Twitter launched an experiment in Canada Thursday to give users in this country the ability to hide replies to tweets on its social-media platform, in a bid, the company says, to give users more control over conversations.
The timing comes as social media platforms like Twitter have faced increasing government pressure to police their services better, particularly ahead of this fall’s federal election, and amid concerns of the vitriol spewed at some users — particularly female politicians.
Users outside Canada will be able to see the feature and be affected when it’s used, but won’t be able to use it themselves.
The platform will indicate on a tweet any time a user decides to hide replies and will allow users to see what’s been hidden as a way to dissuade brands or politicians from overusing the feature.
The company chose to test the new option in Canada before rolling it out elsewhere. Twitter isn’t putting a timeline on when the experiment will end.
The feature is different from muting — where users can avoid seeing content from certain accounts, hashtags, and replies, for example — and blocking, where a user is prevented from seeing tweets or interacting with one account.
Michele Austin, head of government and public policy at Twitter Canada, said the platform designed the feature for “when a reply goes sideways,” but a user still wants that person have access to their tweets.
“Twitter is public, and it’s transparent and it happens in real-time,” Austin said.
“What we’re experimenting with — and this is an experiment — is giving users more control to have a conversation that they’re seeking while at the same time keeping that transparency, so if they choose to moderate a reply and hide it, others will have access to it.”
Austin said the feature is about the “health of the conversation” on the platform, and could be made available to all users, depending on the feedback from Canadians.
The experiment tries to balance the experience some politicians, among other users, have with “trolls” on the platform, and concerns about freedom of speech when an elected official moves to block someone from reading their tweets.
Last fall, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson backed down from blocking his political critics from reading his Twitter feed after several went to court claiming he had violated their constitutional right to know what a public officeholder was saying. It was the first case of its kind in Canada.
In the United States, an appeals court ruled on Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump, an avid Twitter user, couldn’t block users for similar reasons under the U.S. constitution. That ruling sparked two more lawsuits against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for blocking users from her Twitter account.
Separately on Thursday, Trump hosted a social-media summit at the White House to discuss what he called the “tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination and suppression practised” by certain companies.
“We will not let them get away with it much longer,” Trump wrote on Twitter.