Twitter, a site so dedicated to aggressive free speech that a former employee referred to it as “a honeypot for assholes”, has decided that it wants everyone to just get along, after all.
The site is testing a new feature that both warns people of intense (read: soul destroying awful) conversations before they unwittingly jump in, and also reminds people to be kind if they do.
“Heads up,” the first prompt reads. “Conversations like this can be intense,” it says as if the array of insults, death threats and laughing-with-joy emoji wasn’t warning enough that this wasn’t a university debating society.
“Let’s look out for each other,” the second prompt begins, before advising users to “remember the human”, that “facts matter” and that “diverse perspectives have value.”
It’s a noble intention, but it does feel like asking the Worst People On The Planet to stop and think that their words have consequences might be like asking a lion not to tear apart a wounded baby gazelle: it’s just what they do.
Still, this isn’t without precedent as Twitter has in the past pursued this kind of light-touch nudging to try and improve behaviour. In some regions, if you send something that Twitter thinks looks abusive, it’ll ask if you really meant to type it and to think of the consequences. And if you try to retweet an article without clicking it, Twitter will suggest that you read it first so you aren’t an accidental spreader of fake news.
Does this stuff make a difference? Twitter thinks so. In the case of the latter, the company claims that the advice to click before retweeting resulted in articles being opened 40% more after the prompt had been displayed… which in turn caused some people not to retweet after they realised the headline was misleading.
Yes, these small nudges towards mutual respect may feel like rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic sometimes, but at least the journey to the iceberg might be that bit more congenial.