Twitter And Instagram Both Begin Experiments In Decreasing The More Socially Questionable Incentives Of Their Platforms

from the fascinating-to-see dept

Two separate news reports last week highlighted how both Twitter and Instagram appear to be taking to heart arguments made about how both of those platforms may (inadvertently) encourage questionable behavior. Instagram will begin hiding “likes” from users in the US to cut down on the dopamine rush of trying to maximize those bits of pointless social validation:

Months after the company tested hiding “like” counts in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand, CEO Adam Mosseri announced today at WIRED25 that some Instagram users in America can expect their like counts to vanish from public view.

The company will begin testing next week, at first rolling out the change to a limited number of accounts.

Meanwhile, Twitter is going to begin experimenting with some small nudges to not rush in to attack people as a first response. The moves here are a lot more subtle than Insgram’s hiding of likes and involve encouraging the use of emoji.

In a meeting at its San Francisco headquarters in late October, Gasca and Suzanne Xie, director of product management at Twitter, showed off two experiments among several that will go live in the coming weeks: In the first, Twitter will add an emoji to a retweet, giving people a chance to quote-tweet without going into the compose field. Gasca and Xie want to find out if this feature might encourage people to express more nuanced emotions, putting a damper on dunking and mindless retweeting.

In the second experiment, Twitter will automatically suggest people use an emoji in their replies. If you like something, you could use the heart-eyes emoji. If you don?t, you could use the red circle with a line going through it. But if you pick a negative emoji, Twitter will ask, ?Why do you disagree?? ? which it hopes will prompt a more thoughtful reply, rather than a flame war.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how or why this would work to decrease negative responses — though at least popping up the interstitial question of “why do you disagree” (as per the second experiment) might drive at least some people to think twice before rushing to dunk on someone.

I’m not sure either of these moves will really change the overall incentives or how these platforms are used, but I find both fascinating for different reasons: a much more clear acknowledgement from both platforms that overall incentives matter, and that small design choices can have outsized influence on how the platforms are used. Given that, it’s fascinating to see both platforms then choose to experiment with the little nudges built into the design of their platforms to see how it will play out in terms of usage — especially regarding socially questionable activities on both platforms.

Of course, I can imagine how their could be some pushback as well, concerning how these are the kinds of subtle paternalistic moves that some people fear will be used to influence behavior in manners that some might not like. I think it’s pretty clear that, in both cases above, the sites are aiming to improve the overall “user health” levels on their platform, but I can see how some might (or absolutely will!) claim that they’re being used to tamp down on certain viewpoints or ideas — which, to some extent, highlights why there are no “win” conditions for platforms making these decisions. Every move will be criticized in one way or another.

If you can get past that, however, I think it’s a good thing that the platforms are moving to explore how these kinds of tweaks can improve their platforms and how people interact with them.

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Companies: instagram, twitter

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DannyB (profile) says:

Other improvements

Maybe Twitter could detect if someone is tweeting under the influence.

But then what some might consider drunken insanity might be considered by others as highly insightful information.

What about detecing tweets by someone who cannot read, write, speak in complete sentences, or express coherent thoughts?

Oh, that might exclude certain unspecified world leaders from twitter.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

@dril is the second most prolific and well-known shitposter on Twitter. (I say “second most” because Donald Trump still uses Twitter.) The account is basically absurdist humor run amok. But said absurdism has given us a bunch of gems, including:

if your grave doesnt say "rest in peace" on it you are automatically drafted into the skeleton war

blocked. blocked. blocked. youre all blocked. none of you are free of sin

go ahead. keep screaming "Shut The Fuck Up" at me. it only makes my opinions Worse

ah, So u persecute Jared Fogle just because he has different beliefs? Do Tell. (girls get mad at me) Sorry. Im sorry. Im trying to remove it

the wise man bowed his head solemnly and spoke: "theres actually zero difference between good & bad things. you imbecile. you fucking moron"

issuing correction on a previous post of mine, regarding the terror group ISIL. you do not, under any circumstances, "gotta hand it to them"

"i’m not owned! i’m not owned!!", i continue to insist as i slowly shrink and transform into a corn cob¹

But my favorite tweet of his is this:

IF THE ZOO BANS ME FOR HOLLERING AT THE ANIMALS I WILL FACE GOD AND WALK BACKWARDS INTO HELL


¹ — Incidentally, this tweet inspired a new usage of the phrase “corn cobbing”: It refers to someone being destroyed in a debate or social situation, but continuing to deny the destruction has happened until all credibity is lost. See also: Blue Balls. ????

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

And abused. Like the flag button here.

I’ve seen little evidence of abuse of the flag button. Sometimes yes. But it seems quite rare. The community seems pretty good at sniffing out trolls and those who are here to cause trouble, rather than have a serious discussion.

