Twitter introduces new feature critics call 'the death of conversation'

Dave Cullen: 'If politicians make use of this new feature, it will show the ones who believe in free speech, and those who don't.'

Mordechai Sones ,


Twitter Product Management Director Suzanne Xie revealed changes that are coming to the platform this year, focusing specifically on conversations.

Xie said Twitter is adding a new setting for "conversation participants" on the compose screen. It has four options: "Global, Group, Panel, and Statement." Global lets anybody reply, Group is for people you follow and mention, Panel is people you specifically mention in the tweet, and Statement simply allows you to post a tweet and receive no replies.

Xie said Twitter is "in the process of doing research on the feature" and that "the mock-ups are going to be part of an experiment we’re going to run" in the first quarter. It will take lessons learned from that experiment and use them to launch the feature globally later this year.

Critics however say Twitter's new feature will be used by many in the "ivory-tower media class to control who gets to reply to their tweets, if they so wish. Or, they can decide if they want no-one to their tweets, just in case some snowflake or ideologue doesn't want to read any dissenting opinion whatsoever."

Computing commentator Dave Cullen says "Twitter is about to allow some users to create echo chambers for themselves that will reinforce their own worldview."

Twitter's CEO acknowledged there is a "concern the ability to limit replies could mean misinformation couldn't be as easily rebutted," offering a non-committal answer at best that made reference to "watching really closely as we experiment."

Cullen says "being able to respond immediately to such articles allows misinformation to be challenged. Many mainstream news sites that removed their comment sections have now become little more than online newspapers, and so Twitter was one means by which the public could respond to the posts of the journalists and online publications."

"The 'Statements' option in particular will basically allow people to make a piece of text that no one can respond to. Twitter was about having conversations, and allowing for open discourse. But the 'Statements' option would literally prevent a conversation to flow underneath that particular tweet," he continued.

"The usage of this feature will show who's willing to allow for open debate and who isn't. If politicians make use of this new feature, it will show the ones who believe in free speech, and those who don't."