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Twitter controversy as ‘reply block’ announced.

Social platform announce new plans to tackle trolling, bots and cyberbullying.

wooden model of a  robot walking on some grass

Thursday, 9 January, 2020

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.

Why?

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.

The positives

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.

All bullying is shameful but cyberbullying is particularly cowardly and pernicious.

We’re changing the RSE and health curriculum so young people learn about the importance of safe and acceptable behaviour online and how their own actions can affect others.

But I know that young people are far from the only victims of online harassment, and teachers and heads can be vulnerable too. This is why we’re going to update our guidance for all school staff on how to protect themselves from cyberbullying, and how to react in the right way if it does take place.

- Former UK Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, July 2019

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.

The negatives

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?

Natalie Dunning author picture

By:

Natalie Dunning is a freelance writer and Media Psychology researcher based in Manchester.

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