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Of late, much has been made of the fact that people in the USA are departing Twitter in waves. Some of them, of course, have been the victims of either censorship or de-platforming. But the majority of them are people who are just sick and tired of all the political content appearing in their Twitter feed. In some cases, they are so sick and tired of all the constant disinformation, misinformation and polarization that they have decided to opt for a social media “detox.” But it doesn’t have to be that way – there’s a simple, relatively painless way to start enjoying Twitter again, and it all starts by understanding how Twitter enables you to “mute” certain content that you find objectionable.
Pressing the mute button on Twitter
The Twitter Help page, in fact, includes a full tutorial on what it refers to as “advanced muting options.” Let’s just say that you have the option to mute a whole range of political content, including particular words, hashtags, usernames, and even objectionable emoji. So, for instance, if you’re part of the “never Trump” team, you could block any mentions of #MAGA in your Twitter feed. You could make sure that you never hear from people like Alex Jones or Tucker Carlson in your Twitter feed. And you could even “mute” any American flag emoji, if you felt like all those flags appearing in the tweets of so-called “patriots” might make you feel bad one day.
You can get very advanced here, and even specify that any muted content would apply to everyone on Twitter, or just from “people I don’t follow.” Thus, it would be perfectly acceptable to get a few #MAGA tweets in your newsfeed, as long as you knew that they were coming from “blue check mark” liberals in the media who were doing so ironically or to condemn all #MAGA supporters as deplorables.
Just keep in mind, though, that just because you pressed the mute button on Twitter doesn’t mean that your entire social media world is now free and clear of offending words, hashtags and emojis. If you search Twitter for certain topics, for example, you might still come across tweets mentioning those words. And there’s no guarantee that a certain trending topic might not show up on your Twitter page (you’ll just have to cover your eyes and pretend you didn’t see it).
Has it really come to this?
All of this “muted” content is good and well, but it does raise some interesting concerns and issues. Has society really reached a point in which we need to avoid hearing certain words or hashtags in order to make it through the day? Do we all need a “safe space” free of certain ideas or ideologies that we might find objectionable? Is it really possible to get triggered by a single tweet or DM?
It’s easy to see how answering “yes” to any of these questions would only give Twitter more and more power to censor content online, as well as to de-platform anyone who seems to be making people hit the “mute” button. It’s the reason why Twitter now has Birdwatch. The logic, when taken to an extreme, is what eventually led Twitter to get rid of Donald Trump: so many people were “triggered” by whatever the Orange Man said in his tweets that they said it gave them the power to remove him entirely from the platform.
Blame the Twitter algorithm
Maybe a better solution, at least from a user experience perspective, is to re-think the Twitter algorithm entirely. The Twitter algorithm, after all, is what decides what appears in our feed in the first place. Any algorithm based around the idea of “maximum engagement” is always going to lead to the celebration of divisive, polarizing and highly controversial content. Deep down, Jack Dorsey wants you to be “triggered” every time you open your Twitter app. That way, you will spend even more time on the app, and more time interacting and engaging with polarizing content. So maybe the real solution is not to blame us – the loyal users of Twitter – but to blame Twitter itself for turning us into what we are now. Only then can we really get back to enjoying Twitter.