Like many things found on today’s social media platforms, Twitter’s Lists feature was introduced without thinking about the impact it could have on marginalized groups, or how it could otherwise be used for abuse or surveillance if put in the hands of bad actors. Today, Twitter is taking a step to address that problem with the launch of a new reporting feature that specifically addresses the abusive use of Twitter Lists.
The feature is launching first on iOS today, and will come soon to Android and the web, Twitter says.
Similar to reporting an abusive tweet, Twitter users will tap on the three-dot icon next to the List in question, and then choose “Report.” From the next screen, you’ll select “It’s abusive or harmful.” Twitter will also ask for additional information at that point and will send an email confirming receipt of the report, along with other recommendations as to how to manage your Twitter experience.
Twitter Lists have been abused for years, as they became another way to target and harass people — particularly women and other minority groups. They were particularly useful as a way to avoid being banned for abusive tweets, as Twitter took no notice of Lists.
If you're a woman with a verified account or a lot of followers, and you've experienced swarms and targeted harassment, here's a reminder to check what lists you're on. Block all list creators you don't know. https://t.co/EYRPP9twJz
— Heidi N. Moore (@moorehn) March 17, 2019
Twitter has been aware of the problem for years, noted CNBC in an exposé that ran over the summer.
Back in 2017, Twitter said it would no longer notify users when they’ve been added to a list — an attempt to cut back on what were very often upsetting notifications. It then reversed the decision after people argued that notifications were how they learned what sort of harmful lists they had been added to in the first place.
Despite Twitter’s understanding of how Lists were abused, there have not been any good tools for getting an abusive list removed from Twitter itself — users could only block the list’s creator.
Twitter has admitted that despite the availability of its reporting tools and the increasing speed with which it handles abuse reports, there’s still too much pressure on people to flag abuse for themselves. The company says it wants to figure out how to be more proactive — today, the majority is not flagged by technology (only 38% is), but by reports from users.
This problem and all the many like it have to do with who has built our social media tools in the first place.
Twitter, like other tech companies, has struggled with a lack of diversity, which means there’s a large lack of understanding about how features could be twisted to be used in ways no one intended. Though Twitter’s diversity metrics have been improving, Twitter as of this spring was 40.2% female, but just 4.5% black, and 3.9% Latinx.
The other issue with Twitter — and social media in general — is that there’s some distance between the abuser and the victim of harassment. The latter is often not seen as a real person, but rather a placeholder meant to absorb someone’s malcontent, outrage or hatred. And thanks to the platform’s anonymity, there are no real-world consequences for bad behavior on Twitter the way there would be if those same hateful things were said in a public place — like in a community setting such as your local church or social group, or in your workplace.
Finally, Twitter’s trend toward pithiness has led to it becoming a place to be sarcastic, cynical and witty-at-others’-expense — a trend that’s driven by a prolific but small crowd of Twitter users. The goal has very much been to “perform” on Twitter, and accumulate likes and retweets along the way.
Twitter says the new feature is rolling out now to iOS.
We’ve updated our policies regarding Lists, including how to report them. The change is coming to iOS today with Android and Web support coming soon.
Learn more: https://t.co/0wnp69C0zB
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) November 18, 2019
Saudi Arabian officials allegedly paid at least two employees of Twitter to access personal information on users the government there was interested in, according to recently unsealed court documents. Those users were warned of the attempt in 2015, but the full picture is only now emerging.
According to an AP report citing the federal complaint, Ahmad Abouammo and Ali Alzabarah were both approached by the Saudi government, which promised “a designer watch and tens of thousands of dollars” if they could retrieve personal information on certain users.
Abouammo worked for Twitter in media partnerships in the Middle East, and Alzabarah was an engineer; both are charged with acting as unregistered Saudi agents — spies.
Alzabarah reportedly met with a member of the Saudi royal family in Washington, D.C. in 2015, and within a week he had begun accessing data on thousands of users, including at least 33 that Saudi Arabia had officially contacted Twitter to request information on. These users included political activists and journalists critical of the royal family and Saudi government.
