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Twitter Briefly Tested a Feature Suggesting Who Users Should Unfollow

Illustration for article titled Twitter Briefly Tested a Feature Suggesting Who Users Should Unfollow
Photo: Richard Drew (AP)

Twitter, which has been alternately scrambling around reassuring users it is working to address its well-known trolling problem and fumbling doing just that, briefly tested a feature suggesting who users should unfollow.

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Per Slate, however, the intent behind the project does not appear to have been to get users to chill the hell out by unfollowing others they hate. Instead, the briefly-tested feature suggested unfollowing other users that they didn’t engage with very much. A Twitter spokesperson sent Slate the following statement:

We know that people want a relevant Twitter timeline. One way to do this is by unfollowing people they don’t engage with regularly. We ran an incredibly limited test to surface accounts that people were not engaging with to check if they’d like to unfollow them.

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It’s not clear whether the test, which Twitter characterized to Slate as minimal and available to only a few users, was successful. Some users who noticed the feature appeared to think it was minimally useful or even unhelpful.

In theory, suggested unfollows could help minimize clutter—without the use of Twitter’s official dashboard Tweetdeck or a third-party app, it’s pretty easy for users to get lost in the default site or app’s fairly unmanageable follow lists. It could also help prune individual users’ timelines of posts from others they simply don’t care about. In general, it’s the kind of incremental thing that some users will notice, others may not, and probably wouldn’t have a huge impact on the site.

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On the other hand, Donald Trump has been eagerly shepherding his flock of true believers into a crusade against tech companies he believes are censoring right-wingers, including Twitter, Facebook, and Google. For Twitter, this has been a big headache. Trump promoted a conspiracy theory that the site was “SHADOW BANNING” conservatives after it made minor tweaks to in-platform search results, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy accused it of doing the same after seemingly misunderstanding his own privacy settings. So it’s easy to see how manufactured outrage over this minor and entirely opt-in tweak could become another goddamn thing that is frankly exhausting to even think about.

As Slate noted, data from the unfollow tool could also be used to help cultivate the algorithm-ranked feed users now see when logging in. That feed is designed to boost the engagement Twitter has been desperately seeking, though it perhaps encourages some of the worst echo-chamber behavior on the site.

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[Slate]

"... An upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online." - Washington Post

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DISCUSSION

anhedon1c
more like dim buttsmeller amirite

I’m kind of surprised that nobody has tried to create a social media filtering service, based on the “people who like this also like that” model. You could both like and strongly dislike (i.e. block) people. Then it would highlight messages from the people you like (and “probably” like, in a different color) and straight-up ban the people you don’t (or probably don’t.)

I know, I know, this will create some kind of “bubble” and that’s supposedly bad, but on the other hand maybe I’m not here to read the idiotic ramblings of people who would still use the word “libtard” without a trace of irony. Maybe I’d only like to see the comments of people I find funny or smart.

(Mostly I like the particular chemistry in the Giz Media pond, but I would very much like this kind of filtering on Google Plus, where comments have gotten as crappy as YouTube.)