A recent test of a potential new Twitter feature found some users being recommended a number of accounts to stop following, or “unfollow”, in Twitter terminology. This test involved only a limited number of users, for a period of a few days, and Twitter is yet to confirm whether they viewed it as successful, or whether the feature will be rolled out more widely in future.
The stated aim of the test was to see if Twitter timelines could be made more relevant to the individual users, by giving them the option to remove posts from any account which they do not interact with on a regular basis. Exactly what was meant by “interaction” has not been defined. The way in which the test worked was for a list to pop up on screen, with a suggestion that these accounts may not need to be followed.
Twitter has declined to comment any further on the test, including whether any high profile politicians, celebrities, or brands were included as suggestions of accounts to unfollow. However, screenshots from users who were given the “unfollow” option suggest that political parties and those running for US political office were included on the lists.
It is likely that this test is part of Twitter’s wider efforts to improve the relevance of content on timelines, particularly since the US presidential elections in 2016, where it is thought that people were using the site maliciously in an attempt to influence the results. However, new policies for political and company product advertising have already been introduced, and third party access has been restricted. Another new feature has now prevented simultaneous posting of identical content by multiple accounts; this is expected to have the greatest impact on companies who use Twitter to promote their products, and may lead to changes in how they interact with their followers. It is also possible that these companies would be affected most by the unfollow option, as they do not interact in the same way as individuals are likely to do.
Reactions to Twitter’s test have been mixed. Some users were apparently keen on the idea, hoping that it would allow them to more easily streamline the posts they will be shown, while others expressed concern about how the suggestions for unfollowing will be made. Twitter, along with other social media sites, has recently been implicated in claims of bias, with discreet banning of some (mainly right wing) political accounts. All allegations have been denied, but concerns remain. A lack of disclosure regarding this recent test is doing nothing to address these concerns.