This did not go unnoticed and Alzabarah, when questioned by his supervisors, reportedly said he had only done it out of curiosity. But when he was forced to leave work, he flew to Saudi Arabia with his family literally the next day, and now works for the government there.
The attempt resulted in Twitter alerting thousands of users that they were the potential targets of a state-sponsored attack, but that there was no evidence their personal data had actually been exfiltrated. Last year, The New York Times reported that this event had been prompted by a Twitter employee groomed by Saudi officials for the purpose. And now we learn there was another employee engaged in similar activity.
The cases in question are still open and as such more information will likely come to light soon. I asked Twitter for comment on the events and what specifically it had done to prevent similar attacks in the future. It did not respond directly to these queries, instead providing the following statement:
We would like to thank the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice for their support with this investigation. We recognize the lengths bad actors will go to try and undermine our service. Our company limits access to sensitive account information to a limited group of trained and vetted employees. We understand the incredible risks faced by many who use Twitter to share their perspectives with the world and to hold those in power accountable. We have tools in place to protect their privacy and their ability to do their vital work. We’re committed to protecting those who use our service to advocate for equality, individual freedoms, and human rights.
Twitter’s ongoing, and possibly Sisyphean, effort of policing and removing nefarious content disseminated on its platform is taking another step forward today. The company’s safety team has disclosed the removal of another 10,112 accounts across six countries that were found to be actively spreading misinformation and encouraging unrest in politically sensitive climates.
The accounts noted today follow the same fault lines of unrest that you will find in the news at the moment: they include more than 4,000 each in United Arab Emirates and China, over 1,000 in Equador, and 259 in Spain. The full trove is being posted for researchers and others to parse and you can find it, and the wider archive — now numbering in the millions of Tweets and with one terabyte of media — here.
Today’s removals mark nearly one year of Twitter’s efforts to identify and remove accounts that are spreading political misinformation for the purposes of changing public sentiment — something that has wide-ranging impact beyond simply being annoyed on social media, including not least democratic processes like voting in elections or referendums. Today’s list is on par with some of the other notable disclosures Twitter has made every few months in the last year, such as its first removals process last October covering some 4,500 accounts out of Russia; but they are a far cry from its biggest removal effort to date, identifying and suspending some 200,000 accounts in China aimed at sowing discord in Hong Kong this past August.
Given that, if anything, Twitter is trying to make it easier, not harder, to open accounts and start using the service, one could argue that trying to police the bad guys is a never-ending, and possibly impossible effort, since like the universe itself, Twitter just keeps expanding.
But on the other hand, it’s a necessary process, one that can help us learn about how social media is being misused (Twitter says that ‘thousands’ of researchers have accessed the data to date).
Those who are able can try to figure out ways to fix it, and we the public become smarter about spotting and passing over the bad stuff. Plus, in a climate where social networks are now getting increasingly scrutinised by governments for their role in aiding and abetting the bad actors, it also helps Twitter (and others that also identify and remove accounts, like Facebook) demonstrate that it is self-policing, making an effort and producing results, before states step in and do the policing for them. (Related sidenote: Just yesterday, Colin Crowell, Twitter’s VP of public policy for the last eight years, who had a big role in interfacing with the powers that be by overseeing lobbying efforts, announced yesterday that he would be stepping down.)
More details on the list announced today:
United Arab Emirates & Egypt: Twitter said it removed 267 accounts originating in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt. “These accounts were interconnected in their goals and tactics: a multi-faceted information operation primarily targeting Qatar, and other countries such as Iran. It also amplified messaging supportive of the Saudi government,” Twitter notes. Additionally, it identified that all these accounts came from one tech company called DotDev, which has also been permanently suspended (along with other accounts associated with it).
A separate group of 4,258 accounts operating from the UAE, mainly directed at Qatar and Yemen, were also removed. “These accounts were often employing false personae and tweeting about regional issues, such as the Yemeni Civil War and the Houthi Movement.”