Comment hidden? Collapse all the responses to the trolls as well. If the comment is worth hiding, so is the ensuing conversation.

I’ve heard the arguments for this, and perhaps there are cases where this makes sense, but I think there’s a much stronger argument against: specifically in that many of the best, most thoughtful, nuanced, and insightful comments are responses to trollish comments. So I don’t see why it makes sense to minimize them all. Potentially, it could be an interesting option for users, but so far, the system works well.

Vote counter would add to transparency as well.

If you’re worried about abuse, as you claim you are, then this would go against that. And, for the same reasons that Instagram is removing "likes" there are good reasons not to count up such things, when the only real purpose is to see if it meets a certain threshold.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I concur.

That said, what is the threshold, anyway?

Also, would it be possible to have a second flag option for pure spam (as opposed to troll spam)? I think it’d make your job a little easier if you only had to go through posts tagged as pure spam for potential deletion (which is the rarely used option). I suppose it could be abused, but since it doesn’t auto-delete the post, and the community has been pretty good with the current options at not abusing it too much, I think it could work here.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

"I’ve heard the arguments for this, and perhaps there are cases where this makes sense, but I think there’s a much stronger argument against: specifically in that many of the best, most thoughtful, nuanced, and insightful comments are responses to trollish comments. So I don’t see why it makes sense to minimize them all. Potentially, it could be an interesting option for users, but so far, the system works well."

Then why hide original comment?

"“With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.
— Star Trek: The Next Generation”

― Jean luc Picard"

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Then why hide original comment?

Techdirt has no legal, moral, or ethical obligation to host or display someone else’s speech. The trolls should thank the Techdirt admins for not outright deleting their bullshit and merely hiding it behind a clickthrough.

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bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:9 Re:

Is it the same? No. I never said that. I’m just saying it doesn’t do enough additional damage to you to be worth complaining about, IMO, if you don’t care whether people actually read it.

Hiding it only prevents a small subset of readers from reading it, anyway.

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bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:11 Re:

It’s not up to the writer whether something is worthy to read or not; that has never been true in any context.

If you mean for the potential reader to decide, again, that’s just about always the case for any service that accepts user-generated content; decisions on what content is most worth your attention are always being made on such services by the platform-holder/publisher or by other users. Outside of search engines, I can’t think of a single service offhand that doesn’t allow users to flag inappropriate content and obscure it in some fashion. More importantly, in this case the decision to read it or not hasn’t actually been taken away from you; it’s just made easier to avoid reading it and marginally more difficult to read it (though not by much for the latter).

I really have no idea what’s worth complaining about in this scenario. You can still decide for yourself whether it’s worth reading or not; no one is taking that away from you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Saying that they have no obligation is a complete non-sequitur; the comment you’re replying to didn’t try to impose some legal requirement, it asked a question you ignored. But Mike gave a straight answer.

BTW, the "clickthrough" thing doesn’t work. "Click here to show it" is just text, not a link.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3

Saying that they have no obligation is a complete non-sequitur

Techdirt has no obligation to host or display someone else’s speech. It also has no obligation to explain why it chooses not to host or display that speech. You’re not owed a platform, an audience, or an explanation. That Mike gave you an explanation is an act of charity for which you should be most grateful.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

That’s quite black and white.

I find it odd that anyone who doesn’t agree with your view is a troll though.

Blue is a troll. Mostly posts just to be contrary. On that I can agree.

Most others, though not all, just have a different opinion. I believe listening to others is good for the mind and soul. Hiding comments, in my opinion, is not conducting or promoting, free speech.

btr1701 is not a troll. He has different views than you and others on some matters. That should be acceptable on a site proclaiming to believe in free speech. Hiding his speech, calling him a troll or worse, seems to me to be the opposite of that. I would say the name callers, throwing out insults, are the trolls.

Your site, your community decides who the trolls are, I guess.

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btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

LOL! Behold the irony. Fact-free? You’re the one playing fast and loose with the facts here. (That’s just a polite way of saying you’re a liar.)

I’ve never argued against immigrants. I have, however, argued against illegal immigration. And no, they’re not anywhere near the same thing.

Never let the facts get in the way of a good smear, though, right?

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btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

What exactly about my post above was either ‘demented’ or ‘rambling’? Please be specific. (You are, after all, someone who values hard facts’, right?)

I just want to establish an objective baseline so we can compare it to your own posts and see how they stack up.

Or you could just be refreshingly honest and admit that nothing I posted above was either demented or rambling and you’re just engaging in bullshit in order to sling insults, but I suspect you’d rather chew off your own arm than do that.

the best you shitheels have is projection and gaslighting.

