Twitter is testing out vanishing tweets – aka “fleets” – but will this just encourage toxic behaviour online?
The vanishing messages, dubbed “fleets”, are being trialled in Brazil. People can tap on a person’s profile picture to see the fleets, but will only be able to respond to the person via direct message.
The move comes amid a push by the social platform to clean up abusive content. Research showing that Twitter can be a toxic place, especially for female users, likely due to the rapid fire of information. Women are abused ever 30 seconds on the platform.
However, some people have suggested that “fleets” could have the opposite effect: will users be more likely to tweet abusive content knowing that their messages will not exist in perpetuity? In the era of “fake news”, will this reduce people’s accountability online?
Twitter product lead Kayvon Beykpour said the new function aimed “to create new capabilities that address some of the anxieties that hold people back from talking on Twitter”.
“Every day, people come to Twitter to see what’s happening,” he said. “One of the unique things about Twitter is that ‘what’s happening’ is fuelled by people sharing their thoughts openly, through tweets. But sharing your thoughts publicly can be intimidating!”
“We’re hoping that fleets can help people share the fleeting thoughts that they would have been unlikely to tweet.”
However, history tells us that the burden of these “fleeting thoughts” will most likely fall disproportionately on female users.
A 2018 study by Amnesty International found “for many women, Twitter is a platform where violence and abuse against them flourishes, often with little accountability”.
“As a company, Twitter is failing in its responsibility to respect women’s rights online by inadequately investigating and responding to reports of violence and abuse in a transparent manner,” the study read. It also found that black women were 84% more likely to be mentioned in abusive tweets than white women.
Another recent study by the International Women’s Media Foundation found that 30% of female journalists indicated they had considered leaving the profession altogether as a result of the impact online abuse had had on them.
Twitter has already conceded that it needs to do better – so to see the platform prioritising thoughtless conversation is disappointing.