Saudi Arabia: Just six accounts linked to Saudi Arabia’s state-run media apparatus were found to be “engaged in coordinated efforts to amplify messaging that was beneficial to the Saudi government.” The accounts presented themselves as journalists and media outlets.
Twitter also singled out the account of Saud al-Qahtani, a former media advisor to the King, for violations of its platform manipulation policies. (The account is not included in the archives disclosed today.)
Spain: Partido Popular — the Spanish political party founded by a former Franco minister that has been tied up in corruption scandals — was identified as operating some 259 accounts that were falsely boosting public sentiment online in Spain. The accounts were active for only a short time, Twitter notes.
Ecuador: There were 1,019 accounts removed this summer affiliated with the PAIS Alliance political party. The network of primarily fake accounts “was primarily engaged in spreading content about President Moreno’s administration, focusing on issues concerning Ecuadorian laws on freedom of speech, government censorship, and technology.”
China (PRC)/Hong Kong: It’s not 200,000 accounts as in August but still, another 4,302 accounts have been identified in helping to “sow discord about the protest movement in Hong Kong.”
As with previous datasets that Twitter has disclosed, the company notes that this is an ongoing effort that will see further announcements in the months ahead as more accounts are identified. But the question you have to ask is whether the company has been trying to figure out if there is a way of preventing these accounts from coming on to the platform in the first place.
Twitter’s ongoing, long-term efforts to make conversations easier to follow and engage with on its platform is getting a boost with the company’s latest acquihire. The company has picked up the team behind Lightwell, a startup that had built a set of developer tools to build interactive, narrative apps, for an undisclosed sum. Lightwell’s founder and CEO, Suzanne Xie, is becoming a director of product leading Twitter’s Conversations initiative, with the rest of her small four-person team joining her on the conversations project.
(Sidenote: Sara Haider, who had been leading the charge on rethinking the design of Conversations on Twitter, most recently through the release of twttr, Twitter’s newish prototyping app, announced that she would be moving on to a new project at the company after a short break. I understand twttr will continue to be used to openly test conversation tweaks and other potential changes to how the app works. )
The Lightwell/Twitter news was announced late yesterday both by Lightwell itself and Twitter’s VP of product Keith Coleman. A Twitter spokesperson also confirmed the deal to TechCrunch in a short statement today: “We are excited to welcome Suzanne and her team to Twitter to help drive forward the important work we are doing to serve the public conversation,” he said. Interestingly, Twitter is on a product hiring push it seems. Other recent hires Coleman noted were Other recent product hires include Angela Wise and Tom Hauburger. Coincidentally, both joined from autonomous companies, respectively Waymo and Voyage.
To be clear, this is more acqui-hire than hire: only the Lightwell team (of what looks like three people) is joining Twitter. The Lightwell product will no longer be developed, but it is not going away, either. Xie noted in a separate Medium post that apps that have already been built (or plan to be built) on the platform will continue to work. It will also now be free to use.
Lightwell originally started life in 2012 as Hullabalu, as one of the many companies producing original-content interactive children’s stories for smartphones and tablets. In a sea of children-focused storybook apps, Hullabalu’s stories stood out not just because of the distinctive cast of characters that the startup had created, but for how the narratives were presented: part book, part interactive game, the stories engaged children and moved narratives along by getting the users to touch and drag elements across the screen.
After some years, Hullabalu saw an opportunity to package its technology and make it available as a platform for all developers, to be used not just by other creators of children’s content, but advertisers and more. It seems the company shifted at that time to make Lightwell its main focus.
The Hullabalu apps remained live on the App Store, even when the company moved on to focus on Lightwell. However, they hadn’t been updated in two years’ time. Xie says they will remain as is.
In its startup life, the company went through YCombinator, TechStars, and picked up some $ 6.5 million in funding (per Crunchbase), from investors that included Joanne Wilson, SV Angel, Vayner, Spark Labs, Great Oak, Scout Ventures and more.
