Twitter to Reply Guys: Don't @ Me

By Joanna Nelius on at

It seems like social media companies are finally realising that no one likes rando trolls blowing up their mentions. Or being ratioed. Or having unwelcome porn bots reply to something you tweeted five years ago. Taking a cue from Instagram’s latest tag and mention controls, Twitter has just started testing its own reply controls.

The new feature is only available to a small percentage of people around the world currently, but those who do have access will get to control who can reply their tweets without locking down their accounts. There are currently three controls you can apply to replies: everyone can reply, only people who follow you can reply, and only the people you mention in your tweet can reply. Everyone can still read and like your tweet, but you control who engages with it.

It’s unclear if you’ll be able to go back in time and limit your reply audience in the same way Facebook lets you mass-limit who can see your posts. It’s also not clear if the new reply control feature will work with a long Twitter thread. For instance, I might tag someone in an original tweet, but when I add a second tweet, I tag a different person. If I set my reply preferences to only the people I mention, does that apply to the entire thread or only the individual tweets? We’ll put it to the test when we get access to see how granular these settings can be.

Like any new social media feature, this one seems like it can be used for both good and evil. A high-profile public figure who posts something completely asinine has the option to let everyone see it but prevent anyone from responding. However, according to Vera Eidelman, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, if Twitter allowed public officials to use this feature, it could become a First Amendment issue.

“As a general matter, Twitter’s investment in user controls is a good thing. But public officials would be violating the First Amendment if they were to use this tool to block speakers on any accounts they’ve opened up for public conversation in their roles as government actors. Nor should public officials use this tool to decide who can, or can’t, reply to accounts they have opened up for requests for government assistance, which may be on the rise due to COVID-19.”

On the other hand, the tool could help further prevent harassment. You can already set direct message settings to allow just the people you follow to DM you, which keeps the riffraff out. With these new reply controls, it seems like Twitter is doubling down to make it harder for people who want to harass you to do so. Will it stop people from making throwaway accounts for that purpose? Nah. After all, you can still quote tweet and offer a reply that way. But it’ll make reply guys have to work a little harder to make you notice them.

Alastair Pike/AFP (Getty Images)