Twitter Inc. plans to test new privacy-related features aimed at giving users more control over their follower lists and who can see their posts and likes, in an effort to make people feel more at ease interacting and sharing on the social media platform.
The tools are related to what Twitter executives refer to as “social privacy,” which refers to how users manage their online reputations and identities. This includes details such as a person’s list of followers, favorite tweets, and whether or not their accounts are public or private.
The ability to edit follower lists and a tool to archive old tweets so that they are no longer visible to others after a certain amount of time set by the user are among the features being considered. Hiding old tweets could be a popular feature for people who don’t want their posts to live forever online, as it’s a more convenient option than manually deleting them or sifting through years of messages to find ones you regret sending.
According to internal research, many Twitter users are unaware of basic privacy concepts, such as whether their account is publicly visible, according to Svetlana Pimkina, a staff researcher at the San Francisco-based company. Since they don’t know what other people can see about them, those users are less active on Twitter.
“When social privacy needs are not met, people limit their self-expression,” Pimkina explained. “They withdraw from the conversation.” Starting in September, Twitter will prompt users to consider whether their accounts are public or private.
The company’s privacy team is developing a number of products to alleviate user uncertainty. According to interviews with team members, some of them will be tested soon, while others are still in the concept stage.
Among the potential products are:
After a certain amount of time, Twitter may allow users to hide old tweets. The account holder would be able to see the tweets, but no one else would. The company is considering a variety of timeframes, such as hiding posts after 30, 60, or 90 days, or tweets after a year. This product is still in the concept stage and does not have a release date.
Users will be able to unfollow others in the near future. At the moment, the only way to do this is to block someone. This feature will be tested by Twitter starting this month.
Hiding tweets you’ve liked
Users will soon be able to choose who can see which tweets they like: everyone, just their followers, or specific groups. This feature will not be tested on a set timeline.
On Twitter, users will have the option of removing themselves from a public conversation. Only the sender of a tweet can choose who to mention today. Before the end of the year, Twitter intends to put this to the test.
Employees at Twitter are motivated by the fact that they frequently see users use creative workarounds to get around the lack of these features, such as blocking and then unblocking someone to remove them as a follower. Many other users go through the trouble of manually deleting old tweets or switching between public and private accounts depending on what they’re posting.
People who are concerned that their old tweets will come back to haunt them in some way down the road, such as when looking for a new job, applying for college, or running for political office, may benefit from archiving tweets.
Snap Inc. and Instagram have seen success with their disappearing Stories products, indicating that users are drawn to apps where their posts aren’t permanent. Users didn’t like Twitter’s own Stories feature, but a feature that does the same thing with tweets would likely be popular.
Twitter has long been transparent about its product roadmap, and it frequently beta tests features that aren’t yet available. However, the company also talks a lot about concept ideas, some of which never come to fruition or take much longer than expected.