Behold the irony.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

“just the junta around here ganging up on someone for daring to have a different opinion as I’ve seen them do to Mason Barge, for example.”

Totally not a demented rambling fact free rant bro. Maybe next time someone calls you out on your obvious bullshit don’t provide them so much evidence just laying around everywhere to prove them right. The only thing that separates you from the other shitheels around here, is your ability punctuate and you inability to not suck off every cop you see.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:9 Re:

Bro I’m not Toom. It’s pretty easy to figure out as he has a profile and is funny and I’m the AC who calls people bro and then makes fun of whatever stupid bullshit they’ve just said.

But hey let’s not let facts get in the way of your demented rambling.

You want to quit while your behind bro?

Or are your gonna pull a liebowitz and septuple down?

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’ve heard the arguments for this, and perhaps there are cases where this makes sense, but I think there’s a much stronger argument against: specifically in that many of the best, most thoughtful, nuanced, and insightful comments are responses to trollish comments

While it’s a toss-up whether they’re trolling or just obsessed fanatics the ongoing nurgle cultist ‘discussion’ in another comment section would seem to serve as an excellent example of this, as while the ‘original’ posts of dangerous/dishonest trash is regularly flagged and hidden for the reasons just mentioned flagging all replies would be giving the responses providing evidence and counter-arguments the same treatment just because of who/what they were responding to, which would be just a titch absurd.

Just because the material that started a conversation may not be worth reading/deserve to be flagged does not necessarily mean that the responses to it are similarly worthless.

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btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Just because the material that started a conversation may not be worth reading

I’m always amused how the champions of free speech here nevertheless have no problem setting themselves up as arbiters of which speech is worth reading and which isn’t.

Personally, I’ve never felt the need to use that red button (Nor do I employ killfiles on Usenet.) It’s a simple matter to just visually skip over the posts that don’t interest me. I’m not one of those who feels it’s their duty to protect everyone else from seeing the bad, evol words. Hidden posts actually cost me more time and effort because I have to go to the trouble to unhide them to make sure they really are spam and not just the junta around here ganging up on someone for daring to have a different opinion as I’ve seen them do to Mason Barge, for example.

bob says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

In the absence of speaking face to face where I can read a person’s body language the flag button is sufficient. Since I can’t see their disgusted look if I said something objectionable I can get a sense from the flagging of a post how others feel about the post.
In the case where other’s posts are flagged, then I have the option to look at the flagged post and determine for myself if I agree. So far I’ve found the overwhelming majority of flagged posts to be appropriately marked.

Because the majority of the Techdirt community are decent logical people the report button is not abused very much. So it will take far more than simply a difference of opinion for the community to flag your post. If you keep getting flagged then you should look in a mirror for the cause of so much flagging.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2

I’m always amused how the champions of free speech here nevertheless have no problem setting themselves up as arbiters of which speech is worth reading and which isn’t.

We can think your speech isn’t worth reading while still supporting your right to publish all your shitty speech on any platform that will have you. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

It’s also not suppression of speech because that speech can be “reprinted” basically anywhere else on the Internet.

I wouldn’t characterize it as suppression, either, but that’s hardly a valid reason why. If the cops shut down a protest at city hall, then claimed they weren’t suppressing speech because the protesters could always go anywhere else in the world to chant, I doubt you would agree with them.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

It’s not, any more than telling someone to please leave a room because they’re swearing/being disruptive to the others there is, and in fact TD doesn’t even go that far as the person can still be listened to just fine with a single click, so it’s more like after enough people have complained they’re being disruptive moving them to a partitioned part of the room you have to choose to enter rather than just hear normally.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Not everyone arbitrates what is and is not hidden for others to read and consume.

And so it is on this site. You choose which comments to read and which to ignore. I, for example, click to read most hidden comments, but not all. You might make a different choice. Nobody is choosing for you.

With that said, if Techdirt decided to completely delete such comments (or critical comments, or randomly selected comments) such that nobody could read them, that would be their right, and would not be a free speech problem. So it is not ironic that free speech champions are willing to click the flag button, because there’s no conflict of free speech principles in doing so.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Sure it would. The concept of free speech exists independently of the 1st Amendment. Just because something doesn’t violate the 1st Amendment doesn’t mean it’s not a free speech issue.

If you claim to value free speech but then delete all critical comments from your public forum– even if it’s your legal right to do so– then you’re not the champion of free speech that you claim to be.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

If you claim to value free speech but then delete all critical comments from your public forum– even if it’s your legal right to do so– then you’re not the champion of free speech that you claim to be.

I think leaving up critical comments is a stronger free speech position, but taking them down is also an exercise of free speech rights. And it’s not hypocritical unless they also criticize others for doing that.

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