Twitter Debuts Reply Feature to Prevent Chronic Harassment

After testing earlier this year, Twitter has introduced settings that allow users to control who can reply to tweets. Twitter is responding to widespread pressure to combat chronic hate speech, misogyny and harassment. Twitter director of product management Suzanne Xie wrote that, “we’ve seen people use these settings to have conversations that weren’t really possible before,” adding that, “starting today, everyone will be able to use these settings so unwanted replies don’t get in the way of meaningful conversations.”

VentureBeat reports that, “in recent months, Twitter has cracked down on COVID-19 disinformation, hidden and labeled some tweets by President Trump, and acquired Lightwell to improve the quality of conversations” as well as experimented with “an ephemeral tweet feature called Fleets.”

As can be gleaned from its job postings, Twitter also appears to be “working on a new subscription platform.” It notes that these moves are “a bit more aggressive approach to product development” for a company that has been slow to “address issues or to introduce new features,” a policy that has “allowed a rash of fundamental problems to fester.”

Until now, any user who tweets can “face a swarm of angry tweets from strangers and bots that flood their mentions.”

The new feature allows the user to choose from three options. The default setting — which will remain — is to allow anyone to reply. The second option is to limit replies to people the user follows and, third, to limit replies to users specifically mentioned. If a user chooses either the second or third option, “Twitter will place a label on the tweet and the reply button will be grayed out.”

Anyone can still retweet or like the tweet. Xie said that, “the ability to control replies has led to new formats such as hosting interviews or conducting panels.” “People tell us they feel more comfortable tweeting and more protected from spam and abuse,” she wrote, stressing that “other people can still see the tweets and react to them by starting their own conversations via retweets.”

She added that, “the experiment showed that people would go in search of these other viewpoints if they knew a conversation had been restricted in some way.” Twitter also plans to “create a way for users to invite people into conversations.”

Recode reports that, “according to Twitter’s internal research, people who submitted abuse reports are three times more likely to use these settings.” The feature also helps people trying to have a focused conversation, noting that, prior to its introduction, during Recode cofounder Kara Swisher’s interview with Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey, both were “bombarded with distracting replies that cluttered the discussion.” Twitter reported that, for now at least, trolls “aren’t blasting people’s DMs instead.”