If turning Hullabalu into Lightwell was a pivot, then the exit to Twitter can be considered yet another interesting shift in how talent and expertise optimized for one end can be repurposed to meet another.
One of Twitter’s biggest challenges over the years has been trying to create a way to make conversations (also narratives of a kind) easy to follow — both for those who are power users, and for those who are not and might otherwise easily be put off from using the product.
The crux of the problem has been that Twitter’s DNA is about real-time rivers of chatter that flow in one single feed, while conversations by their nature linger around a specific topic and become hard to follow when there are too many people talking. Trying to build a way to fit the two concepts together has foxed the company for a long time now.
At its best, bringing in a new team from the outside will potentially give Twitter a fresh perspective on how to approach conversations on the platform, and the fact that Lightwell has been thinking about creative ways to present narratives gives them some cred as a group that might come up completely new concepts for presenting conversations.
At a time when it seems that the conversation around Conversations had somewhat stagnated, it’s good to see a new chapter opening up.
Twitter is testing a new way to filter unwanted messages from your Direct Message inbox. Today, Twitter allows users to set their Direct Message inbox as being open to receiving messages from anyone, but this can invite a lot of unwanted messages, including abuse. While one solution is to adjust your settings so only those you follow can send you private messages, that doesn’t work for everyone. Some people — like reporters, for example — want to have an open inbox in order to have private conversations and receive tips.
This new experiment will test a filter that will move unwanted messages, including those with offensive content or spam, to a separate tab.
Unwanted messages aren’t fun. So we’re testing a filter in your DM requests to keep those out of sight, out of mind. pic.twitter.com/Sg5idjdeVv
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) August 15, 2019
Instead of lumping all your messages into a single view, the Message Requests section will include the messages from people you don’t follow, and below that, you’ll find a way to access these newly filtered messages.
Users would have to click on the “Show” button to even read these, which protects them from having to face the stream of unwanted content that can pour in at times when the inbox is left open.
And even upon viewing this list of filtered messages, all the content itself isn’t immediately visible.
In the case that Twitter identifies content that’s potentially offensive, the message preview will say the message is hidden because it may contain offensive content. That way, users can decide if they want to open the message itself or just click the delete button to trash it.
The change could allow Direct Messages to become a more useful tool for those who prefer an open inbox, as well as an additional means of clamping down on online abuse.
It’s also similar to how Facebook Messenger handles requests — those from people you aren’t friends with are relocated to a separate Message Requests area. And those that are spammy or more questionable are in a hard-to-find Filtered section below that.
It’s not clear why a feature like this really requires a “test,” however — arguably, most people would want junk and abuse filtered out. And those who for some reason did not, could just toggle a setting to turn off the filter.
Instead, this feels like another example of Twitter’s slow pace when it comes to making changes to clamp down on abuse. Facebook Messenger has been filtering messages in this way since late 2017. Twitter should just launch a change like this, instead of “testing” it.
The idea of hiding — instead of entirely deleting — unwanted content is something Twitter has been testing in other areas, too. Last month, for example, it began piloting a new “Hide Replies” feature in Canada, which allows users to hide unwanted replies to their tweets so they’re not visible to everyone. The tweets aren’t deleted, but rather placed behind an extra click — similar to this Direct Message change.
Twitter is updating is Direct Message system in other ways, too.
At a press conference this week, Twitter announced several changes coming to its platform, including a way to follow topics, plus a search tool for the Direct Message inbox, as well as support for iOS Live Photos as GIFs, the ability to reorder photos and more.
Twitter has disclosed more bugs related to how it uses personal data for ad targeting that means it may have shared users data with advertising partners even when a user had expressly told it not to.
In a blog post on its Help Center about the latest “issues” Twitter says it “recently” found, it admits to finding two problems with users’ ad settings choices that mean they “may not have worked as intended”.
It claims both problems were fixed on August 5. Though it does not specify when it realized it was processing user data without their consent.
