The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is one of the biggest events of the year for tech and media. CES is where new products are launched and brand blunders are made.
This year Twitter have announced what some might deem a disastrous move. Twitter’s director of product management, Suzanne Xie, announced that the option to block replies will be coming in 2020.
Twitter has been under fire for years for allowing, even fostering, a hostile environment of bullying and misinformation. In an effort to show they’re taking action against trolls and bots they have announced an optional ‘reply block’.
The option of a reply block is welcomed by some as a move that will curtail harassment or political attacks. In 2019 coordinated mass Twitter bot attacks were used to bury protester accounts in Hong Kong.
Many are voicing concern about misinformation spread by bots on the platform. This week alone there have been two widespread misinformation campaigns. The Kuwaiti state news outlet were the target of a misinformation campaign. There was also a bot campaign to sow disinformation about the Australian wildfires.
By removing the reply option bots would be unable to target specific accounts, words or tweets with mass replies. This would curb pile ons which can make illegitimate news seem legitimate by going viral.
The move has also been suggested as a response to cyberbullies urging people to self-harm. In 2019 the UK government commissioned an investigation into cyberbullying. The survey found that England faces some of the highest high levels of cyber bullying.
Governments around the world are looking at oversight of platforms because of cyberbullying. So it makes sense for Twitter to make some concessions to appease them or face harsher governance.
However banning replies seems to fly in the face of the original purpose of Twitter. The platform was originally conceived as an ‘information network not a social network’. However removing replies removes exchange of information. If you are unable to engage in dialogue online with strangers, how do you exchange information?
The ‘Like’ feature remains for now. But if you can only like not respond where is the conversation or accountability? Online social platforms have been interrogating issues like this since the rise of political bots.
There are increasing calls for oversight over the internet as it’s political influence has been recognised. However if platforms aren’t able to police trolls or bots we’ll end up with no options to interact with each other.
Will the ‘global village’ turn into a ghost town?