Twitter announced today that it gives people more control during the conversations they start with a new feature that they can use to hide answers. The company has tested the position in Canada and is now rolling it out in the US and Japan. The move is part of a joint effort by the technology giant to stop the spread of hate and vitriol online.
Previously, users could only manage their individual conversation experience by muting certain keywords so that they were no longer displayed in notifications or by blocking specific users. They couldn't change the way others started the debate, which proved problematic when lively discussions inevitably began to melt away.
The person who tweeted the original comment can now decide which answers remain and which are hidden from other users. Clicking on the right menu of a tweet brings the set of normal options (hide, mute, follow) with "Hide reply" now added to the list. Once selected, the answer is hidden from other users, although they can still see it by clicking on an icon that displays all hidden tweets, as long as they are brave enough to wade through.
Twitter first announced the feature in February and began testing it in early July. "We saw that people were more likely to reconsider their interactions when their tweet was hidden," the company wrote a new blog post today.
While the company crosses the line between freedom of expression and civil debate, the position can still be controversial. Although people can see hidden answers in theory, they can tailor online debates, hiding opposing views or corrections for wrong information.
But Twitter is willing to risk that #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo can thrive without conspiracy theories and intimidation, to regain their reputation as a place where healthy conversations and activism such as the Arab Spring can flourish. In a announcement about the launch of the position in Canada, Twitter said:
Every day, people start important conversations on Twitter, from #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter to discussions on #NBAFinals or their favorite television shows. These conversations bring people together to debate, learn and laugh. That said, we know that distracting, irrelevant and offensive answers can derail the discussions that people want to have.
Ultimately, the success of "hiding comments" will depend on how people use it, but it can mean friendlier – and more filtered – conversations.