The first bug relates to tracking ad conversions. This meant that if a Twitter user clicked or viewed an ad for a mobile application on the platform and subsequently interacted with the mobile app Twitter says it “may have shared certain data (e.g., country code; if you engaged with the ad and when; information about the ad, etc)” with its ad measurement and advertising partners — regardless of whether the user had agreed their personal data could be shared in this way.
It suggests this leak of data has been happening since May 2018 — which is also the day when Europe’s updated privacy framework, GDPR, came into force. The regulation mandates disclosure of data breaches (which explains why you’re hearing about all these issues from Twitter) — and means that quite a lot is riding on how “recently” Twitter found these latest bugs. Because GDPR also includes a supersized regime of fines for confirmed data protection violations.
Though it remains to be seen whether Twitter’s now repeatedly leaky adtech will attract regulatory attention…
Twitter may have /accidentally/ shared data on users to ads partners even for those who opted out from personalised ads. That would be a violation of user settings and expectations, which #GDPR makes a quasi-contract. https://t.co/s0acfllEhG
— Lukasz Olejnik (@lukOlejnik) August 7, 2019
Twitter specifies that it does not share users’ names, Twitter handles, email or phone number with ad partners. However it does share a user’s mobile device identifier, which GDPR treats as personal data as it acts as a unique identifier. Using this identifier, Twitter and Twitter’s ad partners can work together to link a device identifier to other pieces of identity-linked personal data they collectively hold on the same user to track their use of the wider Internet, thereby allowing user profiling and creepy ad targeting to take place in the background.
The second issue Twitter discloses in the blog post also relates to tracking users’ wider web browsing to serve them targeted ads.
Here Twitter admits that, since September 2018, it may have served targeted ads that used inferences made about the user’s interests based on tracking their wider use of the Internet — even when the user had not given permission to be tracked.
This sounds like another breach of GDPR, given that in cases where the user did not consent to being tracked for ad targeting Twitter would lack a legal basis for processing their personal data. But it’s saying it processed it anyway — albeit, it claims accidentally.
This type of creepy ad targeting — based on so-called ‘inferences’ — is made possible because Twitter associates the devices you use (including mobile and browsers) when you’re logged in to its service with your Twitter account, and then receives information linked to these same device identifiers (IP addresses and potentially browser fingerprinting) back from its ad partners, likely gathered via tracking cookies (including Twitter’s own social plug-ins) which are larded all over the mainstream Internet for the purpose of tracking what you look at online.
These third party ad cookies link individuals’ browsing data (which gets turned into inferred interests) with unique device/browser identifiers (linked to individuals) to enable the adtech industry (platforms, data brokers, ad exchanges and so on) to track web users across the web and serve them “relevant” (aka creepy) ads.
“As part of a process we use to try and serve more relevant advertising on Twitter and other services since September 2018, we may have shown you ads based on inferences we made about the devices you use, even if you did not give us permission to do so,” it how Twitter explains this second ‘issue’.
“The data involved stayed within Twitter and did not contain things like passwords, email accounts, etc.,” it adds. Although the key point here is one of a lack of consent, not where the data ended up.
(Also, the users’ wider Internet browsing activity linked to their devices via cookie tracking did not originate with Twitter — even if it’s claiming the surveillance files it received from its “trusted” partners stayed on its servers. Bits and pieces of that tracked data would, in any case, exist all over the place.)
In an explainer on its website on “personalization based on your inferred identity” Twitter seeks to reassure users that it will not track them without their consent, writing:
We are committed to providing you meaningful privacy choices. You can control whether we operate and personalize your experience based on browsers or devices other than the ones you use to log in to Twitter (or if you’re logged out, browsers or devices other than the one you’re currently using), or email addresses and phone numbers similar to those linked to your Twitter account. You can do this by visiting your Personalization and data settings and adjusting the Personalize based on your inferred identity setting.
The problem in this case is that users’ privacy choices were simply overridden. Twitter says it did not do so intentionally. But either way it’s not consent. Ergo, a breach.
