Twitter knows we treat each other terribly on Twitter. We dunk, ridiculing friends and strangers via quote-tweets. We ratio, piling on replies to bad tweets. We retweet without a second thought, spreading outrage and misinformation at warp speed.
But within the next two weeks, Twitter will debut a series of experiments meant to calm us down — subtly motivating us to use the quote-tweet, reply, and retweet in nondestructive ways.
“Everything on our platform incentivizes some form of behavior,” David Gasca, a senior director of product management at Twitter, told BuzzFeed News. Amid the company's push for healthier conversations, he’s wondering “if we modify how people can do retweets, or how people can reply, or how people can engage, how does that change conversation on the platform?”
Twitter hopes to find out. In a meeting at its San Francisco headquarters in late October, Gasca and Suzanne Xie, director of product management at Twitter, showed off two experiments among several that will go live in the coming weeks: In the first, Twitter will add an emoji to a retweet, giving people a chance to quote-tweet without going into the compose field. Gasca and Xie want to find out if this feature might encourage people to express more nuanced emotions, putting a damper on dunking and mindless retweeting.
In the second experiment, Twitter will automatically suggest people use an emoji in their replies. If you like something, you could use the heart-eyes emoji. If you don’t, you could use the red circle with a line going through it. But if you pick a negative emoji, Twitter will ask, “Why do you disagree?” — which it hopes will prompt a more thoughtful reply, rather than a flame war.
Twitter’s experiments may seem small, but they could add up to big changes by the time the company is done with them, likely sometime in 2020. “We have big ambitions here. We're definitely serious about changing how conversations happen on Twitter,” Gasca said.
The emoji tests come amid a sitewide push to rethink aspects of the service. Last week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said the company will ban political ads, with some exceptions. Twitter will also start allowing people to follow topics, not just people, a feature announced Wednesday that will go live later this month. Earlier this week, Twitter research VP Dantley Davis laid out a series of possible experiments the company might run, including giving people a chance to prevent retweets of their tweets and removing themselves from a conversation.
Dorsey also recently expressed his misgivings about the retweet button. “Definitely thinking about the incentives and ramifications of all actions, including retweet,” he told BuzzFeed News in July.
“Sometimes the barrier to tweeting is quite high, people feel like it's easier to retweet than add context because they don't know what to say,” Xie told BuzzFeed News. “After looking at the most commonly used emojis people use with ‘retweet with comment,’ we're now giving them an easy option in this experiment to tap one, and it adds that as your comment.”
Gasca said that the site will continue to look at tweaks, some of them even more fundamental, adding that Twitter will also explore the impact of removing the pure retweet versus the retweet with comment.