Photo Credit: pexels
Twitter continues to experiment with new features designed to make the social media platform a safer, more informed place to have intelligent conversations, rather than just a riotous cacophony of offensive insults, impulsive comments and salacious headlines. The latest feature rolling out is being billed as a “read before you retweet” prompt that will alert users that they might just want to read an article before re-tweeting it into the Twitterverse. The logic here is simple: most people only read the headlines and don’t bother reading a full article. However, headlines don’t tell the whole story, and Twitter is convinced that a simple warning might be enough to cut down on this behavior.
Early results from “read before you retweet”
Based on early testing that Twitter conducted over the summer, the “read before you retweet” feature actually seemed to work. In fact, Twitter users opened articles 40 percent more often after seeing the prompt and overall, there appeared to be a 30-40 percent reduction in lazy re-tweeting of articles. And, best of all, some people didn’t end up re-tweeting an article after all after reopening. Maybe, after reading the actual story, they decided that they didn’t agree with what was being said, or came to realize that an issue was more nuanced than at first it appeared. As Twitter noted after conducting this test rollout, “some tweets are best left in drafts.”
Solving the “Too Long; Didn’t read” problem
With that in mind, there are at least three different ways that the “read before you retweet” feature could change everything. First and foremost, it will cut down on mindless re-tweeting and sharing of articles that people never bothered to read. This simple change in behavior could lead to much more intelligent conversations taking place across Twitter, as people begin to read and engage more, rather than just sending off knee-jerk reactions to any headline that triggers them. In short, it will help to curb the whole tl;dr problem that afflicts much of social media today.
And that brings us to a secondary impact of this new “read before you retweet” feature – it will encourage content creators (especially media companies) to stop feeding us a lot of click-bait content. Right now, there’s too much emphasis on creating salacious headlines that confirm our own biases. If you’re a left-wing political publication, for example, there’s a real built-in incentive to make every statement, act or comment from President Trump sound like it’s the stupidest thing in the world. And, conversely, if you’re a right-wing publication, there’s a real built-in incentive to make the Democrats look like a bunch of anarchist, godless leftists hell-bent on destroying America. Whatever happened to the media as the voice of reason? Right now, the media is simply a lot of screeching and lamenting that is almost impossible to read or watch these days.
A template for other social media companies
Finally, if Twitter is successful with its little experiment, it’s easy to see how it could force other social media companies to impose their own prompts on users. Instead of banning or censoring content (as platforms like Facebook and YouTube appear to be doing), maybe a more effective strategy would be setting up a series of checks and balances, to make sure that you can only send out certain types of content after you’ve signed off on it several times. This would be the equivalent of social media platforms asking you, “Are you sure you really want to do this?”
Un-learning dangerous social media behaviors
For the past decade, social media platforms have been conducting experiments on how to get us to click more, share more, and comment more. So it’s a good sign here that Twitter is actually taking the opposite approach. With its new “read before you retweet” feature, Twitter is indirectly saying that less commenting and less sharing might actually be a good thing. Instead of blurting out the first thing that comes into your head, isn’t it always a good thing to take a moment and compose your thoughts first? That might be what Twitter is going for, and here’s hoping that the global rollout of this feature is as successful as the early test conducted over the summer.