Suzanne Xie, Twitter’s director of product management, told the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas Wednesday that the platform would soon be allowing users to restrict who could reply to their tweets.
According to the Verge, Xie said that Twitter would have a new setting called "conversation participants." The feature would appear in the "compose tweet" screen.
“Getting ratioed, getting dunked on, the dynamics that happen that we think aren’t as healthy are definitely part of ... our thinking about this,” Xie said.
The feature would have four reply settings. The "global" setting would allow any user to reply to the tweet, the "group" setting would limit replies just to people you follow or mention in the tweet, the "panel" setting would limit it just to people you mention, and "statement" would block all replies. Even though other users wouldn't be able to reply to some tweets, they still would be able to read and screenshot them.
Kayvon Beykpour, Twitter’s head of product, said the platform's priorities were “health, conversations, and interests.”
Changing the way replies work would be controversial. Twitter's CES presentation touted the work the product team is doing to make the conversation on the site healthier and less abusive. The company seemed to view the tweak to replies as part of that cleanup campaign.
"As part of our work to help people feel safe participating in the conversation on Twitter, we want to give them more control over the conversations they start," a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. "For example, who can reply to their Tweets. We will be experimenting with this in early 2020."
Many on Twitter have echoed that sentiment in the wake of Wednesday's announcement. Verge reporter Casey Newton reacted positively to the change.
"Could solve a lot of abuse and harassment issues in one fell swoop," Newton tweeted. "I suspect most people will never use this feature. (I can't imagine using it much myself.) There will still be plenty of conversation on Twitter. But it should offer much-needed protection to the platform's most vulnerable users."
Mashable reporter Karissa Bell had a similar reaction.
"This is something that should address people who feel they have to make their accounts private because their tweets are hijacked by trolls/swarms, on the other hand," Bell tweeted. "I could see people getting annoyed when officials/brands limit replies, this could effectively kill the ability to ratio."
Tech consultant Eli Schiff was more critical of the change, pointing out that replies are one of the most basic ways to push back against misinformation on the site.
"Incredible. Twitter is making the Replies feature optional to make journalists and politicians unaccountable," he tweeted.
Twitter's product decisions have often brought unintended consequences, like when the platform decided mentions and photos were no longer part of the then-140-character limit or when the character limit was increased to 280 or when it added the threading feature. Or when the company embraced world leaders on the platform, only to have them use it to threaten each other.
As Slate's Gabriel Roth tweeted: "Basically they made a simple machine and it turned out to have terrible consequences so now they keep adding more and more elaborate widgets onto the machine, each of which has its own terrible effects that must be kept in check by subsequent widgets with their own terrible etc."