Twitter has today reduced the size of follower counts on user profiles within their apps and increased name and bio size. This follows a statement made last month by Twitter: “As we’ve been saying for a while, we are rethinking everything about the service to ensure we are incentivizing healthy conversation.” In that same statement they confirmed that they were planning on removing the like feature, which naturally amounted to a healthy level of backlash from the Twitter community.
Just last week Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was quoted at a fireside chat in New Delhi as saying that the prominence of follower count on Twitter is “actually incentivizing you to increase that number. That may have been right 12 years ago, but I don’t think it is right today, I think what is more important is the number of meaningful conversations you’re having on the platform. How many times do you receive a reply?”
“One of the things we did was we had people follow each other — so you can be a follower of someone,” said Dorsey. “[We] made the font size a little bit bigger than everything else on the page. We did not really think much about it and moved on to the next problem to solve. What that has done is we put all the emphasis, not intending to, on that number of how many people follow me. So if that number is big and bold, what do people want to do with it? They want to make it go up.”
I don’t buy the “not intending to” bit. I think that when Dorsey, Williams and co initially built Twitter they were fully aware of what they were doing. I think they wanted the service to be a popularity contest because it meant more user engagement and faster growth, but I don’t believe they were aware of just how big of a negative effect this would have on society. I also think both maturation and retrospect are huge and that’s what we’ve seen in Twitter’s approach as of late.
Personally I don’t disagree with the approach that Twitter is taking. When you consider it from Twitter’s perspective they’re captaining a ship that has enormous power and it’s power that can be used for good and evil (I feel like I’m describing a movie plot right now). Twitter have a responsibility to make sure that their platform contributes to helping build society up and not tear it down.
Of course this is a careful balancing act because Twitter has a very large and loyal fan base that they don’t want to enrage, but there’s a larger question of ethics here. Ethics is something that’s not fully accounted for amongst todays tech giants. Consider Facebook employing people to make their services more addictive. Personally I don’t think that’s ethical use of power.
When you consider the youth of today, many impressionable kids dream of becoming “influencers”. They associate popularity with follower count and the number of likes they receive. But there’s a toxic side to this as many kids quit simply because they aren’t receiving the numbers they see the top 1% of social media users receiving. The funny thing is that if they didn’t focus so much on numbers and instead on perfecting their craft and consistency they might just be successful.
So in my opinion its Twitters responsibility to ensure that their platform doesn’t encourage an all out popularity contest. But I’d like to hear your opinion on the steps that Twitter is currently taking. Do you agree or disagree with my opinion and why?