Twitter has driven yet another nail into its own coffin with the introduction of a function which makes the biggest mockery of the social media site’s system to date. The new Mute function looks set to increase spam, and potentially create serious dangers for those who use it…
So what is the Mute function? Well, if you haven’t already looked at it, brace yourself… The Mute function is a means to unfollow accounts, without the account holders knowing you’ve unfollowed them. Social media has been descending into progressively more stupid territory over a long period, but this takes the fiasco into a new dimension. It’s partially a vanity measure. Twitter is so scared that being unfollowed is demotivating users, that it’s now invented a new Unfollow button, which it hopes will preserve the feelings of all those poor little spammers who keep losing followers because they’re an absolute pain up the back passage.
From now on, users can avoid hurting the feelings of Twitter’s useless, boring or annoying cretins, by clicking on Mute rather than Unfollow.
Twitter also sees another, bigger benefit in introducing the Mute button, which is that it will potentially get more users paying attention to their timelines – where the advertising is. The wisdom is that if users can shut out the Tweets of people they’re expected to follow but really don’t want to, or cast aside spamloads of Tweets from accounts they simply don’t want to unfollow for fear of being unfollowed themselves, their timelines will be happier places, and thus they’ll spend longer looking at them. At face value that makes sense, but there are a number of reasons why it’s unlikely to work in the long term.
Firstly, most of the people who are not currently reading their timelines are not reading them because they’re not interested in reading them. It’s not just a case of them shutting out one or two accounts and then everything will be alright. These people only follow to be followed, and they mass follow so many rubbish accounts that it would be futile Muting any of them – even if they could be bothered, which they can’t.
Secondly, spammers will only stop spamming if a clear message is sent to them, and this measure does the opposite of that. It encourages spammy behaviour and indiscriminate babble, because if fewer people unfollow spammers, that persuades them that what they’re doing is okay. The Mute function sends entirely the wrong message to producers of exceptionally low quality matter, and that’s bound to mean more of it, right across the site.
Where’s the problem if everyone’s got the spammers on Mute and they’re basically talking to themselves? Well, where the problem is, is that spam clogs up the search timelines, which is where other users should be finding YOU. And muting doesn’t stop spam – the spam is still there, and more prolific than ever. As I said in my Twitter Behaviour Ratings article, if your good quality contributions can’t be seen by new pairs of eyes among the ever increasing wall of crap, then that makes you more invisible. The only chance you have is to join in the spamming. This is the problem Twitter should be tackling, but with this latest measure, once again, they’re only going to make it worse.
Thirdly, Muting is dangerous – not only for the spammers, but for YOU. Why? Well, consider this… A few weeks ago I followed back an account which had followed me and which looked absolutely fine. It just had a healthy eating theme or something of that nature. But a few hours later, the account holder deleted all their existing Tweets and completely changed the account identity to some unhinged and crazed racist theme. I do read my timelines, and I couldn’t believe my eyes later that day when I saw a highly offensive message appear, from an account I knew I hadn’t followed.
Except I had followed the account – under its previous, totally innocuous identity. As it was the last account I’d followed, and I check accounts before following them back, I was able to recall the original guise and work out what had happened. I thought at first the account might have been hacked, but I eventually concluded that the user had probably deliberately cloaked the account to build a fast following. As far as you or I are concerned, though, that makes no difference. Once you start relying on the Mute function, you can get stung by some of the most offensive individuals on Twitter.
Account cloaking is almost certain to increase if the Mute function becomes a substantial part of people’s Twitter use. You could end up looking like you support racists, or end up following child pornographers, or end up being considered part of a criminal gang. All it takes is for people to start cloaking, then spamming so hard that they know most followers will mute them. Once they know they’re on mute, they lift the cloak, and have a highly offensive account that looks like it has lots of support. If you care about your reputation, YOU CANNOT USE THE MUTE FUNCTION! You need to SEE what you’re following!
As part of this revision, Twitter has also made using the Block function an interrogative experience, which I think will annoy and put off even more people. Block is no longer a separate function. It’s now integrated with Report, and you need to say WHY you’re blocking, supposedly so Twitter can determine what the problem is. The dialogue is shown above.
There are just four multiple-choice options, and they don’t come close to covering all the reasons you might want to block. This will force many people wanting to use the Block function into a corner where they don’t know how to categorise the action and either don’t block when they know blocking was the right thing to do, or start blocking with inaccurate categorisations and feel bad about it. The worst consequence would be that a user puts an account they really want to Block onto Mute. The functions can easily be confused, but Mute is not a soft Block. It’s a soft Unfollow button.
The Block button has worked for years as a simple way to get shot of people you don’t want to know. Why mess with it? I don’t want to have to explain to Twitter why I don’t want to know people – I just don’t, and I want a simple, single-click method of getting them out of the picture.
The new profile pages (I explained why they were a mistake here) are also proving a pain. They’re fine for the account holder, but they’re nowhere near as good an experience for the reader. The lack of a View Conversation expander is particularly annoying. I don’t want to have to go to another page every time I want to set something into context. I just want to read it easily, on the profile page itself, like before. I suspect that Twitter did this deliberately in a bid to encourage more following and reading via the timeline rather than just visiting the profile pages. But the organisation should realise that Twitter is not a life essential. Yes, a measure might force a user onto the timeline for longer, but equally, it could be the final straw and force them off Twitter altogether.
The Mute function, in my opinion, is going to seriously backfire. Twitter Lists (here’s what they are and how to use them) made following on Twitter pretty meaningless, but Mute makes it a complete joke. Let it be your new Unfollow button at your peril, and good luck, in the new world of Twitter, in trying to work out which of your ‘followers’ is following you, and which of them aren’t.
Ultimately, if Twitter can’t see how ridiculous it is for users to be following accounts then putting them on mute (pretending to follow them in other words), it doesn’t deserve to re-establish healthy growth. This is typical of Twitter’s short-term thinking and inability to understand why treating everyone like idiots is a recipe for more disengagement, and disaster.