“We know you will want to know if you were personally affected, and how many people in total were involved. We are still conducting our investigation to determine who may have been impacted and If we discover more information that is useful we will share it,” Twitter goes on. “What is there for you to do? Aside from checking your settings, we don’t believe there is anything for you to do.
“You trust us to follow your choices and we failed here. We’re sorry this happened, and are taking steps to make sure we don’t make a mistake like this again. If you have any questions, you may contact Twitter’s Office of Data Protection through this form.”
While the company may “believe” there is nothing Twitter users can do — aside from accept its apology for screwing up — European Twitter users who believe it processed their data without their consent do have a course of action they can take: They can complain to their local data protection watchdog.
Zooming out, there are also major legal question marks hanging over behaviourally targeted ads in Europe.
The UK’s privacy regulator warned in June that systematic profiling of web users via invasive tracking technologies such as cookies is in breach of pan-EU privacy laws — following multiple complaints filed in the region that argue RTB is in breach of the GDPR.
While, back in May Google’s lead regulator in Europe, the Irish Data Protection Commission, confirmed it has opened a formal investigation into use of personal data in the context of its online Ad Exchange.
So the wider point here is that the whole leaky business of creepy ads looks to be operating on borrowed time.
— Johnny Ryan (@johnnyryan) August 6, 2019
Twitter is testing a new way to make conversation threads easier to follow, with the launch of a new test that labels notable replies with special icons. If the original poster replies somewhere in the thread, their tweet will have a small microphone icon next to their profile picture. Other tweets may be labeled, as well — including those from users who were mentioned in the original tweet and replies from people you’re already following on Twitter.
These will be labeled with the at symbol (@) and a small person icon with a checkmark by it, respectively.
The new test is the latest in a series of experiments Twitter has been running focused on making its product easier to use, particularly when conversations around a tweet become lengthy.
At the beginning of this year, the company began a test where it labeled as the “Original Tweeter” the original poster in a conversation thread. That may have been a bit too confusing for some, because a few months later, Twitter changed it to “Author.” It then also added two other labels, for people who were mentioned in the original tweet and those replies from people you’re following.
We're testing icons instead of labels within replies. Check it out and let us know what you think! pic.twitter.com/5CBoTZ40Hq
— Twitter (@Twitter) July 18, 2019
These, however, were text labels — meaning they took up valuable screen space on small mobile devices. They also cluttered up the already text-heavy interface with more distracting text to read.
The new icons don’t have that problem. But they’re also small and light gray and white in color, which makes them hard to see. In addition, their meaning isn’t necessarily clear to anyone who doesn’t hang around online forums like Reddit, for example, where it’s common to use a microphone to showcase the original poster’s follow-up comments.
It’s also unclear why Twitter thinks users are clamoring to see this information. Highlighting the original poster is fine, I guess, but the other labels seem extraneous.
While this is a minor change, it’s one of many things Twitter is tweaking in the hopes of making its service simpler and more approachable. It’s also running an experimental prototype app called twttr where it’s trying out new ideas around threaded conversations, like using color-coded replies or branching lines to connect tweets and their responses.
A lot of these changes feel a little unnecessary. Twitter isn’t as difficult to understand as the company believes it is.
At the end of the day, it’s a way to publish a public status update and reply to those that others have posted. That’s its core value proposition — not live-streaming video, not its clickable newsreels it calls “Moments” and not its article bookmarking tools. Those are useful and fun additions, sure, but optional.
Instead, Twitter’s challenges around user growth aren’t because the service is overly complex, but because a public platform like this is rife with issues around online bullying and abuse, disinformation and propaganda, hate speech, spambots and everything else that an unmoderated forum would face.
Twitter tests are live now, but may not be showing for all users.
Twitter users are getting more control over which comments are visible in the conversations they start.
The company has been testing and talking about this feature since earlier this year, but starting next week, Twitter will actually roll it out to users in Canada.
As you can see in the GIF below, when you’re looking at replies to your tweets, you’ll be able to select any of them and hit the “hide reply” option. However, as the name implies, these posts won’t be fully removed from Twitter, just hidden from the default view — everyone will still be able to tap on a gray icon to view hidden replies.
