Quick poll: what’s your Twitter personality?
Maybe you see yourself in one of these options. Or maybe you’re somewhere in the middle, in-between 2 and 3, or 4 and 5 (we see you!). Perhaps you’re a combination of a few, depending on how you’re feeling that day. The point is, everyone’s Twitter comfort level is different.
No matter where you are on the Twitter spectrum, it’s important that you have the appropriate tools to create the online experience that’s right for you. And just like in real life, you need tools to help you control how “out there” you want to be, or how private. You also need the right tools to help protect you from harm.
That’s where Twitter’s safety teams step in. These are the product managers, designers, researchers, and engineers who build the features that help people on Twitter feel safer. They do this by empowering them to customize their Twitter experience, says Christine Su, who helped develop Twitter’s conversation settings. She helps set the course for how Twitter will achieve this goal and build the right features to give folks the level of control they need—especially when it comes to marginalized communities such as women of color and the LGBTQ community.
When Su, whose background is in activism, joined Twitter in 2020, most of the work in this space was focused on the detection of “the bad things.” Think fraud, spam, abuse. “That's traditionally what we've done—reduce the bad and try to never let it get to Twitter and to the eyes of people on it,” she said.
But this approach can only go so far. Even if Twitter successfully catches all the bad things, there’s still a gray area of unwelcome content — stuff that doesn’t necessarily break Twitter’s rules — that makes its way to people. Women, people of color, and LGBTQ people could still be subject to harassment or getting dog-piled on. A female journalist or a trans rights activist whose Tweet goes viral could still be open to becoming the target of upsetting replies. Su’s goal is to help empower people with a suite of controls — from narrowing down who can reply to your Tweets to stopping replies altogether. Most recently, Twitter has begun to test notifications that alert you when a Tweet of yours might be going viral, in case you might want to proactively pull the lever on some of these controls.
“We want people to feel empowered to decide how to show up in any given space or any given day, because your sense of safety online is different, based on how you feel that day or in the moment. You may feel great taking on all the trolls and reply guys one day, and don’t want to deal with it the next day” she said. “We have a responsibility to give you the tools to help protect yourself.”
That’s the beauty of Twitter’s conversation tools—use them as you need them. Maybe you never will. But for your consideration, we spoke with three extremely online people who shared how they’re using the tools with the hope that it might inspire you to give them a whirl.
When to nip it in the bud
In her decade on the platform, content strategist and podcast host Wynter Mitchell-Rohrbaugh has built a community of fellow cultural commentators and rabble rousers — and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My community is filled with smart people who I feel like I can join the discussion with and get feedback from as well,” she said. “And we can all just exchange ideas. Even if it's little barbs or commentaries or snark, we're still exchanging ideas and helping build that for other people.”
But for her, some things are just not open to debate. Especially when it comes to sensitive topics like trauma or sexual assault. “Sometimes the message is the message and that's just where I'm at with it.” End of discussion.
As part of her Twitter toolset, she uses conversation settings liberally and cleverly. She likens the function that allows you to turn off replies to your Tweets as Twitter’s version of, I said what I said: “Some things are just unequivocally like, this is it.”
Case in point, Mitchell-Rohrbaugh refers to hot takes about a certain reality TV star whose storyline always elicits a strong response on social media. “I find that it happens on a lot of like topics that will inflame a very loud minority of people who just are cranky and want to be Karens,” she said.
But turning off replies from the get-go allows you to say what you need to say, knowing that it’s a hot button topic — and knowing it would normally rouse a response — and not wading any further. “I think that improves the health of things.”
When to shut it down midstream
Travel writer and Spaces host Rossana Wyatt stays on top of the latest Twitter tools and tricks for encouraging conversation on the platform. She’s even taught a postgraduate social media course at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. As for her Tweeting style, she’s not afraid to wade into politics, particularly when it comes to addressing misinformation. (Twitter has a COVID-19 misinformation policy that you should check out if you haven’t already.)
Recently she addressed a claim made by an American about the state of vaccines in her country. As a Canadian, she felt she had to set the record straight. After a few back-and-forths, she decided to finally just turn off replies.
“I needed to shut it down. Sometimes, depending on what it is, I don’t bother to reply, but opt to block or mute depending on what I see in the person's profile and feed,” she said. “I don’t want to get into an argument with someone on Twitter if I believe what they are saying is wrong, and nothing I say is going to convince them or change their beliefs.”
She added that although these tools to control what you see in your feed and on your replies are useful, there is value in trying to understand where people are coming from. “We do need to take the time to listen, read, and look at the other person’s feed, especially if there is a disagreement. Sometimes, you can turn a negative situation into a positive one. But it does depend on the situation, the topic, and the person.”
When to rule the block
Damien, aka “Himbo The Great™,” is a marketing pro in Washington, D.C., who’s been on the platform for 13 years. So long that he was lucky enough to snag a coveted two-letter handle, @db.
Because of this distinction, he inadvertently gets tagged in Tweets for major DB brands—Deutsche Bank and Dragon Ball Z are a couple of popular ones. So first and foremost, he’s a fan of the block.
“I'll be sleeping and all of a sudden I have like 17 likes on it and it just fills up my mentions and I can't get rid of them,” he said. “I can't hide that. I can't untag myself. So I ended up having to block all these people.” He’s blocked around 8,000 so far.
Although blocking is a popular way to remove yourself from a conversation, Twitter has also just launched the ability to remove followers and it’s working on a way for people to be able to remove mentions so you can untag yourself from a Tweet.
Damien also exercises the option to turn his account private temporarily, something he’s had to do in the past.
And like Rossana, he, too, believes in shutting down replies midstream, especially if the conversation starts getting out of control. He’s not afraid to pull the switch on replies when he’s not feeling it. He’s had to do it recently. “It wasn't anything crazy. It was just somebody was coming at me with a not-so-great angle and I just wasn't here for it.”