Twitter to trial reply blocking tools

The company's own product manager is concerned the move could encourage the spread of disinformation

Twitter is set to trial new ways to give users more control over online conversations, including developing a feature to limit who can reply to a tweet.

The idea was unveiled by director of product management Suzanne Xie at the CES tech show in Las Vegas, as part of wider plans to reduce harassment and abuse on the site, in particular, to address "pile ons". The company last year made it possible to hide some replies to tweets.

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The feature is currently in development, but at the moment it includes four options for "conversation participants". If a tweet is set to "global", anyone can reply. If it's set to "group", only those people who follow the account or are mentioned in the tweet can post a direct reply. Under "panel", only those mentioned in the tweet can reply, and with "statement", no-one can directly reply.

"We want to help people feel safe participating in the conversation on Twitter by giving them more control over the conversations they start," Twitter said in a tweet. "We’ll be experimenting with different options for who can reply to tweets in early 2020."

Twitter said that the system will be tested early this year and launch later in 2020.

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One concern raised at the announcement was that removing replies could make it easier for lies or misinformation to spread, as corrections couldn't be made in the replies. A product manager at the company suggested via Twitter that quote tweets could be an "important way to dispute/debunk somebody's tweet".

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The move to add control to replies could make Twitter a more welcome place for businesses promoting themselves, too. At the moment, controversial companies posting messages on their own feeds or spreading promotional material via advertising tweets risk the replies being filled with criticism. This tool could make promoted tweets more valuable for businesses — and help boost ads for Twitter, too.

The change comes amid criticism that the site isn't doing enough to prevent disinformation from spreading via the site or abuse and harassment, with Twitter responding with more granular controls as well as ditching political advertising.

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