Here’s how Twitter’s Michelle Yasmeen Haq and Brittany Forks explain the feature:
Everyday, people start important conversations on Twitter, from #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, to discussions around #NBAFinals or their favorite television shows. These conversations bring people together to debate, learn, and laugh. That said we know that distracting, irrelevant, and offensive replies can derail the discussions that people want to have. We believe people should have some control over the conversations they start.
As my colleague Sarah Perez noted previously, the current implementation is open to at least two criticisms — one, that it could allow users to hide critical viewpoints or fact-checking of their tweets (maybe quote-tweeting will be the better strategy moving forward), and two, that it still forces people to wade through potentially trollish or hateful content in order to hide replies.
Haq and Forks emphasize that Twitter is still looking for ways to improve the feature: “By testing in one country we want to get feedback and better understand how this tool can improve before it’s available globally.”
And yes, the timing of the news is a little awkward, coming right after Twitter went down for about an hour.
It looks like choose-your-own-adventure Twitter games won’t be a one-hit wonder, now that Apple’s social team has adopted the format. A new tweet from the @AppleTV Twitter account today helps users find a movie to watch by having them click through a series of Twitter threads. However, their effort (so far at least) pales compared with the original viral sensation — a Twitter choose-your-own-adventure style game that blew up earlier this month, where Twitter users try to not get fired as Beyoncé’s new assistant.
If you haven’t seen this masterpiece of Twitter handiwork, give yourself a break this Friday and go try it. It’s great fun.
Being Beyoncé’s assistant for the day: DONT GET FIRED THREAD pic.twitter.com/26ix05Hkhp
— Green Chyna (@CORNYASSBITCH) June 23, 2019
The game is played by presenting you with a multiple choice question. You then click on your answer from among the Twitter replies presented by the original poster.
For example, you start your day by ordering Queen Bey her breakfast. You’re asked to choose between ordering a five-star breakfast or granola and yogurt. If you choose the former (spoiler alert!), you’re fired. If you click the right answer, you move on to the next task.
Further questions take you to new threads where you choose things like who Beyoncé should FaceTime, what activity you suggest while she waits for hair and makeup, what song to play for her when she asks for music, when she should get dressed for the event and where, whether you should photobomb her on the red carpet to fix her dress, where she sits at an event, and so on.
The game isn’t always simple A/B choices, either. The answers lead you down different paths. Your choice may not immediately result in being fired, but still could later on. For instance, if you send Beyoncé swimming, there’s no way to save your job when the next set of choices comes.
According to a TIME profile, the idea for the thread came from 19-year-old student Landon Rivera, who lives in L.A.
The thread, now which now has over a quarter million Twitter likes, was noticed by celebs like Chrissy Teigen and Questlove, the report also noted
My own assistant just got fired on the very first question https://t.co/VrTrv8Y26k
— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) June 23, 2019
This is amazing and really well done I got fired about 3 in. https://t.co/gLdnqQY8tE
— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) June 23, 2019
I failed the first time and surprisingly made it to “to be continued” status
— Questlove De La Rose (@questlove) June 23, 2019
After the Beyoncé game blew up into a viral hit, the creator started new threads about being Cardi B’s bodyguard and getting away with murder. These haven’t yet taken off to the extent the original Beyoncé thread did, which today stands at over 250K Likes on the thread placeholder tweet, and 97,300 retweets.
While it’s interesting that Apple’s social media team has now copycatted the idea, their choose-your-own-adventure thread falls short.
Actually, really short.
In fact, it’s not much of an adventure at all.
What movie should you watch this weekend? — A THREAD
Start here to get our recommendation! pic.twitter.com/Twv8Pn1hau
— Apple TV (@AppleTV) June 28, 2019
Instead, the movie suggestion thread doesn’t go much further than letting your pick between two movie watching scenarios, then directs you into a genre of your choosing…then, it dead ends with a movie suggestion.
