What has since May been the prerogative of a select few has finally trickled down to the social media plebs. As of Tuesday morning, every Twitter user has the power to dictate who can — and crucially, by extension, who can’t — reply to their tweets.
For a brief moment last week it appeared Twitter had quietly made the feature available to everyone with an update to the iOS mobile app. But alas, it was not to be. The Verge confirmed that the release notes were pushed in error, and no new feature was immediately forthcoming.
Until today, that is.
The new settings, ostensibly targeted at ending the scourge that is reply guys, lets users drop their outgoing tweets into three different buckets. The first, and most familiar, is what many people have today: Anyone and everyone (who isn’t blocked) can reply to a tweet. The second takes into consideration who the tweeter follows, as only that follow list can respond to a tweet. The third restriction makes it so only people tagged in the initial tweet can reply.
“Tweets with the latter two settings will be labeled and the reply icon will be grayed out for people who can’t reply,” Suzanne Xie, Twitter’s director of product management, explained in a press release. “People who can’t reply will still be able to view, Retweet, Retweet with Comment, share, and like these Tweets.”
While these new settings are framed as reducing possible harassment, they themselves are not without controversy. As the ACLU pointed out in May, public officials (like one Donald Trump) might use such a feature for ill.
“[Public] officials would be violating the First Amendment if they were to use this tool to block speakers on any accounts they’ve opened up for public conversation in their roles as government actors,” read a statement from the organization at the time. “Nor should public officials use this tool to decide who can, or can’t, reply to accounts they have opened up for requests for government assistance, which may be on the rise due to COVID-19.”
In other words, what if Trump uses these settings to attack his political opponents while preventing them from replying?
When reached for comment, a Twitter spokesperson confirmed that the new settings will be available to the president — along with everyone else. You’ll be able to access them on iOS, Android, and twitter.com.
Notably, when asked about Trump perhaps abusing the settings, the spokesperson pointed to the “retweets with comments” timeline as a way that people will be still able to engage with tweets from those who have limited reply options.