I think it’s fair to say that Twitter has its problems. Right now, however, I imagine the company is grateful Facebook continues to garner most of the criticism. That doesn’t mean people have forgotten the way Twitter has been used to amplify offensive content, but it hasn’t been the focus of regulators and lawmakers the way Facebook has.
Some of that has to do with the fact that Twitter is far smaller than Facebook and the rest of its tech peers. For comparison, Facebook has almost 3 billion regular users and is worth $900 billion. It generated over $29 billion in revenue in the past quarter, $9 billion of which was profit.
Twitter, on the other hand, has around 200 million users and is worth around $40 billion. It earned a little more than $1.2 billion and generated $23 million in profit, if you don’t count the $800 million it paid to settle a shareholder lawsuit.
On scale alone, it makes sense that Twitter has attracted far less scrutiny. For the most part, it has avoided many of the privacy and content moderation problems that led Facebook to last week change its name to Meta.
Now, however, Twitter is following in Facebook’s footsteps in a very troubling way. Let me explain:
I think that we all sort of understand that social media platforms are primarily trying to do one thing–get us to spend more of our time scrolling through feeds, clicking on “like” buttons, and sharing content. The more time you spend, the more ads they can show. Facebook does that by feeding all of the content your friends share into its algorithm to try and show you what it thinks you’ll be most interested in.
One of Twitter’s few redeeming qualities is that you had the choice to view updates from the accounts you follow in chronological order, not based on an algorithm. Of course, Twitter has an algorithm–it’s even the default view–but you could also choose to view “latest Tweets” instead.
For the most part, once you made a selection, every time you opened the app, you’d see that version of your feed. I say for the most part because sometimes it would default back to the “Home” view (the algorithm version), but I had always assumed that was the result of updating the app. I may have assumed wrong.
Recently, Twitter has started more overtly pushing its algorithm on users by adding “Home” as a permanent selection in the feed. It’s also now the default view, meaning that the app automatically returns to that version after a period of time. If you tap the Star icon, which used to give you the option to change to “Latest Tweets,” you now get an invitation to remove those from your feed altogether.
It’s not entirely clear when the change happened, and Twitter did not immediately respond to my questions, but I first noticed it on Saturday. Regardless of when Twitter made the change, it’s a very bad sign–mostly because it’s exactly the kind of thing Facebook would do.
Here’s what I mean: Facebook has frequently made subtle changes that are designed not to create a better experience but to make you spend more time doing the things it wants you to do. Mostly, that means spending more time on Facebook.
Even on Instagram, the company has elevated features that no one asked for while making it harder to do basic things like creating a post. Now, Twitter is doing the same thing by automatically forcing its algorithm-determined feed on its users even if they have actively tried to avoid it.
That’s why it’s so frustrating to see Twitter make this change. The company is trying to use a dark pattern to get you to opt into something you’ve already opted out of.
Of course, this isn’t just about Twitter. It’s true for every business. If you’re adding “features” to your product that make the user experience worse, you’re doing it wrong.
Even if there’s a good business case for the change, as a general rule you should never make your product more frustrating for the people who use it just because you think it might get them to use the app more. Just focus on making the experience better in the ways they want, and you might be surprised how much more they want to use it anyway.