called “Happening Now” aimed to make its service more accessible to newcomers by highlighting groups of tweets about a topic, beginning with sports, before expanding to other areas like entertainment and breaking news. If this sounds similar to Twitter’s existing Moments feature….well, it is. Moments, too, offers a way to learn… Read More