This misses the reasons the Beyoncé game went viral in the first place: because it was lengthy, complex, multi-branched, and funny. You could get down several threads deep into the thing and then get booted out and lose.
saw someone made this kind of thing for bandersnatch so guess who wasted the better part of her morning making a flowchart for the Beyoncé’s assistant twitter thread pic.twitter.com/Lsakl4hCK9
— the queen of abortion (@aunticapitalist) June 24, 2019
Whoever created that Beyoncé assistant thread : pic.twitter.com/VCDN7Jt2vW
— U Bum (@ktippyy) June 25, 2019
The questions themselves also prompted commentary from those who knew Beyoncé actual habits (or at least, thought they did.)
Social media teams looking to replicate this formula for their own success will need to do more than create a handful of quick-to-end threads with little payoff. Either invest the serious effort in designing a clever branching narrative or just tweet as usual.
It was in January that Twitter announced that it would be rolling out a new, simplified desktop redesign to its users. Hopefully, no one was holding their breath for the big official reveal. Six months later, we can confirm that Twitter is… still rolling out tests as it tinkers with a new look for its Twitter.com desktop interface.
In the latest version — which appeared to get teased earlier in the year but now appears to be getting rolled out to a wider number of people (see here, here, here, a tipster who sent us screenshots from Canada, and many others) — Twitter’s desktop appears as three columns, with trends shifted to the right column, and all of the menu and navigation items (plus a link to your profile) that had been at the top now listed on the left. The timeline stays front and center.
(An earlier version rolled out in January shifted the layout to two columns, although that was a limited rollout and not everyone saw it.)
A Twitter spokesperson confirmed to us that it is currently testing new experiences in the open that it is thinking of bringing to Twitter.com, for feedback with a small set of people. He didn’t provide a date for when it will roll out more broadly, “but stay tuned.”
As you can see in the screenshots, the new look it’s testing out right now has three columns. As with other redesigns, the center continues to house the main timeline, with all the chops and changes affecting everything else around it.
In this case, all of the trending items have moved over to the right side, from their old place in the left column.
The Home, Explore, Notifications, Messages, Bookmarks, Lists and Profile are in a column, with “More” taking you to another set of options.
Note that Mentions, which had already had a downgrade on iOS some months ago when a Moments creation option was removed from the iOS app due to lack of use, is relegated to this second menu. But for those of you who might wonder what the point is of Mentions, the spokesperson confirmed that it is not going away altogether.
Underneath that, you get direct links to promoting and advertising, analytics, Twitter’s Media Studio, Settings and privacy, the option to switch to “legacy Twitter” and Dark mode.
So far, the responses we’ve seen to the design have been on the less enthusiastic side.
‘”What’s happening?” is the question I want answered about this
#NewTwitter redesign…!,” wrote Chris Messina (a product designer who’s credited with creating the concept of the hashtag). “What is this? Google+?”
“Twitter, I do not like the new new new new new new new new new new new new UI you have on web. Please change back,” said Ken Yeung, an editor at Flipboard.
Twitter’s ongoing test mode — which has also been carried out on mobile, by way of its twttr prototyping app — is part of the company’s bigger effort to build a version of Twitter that works for everyone, or at least more people, more of the time.
One point of Twitter’s various experiments with its user interface is to try to address some of the issues the company has had with making the site easier to use for new users, and to also make it more user-friendly for those who are already there, whether it’s to make it easier to follow conversations (see Twitter’s experiments around threads), easier on the eye (dark mode introduced). easier to shut down trolls, and so on.
The reason for that is not just to be a good housekeeper: it’s to help Twitter grow.
Twitter has lately been on a bit of a high when it comes to its financials, last quarter flying past its estimates on both revenue and earnings per share. But monthly active users — a perennial issue for the company — continued to slide. (It’s a metric that Twitter will magic away by focusing instead on another one: monetizable daily active users, which were up.)
We’ll be on the lookout for more updates, but in the mean time, let us know what you think.
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