The Not-So Hidden Problems with Twitter’s New Hidden Replies Feature

On Sept. 19, 2019, Twitter announced the U.S. rollout of its newest feature: Hidden Replies.

Billed by the social media platform as a mechanism to control users’ conversations and limit hate speech, the feature essentially works like a worn-out eraser for messy replies users want to remove from their Twitter threads. Of course, when you use the eraser the words are no longer clearly visible, but underneath those smudged pencil marks and shaved eraser bits you can still tell that something was there.

In short, Twitter is now giving users the opportunity to hide certain replies from their tweets without actually deleting them. Instead of removing the reply entirely, the hidden replies get placed within a small icon visible on the main tweet only to be viewed when selected.

After better understanding this tool, I am concerned with its potential pitfalls. I can’t help from thinking about the negative outcomes of hiding replies when used in any circumstance other than hiding blatant bullying, hate speech or spam posts from bot accounts. There aren’t any restrictions on what posts can and can’t be hidden, leaving the door open for people to hide replies that don’t agree with their viewpoint or seek to correct misinformation. Then there’s always the added possibility that users could hide tweets without any warranted reason. Ultimately, the feature has the potential to limit free speech.

Another potential problem with the feature is the public’s lack of knowledge about the tool. Apparently, Twitter announced it was beginning to test this feature in Canada in February, but I, a self-proclaimed social media addict, didn’t hear a peep about this until August. With the U.S. rollout happening two weeks ago, I took to Twitter to see if my followers had heard about this new feature. The answer confirmed my point – 78% of the 23 people who responded to my Twitter poll had never heard of hidden replies! If Twitter users don’t know the feature exists, they will be missing information that could be crucial to the conversation. 

As a PR professional, I can understand how this tool can be helpful to clients, especially for more public organizations that generate mass responses to their tweets. Often, people just searching for clout will add a response to a popular tweet that has nothing to do with the conservation and can very well be considered spam. In this case, filtering out unwanted discourse with the hidden replies tools would be wonderful.

All in all, I believe Twitter created and launched the hidden replies feature with pure intentions, but I think Hidden Replies will be too powerful in the hands of people who just want to be trolls on the internet. We’ll have to wait and see how the U.S. rollout pans out.

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