Yesterday, I opened the Twitter app on my phone and noticed a message at the top of the screen encouraging me to check out Twitter’s new “safety tools.” When I clicked on the link, it took me to a page headlined, “You’re in control with our new safety tools,” outlining new ways for users to manage what they see.
My reaction was one of deep skepticism. “Safety tools” sounds like a great concept at first glance, but after reading more of the details, I’m not so sure.
The first feature: Choose what you see. With this addition, each user can handpick the words and hashtags that are visible in his/her feed. For example, I’ve never been much of a football fan, so come time for the Super Bowl, I can tell Twitter to block the words “Super Bowl” and “football.” That sounds like a great idea, right?
Perhaps in theory, but not so much in practice. Let’s be honest - this feature is bound to extend beyond the realm of a trivial football game, and in this vein, I see it further cementing filter bubbles more than ever before. If someone I follow tweets a political blurb that I disagree with (which often happens in the Twittersphere), it will be fairly tempting to block the words I don’t want to hear. If a mass protest takes place and a particular hashtag picks up steam to spread the word, Twitter users who disapprove of the movement can simply block that hashtag, and those opinions, from view.
This could be dangerous. Social media already exacerbates political echo chambers to a great degree, and these features surely amplify the problem. It goes without saying that our country is more polarized than ever before, and we certainly won’t help the problem if we censor ideas we oppose.
All that being said, I see why Twitter created this feature. I see why people would like it. It’s alluring.
There have definitely been countless times when I’ve rolled my eyes at a social media post that I think borders on the ridiculous. I make a conscious effort to engage with differing viewpoints, so I don’t make use of the unfollow button. But I have to admit, sometimes it’s tempting mute the words I don’t agree with.
Is my aversion to Twitter’s new safety rollout an overreaction? Should Twitter allow us to block words and phrases that we aren’t interested in engaging with? Are we setting a dangerous precedent or is this a convenient, necessary feature?
Let us know what you think here and on social media.