Twitter, Instagram Begin Experiments In Shrinking The More Socially Questionable Incentives Of Their Platforms
Seemingly in response to some of the negative feedback the two platforms have been receiving recently, both Instagram and Twitter are taking steps to cut back on some of their more socially questionable incentives, with Twitter subtly discouraging attack tweets and Instagram experimenting with hiding ‘likes’ from US users.
Guest post by Mike Masnick of Techdirt
Two separate news reports last week highlighted how both Twitter and Instagram appear to be taking to heart arguments made about how both of those platforms may (inadvertently) encourage questionable behavior. Instagram will begin hiding “likes” from users in the US to cut down on the dopamine rush of trying to maximize those bits of pointless social validation:
Months after the company tested hiding “like” counts in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand, CEO Adam Mosseri announced today at WIRED25 that some Instagram users in America can expect their like counts to vanish from public view.
The company will begin testing next week, at first rolling out the change to a limited number of accounts.
Meanwhile, Twitter is going to begin experimenting with some small nudges to not rush in to attack people as a first response. The moves here are a lot more subtle than Instagram’s hiding of likes and involve encouraging the use of emoji.
In a meeting at its San Francisco headquarters in late October, Gasca and Suzanne Xie, director of product management at Twitter, showed off two experiments among several that will go live in the coming weeks: In the first, Twitter will add an emoji to a retweet, giving people a chance to quote-tweet without going into the compose field. Gasca and Xie want to find out if this feature might encourage people to express more nuanced emotions, putting a damper on dunking and mindless retweeting.
In the second experiment, Twitter will automatically suggest people use an emoji in their replies. If you like something, you could use the heart-eyes emoji. If you don’t, you could use the red circle with a line going through it. But if you pick a negative emoji, Twitter will ask, “Why do you disagree?” — which it hopes will prompt a more thoughtful reply, rather than a flame war.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how or why this would work to decrease negative responses — though at least popping up the interstitial question of “why do you disagree” (as per the second experiment) might drive at least some people to think twice before rushing to dunk on someone.
I’m not sure either of these moves will really change the overall incentives or how these platforms are used, but I find both fascinating for different reasons: a much more clear acknowledgement from both platforms that overall incentives matter, and that small design choices can have outsized influence on how the platforms are used. Given that, it’s fascinating to see both platforms then choose to experiment with the little nudges built into the design of their platforms to see how it will play out in terms of usage — especially regarding socially questionable activities on both platforms.
Of course, I can imagine how their could be some pushback as well, concerning how these are the kinds of subtle paternalistic moves that some people fear will be used to influence behavior in manners that some might not like. I think it’s pretty clear that, in both cases above, the sites are aiming to improve the overall “user health” levels on their platform, but I can see how some might (or absolutely will!) claim that they’re being used to tamp down on certain viewpoints or ideas — which, to some extent, highlights why there are no “win” conditions for platforms making these decisions. Every move will be criticized in one way or another.
If you can get past that, however, I think it’s a good thing that the platforms are moving to explore how these kinds of tweaks can improve their platforms and how people interact with them.