Mute – Twitter Finally Gives Users Some Useful Tools

It’s been hard to like Twitter in recent years. What was once the social media platform of choice for so many creatives, writers and thinkers has become increasingly less fun to use. Instead of feeling like a cafe full of calm, enjoyable conversations it has too often resembled a fractious, brawling pub at closing time, a winner takes all death match of hate and rancour.

Twitter’s War On Users

Partly this has been Twitter’s own fault. Not developing tools to help users parse and filter their timelines has made it hard to avoid the topics that don’t interest us. Twitter had lists, then proceeded to not develop the feature or make it more powerful. Perhaps Twitter wanted to make sure advertisers’ reach was not limited in any way, but that forced users to be open to topics and forms of discourse they didn’t enjoy.

To make matters worse Twitter has consistently failed to limit hate speech and trolling. You can report accounts, which often does nothing and you can block and mute accounts, though in certain circumstances you still see offensive tweets in your timeline. It now seems, at last, that Twitter is choosing to act (see also the updates below).

A Bright New Day

Today I noticed a new feature lurking under settings in the notifications window, which gave me the opportunity to block words or phrases from my notifications. It was a glorious moment, something that gave me hope my onee favourite online platform wasn’t going to relentlessly descend into unusability.


You can also find your way to the muting words option via the main settings window as well. I can’t imagine any Twitter users wh won’t be excited by this!


Does it work? Mostly. I muted “Trump” which did a wonderful job of cleaning up my timeline, but there were still some news articles where the word didn’t appear in the tweet, but was in the twitter card and link being shared. Still, this is a huge first step and the effect with just a few words muted was remarkable!

This probably won’t be enough to bring back users who have been burned out in the past year. But, it might be enough to stop some frustrated Twitter fans from leaving the platform in the coming months.


You Can Also Mute Conversations

Twitter has also given users the ability to mute conversations, which is a great feature when users pile in on a reply or comment and the discussion goes in a direction that no longer interests you (which was exactly the case with the tweets that inspired We Need Art). Twitter users have long wanted a way to leave conversations they no longer wish to contribute to.

Just click the ellipsis (three dot) icon on the browser version, or the pull down triangle in the iOS version, then choose “mute this conversation.”

Is This A Form Of Censorship

A few Twitter users jumped on this news to suggest it was a form of censorship. Of course, it isn’t. Censorship is regulating what other people can read or hear. Regulating what one chooses to hear for oneself isn’t censorship, it’s adulthood.

Of course, the deeper question is what limiting our timelines might do in terms of being open to different points of view. It’s a valid concern in light of recent political events, and clear evidence that many internet users (especially on Facebook) are getting a very biased view of the news (and a big dose of fake news).

In part what Twitter is letting us do is filter out junk. But, the responsibility will always be on individuals to seek out good, reliable news sources, and probably depend less on user generate news feeds like Twitter.

*MOBILE UPDATE* – You can mute words and phrases on Twitter’s iOS app as well, by going to the notifications tab, clicking on the settings gear icon (top left) and choosing “muted words.” The list will include any words you add from either the iOS or Browser versions of Twitter.

*TWITTER BLOGPOST ON ONLINE ABUSE* – it seems that Twitter is finally getting the hint that their failure to address online abuse, trolling and the toxic nature of so many conversations is costing them a lot of users. In their recent blogpost on addressing abuse, Twitter says,

“The amount of abuse, bullying, and harassment we’ve seen across the Internet has risen sharply over the past few years. These behaviors inhibit people from participating on Twitter, or anywhere. Abusive conduct removes the chance to see and share all perspectives around an issue, which we believe is critical to moving us all forward. In the worst cases, this type of conduct threatens human dignity, which we should all stand together to protect.”

Indeed. Let’s hope we can bring back some of the humanity, hospitality and sociability that made Twitter great in the first place.

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  • Toni - 16th November 2016

    At the end of last year I was asked to start using a business account on twitter to raise the profile of the facilities we offer. I’d never been on twitter, ever, so apart from knowing about the character limitation had no idea of what to expect.

    Frankly, it was a ghastly, disorganised mess, full of nonsensical garbage that made facebook look cool, calm and rational. I hope this helps, but I couldn’t imagine using their service.

    • fernando - 16th November 2016

      Toni – there’s a lot of “sunk cost” in Twitter for me, so I wouldn’t leave in a hurry. But yes, it has become a noisy mess. Glad to see this feature at last, which will help a lot!

      • Toni - 17th November 2016

        I appreciate that – your investment in branding etc is significant, and while the frog/hot water analogy is nonsense (for frogs) it works for us humans and developing web sites.

  • Toni - 23rd November 2016

    You might find this amusing, if you’ve not saeen it already.

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In his Tokyo studio Fernando combines his life-long passions for art and technology. On the road, he is always looking to take the next wrong turn, just to see what kind of images and stories might unfold. A photographer and writer, with a background in music, Fernando has lived in Chile, Australia, the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. Read More.


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