Twitter’s New Reply Controls Aim to Curb Abuse

There are already ways around it, though

Key Takeaways

  • Users can now choose to get replies from only their followers.
  • Trolls can still retweet your tweet with an abusive comment.
  • Alternatives like Micro.blog offer friendlier conversation by design.
Twitter Who can reply pop-up
Twitter 

Twitter has added a simple feature that enables users to decide who can reply to their tweets. This will stop a lot of abuse—including the kind of drive-by misogyny and racism in which Twitter trolls specialize.

Whenever you compose a tweet, you can now choose from three options controlling who can reply: Anyone, only people you follow, or only people you mention in the tweet.

A New Safety Tool

Twitter already has mute and block features, but blocks are applied after the fact, and mutes are a blunt tool. These new reply-limiting settings will keep users from even seeing abuse, which will make conversation on the service a safer, more pleasant space, while still being conducted in public. 

“Sometimes people are more comfortable talking about what's happening when they can choose who can reply,” said Twitter’s director of product management Suzanne Xie in a blog post.

In testing, says Xie, the new settings have already made a difference. Users who have submitted abuse reports in the past are three times more likely to limit replies. People are also tweeting more freely. “Tweets using these settings about topics like Black Lives Matter and COVID-19 are on average longer than those that don’t use these settings,” says Xie.

Micro.blog is Twitter for Grown Ups

But Twitter isn’t the only place you can talk online. Micro.blog is an alternative social network that is welcoming by design.

“We set expectations early that the Micro.blog community should be a welcoming place,” Micro.blog founder Manton Reece told Lifewire via email. “Many people joining Micro.blog are looking to escape from Twitter and Facebook.”

Micro.blog's Twitter-like timeline

Micro.blog uses a familiar Twitter-style timeline, but with several limitations. For a start, there are no follower counts, no hashtags (except on photo posts), and no public like counts. This might sound extreme, but Micro.blog has a thriving community three years into its life, and many of those users pay for added features like blog and podcast hosting.

“Twitter is much more focused on trends and popularity,” says Manton, “which can expose your tweets to a wide audience who don’t follow you, so there is more opportunity on Twitter for disagreement and even hateful replies.”

Time Will Tell

Twitter’s new reply-blocking tools won’t solve everything, and there is already one easy workaround: anyone can retweet you, then add their own abusive comments. So far, says Xie, “Problematic repliers” haven’t yet picked up on this. But the figures she quotes in her blog post are based on behavior during the testing period, where the features were still new and unknown. It’s possible, even probable, that abusers and trolls will soon discover new ways to hurt people.

Still, reply-limiting is welcome because it keeps a conversation clean, even if you might still have plenty of abuse in your replies timeline. 

Twitter's Who can reply? feature
Twitter

“Limiting who can reply is a good option to have,” says Manton, “but it’s also a band-aid on more fundamental problems with what type of behavior Twitter’s platform encourages.”

If you already have a lot of followers on Twitter, then this limiting tool is even more useful, because you can exclude many users and still have plenty of people to talk to. But for new users, or users with fewer followers, excluding replies will also exclude them from any conversation.

Twitter’s default setting still allows replies from everybody, and for a public network that will often still be the best option. But, even if you’re not suffering from abuse, the other options are handy. 

“Sometimes,” says Manton, “people do just want to post and not engage in conversations.”

Alternatives like Micro.blog are excellent, but they definitely aren’t for everyone. If your goal is to reach the largest possible audience, or to hang out in the same space as everyone else, then Twitter is your only option. But for smaller, more civilized discussions, where people offer genuinely useful and well-meant conversation, Micro.blog is a haven. And not just by chance, but by design.

“Removing follower counts removes any judgement people apply when deciding whether to follow someone,” says Manton. “It lets someone’s content speak for itself. It also helps reduce the pressure people feel when writing.”