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How to understand Twitter's bad new direction

Mike Elgan | Aug. 25, 2014
Twitter decides that users can't be trusted to follow the right people, so it's being turned into a second-rate Facebook.

In a move related to its decision about the Foley videos, Twitter also implemented a new policy regarding people's requests to remove images of deceased relatives from Twitter. Here's what Twitter added to its support blog:

"In order to respect the wishes of loved ones, Twitter will remove imagery of deceased individuals in certain circumstances. Immediate family members and other authorized individuals may request the removal of images or video of deceased individuals, from when critical injury occurs to the moments before or after death, by sending an e-mail to When reviewing such media removal requests, Twitter considers public interest factors such as the newsworthiness of the content and may not be able to honor every request."

Twitter is serving as judge and jury here about what's newsworthy. The Foley pictures aren't newsworthy, the Brown pictures are.

Who knows what other decisions it will make. Maybe a picture of the victim of a drunk driver won't be considered newsworthy, but a picture of someone killed by a meth addict will. Perhaps it will be OK to show historical footage from the Holocaust, but not video of a recent mass execution. Twitter is positioning itself to decide what the world gets outraged about.

It would be far better, in my opinion, to leave these judgments up to individuals. Let me decide what I can see and not see on Twitter based on my own reasons and sensitivities.

Must-see tweets from people you don't follow
While Twitter has decided it doesn't want you to have the option to see certain kinds of material on its site, it has also decided that content you never wanted, from people you never followed, is something you truly must see.

After testing a new feature in which the tweets from popular posts are inserted into your feed (and are unremovable by you), Twitter went ahead and implemented it, even though the feature failed the test (people hated it). So now you'll get tweets from people you don't follow. Twitter explained the new policy in this post:

"When we identify a Tweet, an account to follow, or other content that's popular or relevant, we may add it to your timeline. This means you will sometimes see Tweets from accounts you don't follow. We select each Tweet using a variety of signals, including how popular it is and how people in your network are interacting with it. Our goal is to make your home timeline even more relevant and interesting."

Taken together, it's clear that Twitter believes that it knows what's best for users, essentially saying, "We -- Twitter -- have decided that you, the user, shouldn't see this bad content over there, but you must see this good content over here. We'll decide what's good and bad, not you."


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