Donald Trump: the (ex-)president and Twitter
“With Twitter, it wasn’t clear what it was. They called it a social network, they called it microblogging, but it was hard to define, because it didn’t replace anything.”
These words from Twitter co-founder Evan Williams are from 2013. Four years later, Donald Trump moved into the White House and showed the entire world how you can propel your agenda onto the web in just 280 characters. In real time, without any filters, and accessible for everybody.
In 2021, nearly 200 million people use Twitter on a daily basis. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to find Donald Trump among them. That’s because he also demonstrated to the world the weaknesses of the principle behind Twitter. The platform can sometimes be an extremely hostile environment where discussions are replaced with threats and insults. Particularly for women, Twitter can be a toxic place. Trump, for his part, shot himself in the foot with untruths and fake news, which his press secretary once described using the infamous term “alternative facts”.
Fact-checking: Twitter’s most important new feature
Twitter has recognized that it is responsible for ensuring that people with a big following also exercise a great deal of diligence. The targeted circulation of lies can be socially catastrophic. While Facebook has so far refused to adjust its algorithms in the name of free speech, Twitter has responded and introduced a fact-checking tool, which even tripped up its most famous user in the end: Donald Trump.
The fact-checking tool was in a way a prelude to a whole range of new features intended to make the network more future-proof. Most of them have already been rolled out. They include a subscription plan called “Blue”, the Stories-inspired “Fleets”, and the Clubhouse clone “Spaces”.
Twitter Blue: the Twitter subscription
It has long been speculated whether Twitter would introduce a paid service. Blue was initially only rolled out in Australia and Canada in June 2021. With this plan, users receive an array of additional features in return for a monthly fee of around three dollars. These subscribers have the option to organize bookmarks or turn long threads into easier-to-read texts.
“Undo Tweet” is an exciting feature that lets users preview whether they’ve made any typos or forgotten any mentions or hashtags in their Tweet before it appears in the timeline of their followers. Subscribers can also benefit from dedicated customer support and other small technical functions, for example customizing their account and device.
Twitter intends to gauge the response to Blue and make subtle improvements. The idea definitely has enormous potential.
Twitter Fleets: self-destructing Tweets modeled on Snapchat
It was indeed Snapchat that shook up the social media scene with its self-destructing messages. The idea has now been copied by pretty much every competitor. Twitter was a bit late to the party, however. It didn’t incorporate the feature on its platform until late 2020.
All the same, it has proven to be a big hit. Following others and being followed is one of Twitter’s founding principles. Active users can quickly rack up several thousand accounts in their “Following” list, making it far from easy to keep track of things and not get caught up in the chaos of millions of tweets. Fleets offers a great option to check out which interesting accounts have tweeted posts, without Twitter needing to make any changes to its timeline algorithm.
Twitter has now announced that Fleets will no longer be available starting August 3. According to a statement, the feature wasn’t turning out as hoped, namely to help users join the conversation.
Twitter Spaces: the Clubhouse clone
Clubhouse was one of the unexpected sensations of last year. A hybrid of a talk show, podcast, and radio program in DIY style. But it didn’t take long for the copycats to pounce. Twitter decided to try its own version with Spaces, which it started testing in 2020. The new feature has now been rolled out almost across the board and is available to accounts with more than 600 followers.
The audio spaces are all public, although it’s currently being speculated whether there will also be private ones, which would potentially be something for the Blue subscription service. However, the Clubhouse hype was quick to die down.
With that in mind, only time will tell if Twitter’s Spaces will really be a long-term success. The idea behind the new Twitter feature is definitely straightforward and fun. You just have to invite a few people and the stage is set to virtually joke around and have discussions with each other. The entire world (well, anyone with a Twitter account) can listen in live.
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