Twitter Is Testing a Way to Silence Reply Guys. It Might Work Too Well.

This could make the platform less toxic — and less magical

Will Oremus
OneZero
Published in
6 min readMay 21, 2020

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In this photo illustration, the logo for the Twitter social media network is projected onto a man’s face.
Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

The Twitter “reply guy” — a user, usually male, who responds to others, mostly female, in an overly familiar or condescending way — has become a stock character on the platform. For some people, particularly women with sizable followings, every tweet brings a cavalcade of responses from them, turning their mentions into a sort of social media sausage fest. It can be exhausting.

But on Wednesday, Twitter began testing a new, powerful fix for the problem. For each tweet you compose, you have the option to restrict who can reply. The default is “everyone;” the new options are “people you follow” and “only people you mention.” The latter, as CEO Jack Dorsey put it, is essentially a “don’t @ me that actually works.”

The company announced the test in a blog post and made it available to a fraction of users, including some of the reporters who cover the company. (I was one of them.) Based on how the test goes, Twitter will decide whether to make the feature available to everyone.

Unlike most changes that Twitter makes, this one was warmly received by a lot of people I follow. When people talk about Twitter being toxic, the inability to control who can jump into your replies when you tweet is a major factor. Twitter replies can be an instrument of harassment, as hostile and hateful respondents drown out or intimidate the target’s own followers in the threads below their tweets. Over the years, Twitter has added options to block, report, and even hide replies from trolls, but they always boil down to a never-ending game of Whack-a-Mole. This update has the potential to fundamentally alter how people communicate on the platform.

There are, however, some limitations and downsides.

More worrying than the possibility that reply controls won’t work is the possibility that they’ll…

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