Twitter Doesn't Care About You

Twitter lets you block and mute accounts, but its respect for those decisions is inconsistent as hell.

I don't have the full history of Twitter feature releases in front of me, but when the service started, it was not overly complex—a CR-D app (CRUD, minus the update) plus subscriptions. And over time, Twitter added features like native retweeting, favorites1, and much needed privacy enhancements like blocking and muting.

Despite its evolution, Twitter has stayed obsessed with "The Conversation." Fancy dressings for what amounts to engagement, or fuel for its advertising engine. The more people engage with content on the site, the more ads are displayed and the broader our individual ad profiles become, which means even more ads, and so on and so on.

I have a lot to say about its advertising, but that's for another day.

Blocking accounts is essential for any social network. Period. It isn't perfect, but if "just ignore the trolls" is a biplane, blocking is a space shuttle. I thought that adding the ability to mute accounts (and phrases) was a great addition to users' safety tool-kits, even if you can only mute 200 phrases. It is a quiet defense—no one knows for sure if you have them muted or not—and muted phrases allows you granular control over the duration and sources. A good step forward.

And both of these tools are located in Twitter's "Privacy and safety" menu! It gets it!

The problem is that, in the interest of The Conversation, Twitter's application of your blocks and mutes (your filters) is inconsistent as hell.

Quotes

Much like when Twitter added native retweeting after it saw users manually retweeting other users, Twitter made it possible to quote a tweet by including a link to that tweet in your post. No matter the intent, it's the UI equivalent of holding your opponents decapitated head and screaming at your friends. But hey, ENGAGEMENT!

When someone retweets an account or phrase that is included in your filters, that plain retweet does not land in your timeline, just as you intended.

But if someone quote retweets an account or phrase that is included in your filters, whether or not you see that person's tweet is dependent on a couple of things, from my very super scientific observations:

  • Is the quoted account verified? If so, still show the quoting tweet, but display "This tweet is unavailable" in lieu of the quoted tweet.
  • Is the quoted account not verified, but does it have a large follower count? Treat it like a verified account.
  • Is the quoted account not verified with a smaller follower count? Show nothing.
A screenshot of a tweet from User1234 that says 'I have something to say about this!' and a link to a tweet from Donald Trump. The message 'This tweet is unavailable' is displayed rather than Trump's tweet.

This shows that a person's filters are considered when displaying that content, but the effect is that some filtered content essentially highlighted content based on whether or not Twitter thinks it's "interesting" enough.

Why is this horrible? Filters not only protect a user's privacy, they protect a user's mental health. We filter based on anything from things we just don't like to things that are triggering.

But that doesn't matter to Twitter.

It's interesting to note that this same logic is applied to whether or not you see quoted retweets of an account that has blocked you, completely ignoring that user's choice to not let you see their posts. Can you see their post? No, but you can likely extrapolate its content from the quoting user's post.

What's more, that tweet is put in front of someone who shouldn't see it, given a carrot in the form of the quoting user's commentary, and then given a direct link to tweet that makes it easy as hell to open in a private tab.

I cannot stress this enough: Twitter actively encourages people to use workarounds for its own safety features.

Your filters are fully ignored in the Explore tab and the Trending Topics sidebar. Period. Full stop.

You don't even have the option to mute a trending topic in the sidebar, but you can report it.

Seizing defeat from the jaws of victory

No matter what your local scrum master or product manager tells you, Twitter can fix all of this whenever it wants, but it doesn't want to.

"But Vince!" I hear you say, "You don't work there! How do you know anything?"

First, despite branding, despite messaging, Twitter is a social advertising platform, so any suggestion that their focus is on anything else is naive at best. Need confirmation of its priorities? Look at the warning you get when you first open your mute list in Privacy and Safety:

A message from the Twitter application, 'When you mute words, you won't get any new notifications for Tweets that include them or see Tweets with those words in your timeline.' A giant blue buttons that reads 'Got it.'

Second, because Twitter renamed the feature today from "retweeted with comment " to just "quote."

A screenshot of a Tweet's statistics, showing that the tweet has been retweeted once, liked three times, and quoted once.A screenshot of the menu a user sees when they click the 'retweet' button in the iOS Twitter app.

Keeping the promise in the warning dialog, you won't see the tweet. But it never said anything about not seeing quotes.

Rename the component, remove the expectations.

Footnotes

  1. In this house, we still do not acknowledge the change from stars to hearts.