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‘Social privacy’ on Twitter: oxymoron or the future of cancel culture?

‘Social privacy’ on Twitter: oxymoron or the future of cancel culture?
Twitter has rolled out yet another tool for those users looking to build the ultimate cancel culture-proof echo chamber, with options to ‘archive’ old tweets, remove followers, and exit chats. Never get caught wrongthinking again!

That ‘edit tweet’ button Twitter users have been begging for for years has inched one step closer to reality, as the company announced the option to ‘archive’ old tweets on Wednesday – a must-have for social media mavens in a world where using the wrong word will get you canceled – was “in the concept phase.” It’s part of Twitter’s new focus on ‘social privacy’, ie. reputation and identity management – both of which can be made or broken by a sloppy tweet.

It’s impossible to count how many celebrities have been raked over the coals for some ancient – or not-so-ancient – tweet disparaging a racial or cultural group or a suddenly sympathetic individual. Even many ordinary people have lost jobs or their shot at political office because of something they said on Twitter years ago. 

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Worse, it’s not just random online vigilantes anymore – the journalistic establishment is increasingly focused on digging through social media accounts in order to catch a subject in apparent hypocrisy – never mind that their views on some issue might simply have changed in the intervening 10 years.Unlike with ‘protected’ tweets, only the user will be able to see their archived tweets after 30, 60, 90, or 365 days. The demand for such a feature is so high that there are already third-party services that do this, but Twitter seems to have belatedly realized there’s a market for keeping it in the family (and, it seems, free). However, there is no launch date associated with the tool.

Also in the ‘hiding your wrongthink’ vein is a feature that lets users hide tweets they’ve ‘liked’ without advertising to the world that they appreciate the opinion being voiced. According to Bloomberg, there is no timeline for testing this feature either – but users have the option of sharing what they ‘like’ with their followers or select groups rather than keeping it to themselves.

Additionally, users will soon be able to remove followers without blocking them, allowing the accounts to avoid inspiring the blocked user to new heights of harassment. While ‘how-to’ guides for so-called ‘soft blocking’ are available all over the internet, this was not an official function until this month, when Twitter plans to start testing the feature.

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Many Twitter users apparently don’t understand which content outsiders can see about them, according to Twitter researcher Svetlana Pimkina, who implied the new features are aimed at getting reluctant tweeters to feel more comfortable about who has access to their old posts and presumably inspire new users to join the platform, whose growth has mostly stagnated in the last few years.

As a growing number of words and phrases – not to mention almost the entire concept of humor – have become forbidden language on social media, more users find themselves in ‘Twitter jail’ or suspended from Facebook, in some cases merely for reposting an old comment that was unremarkable at the time. Since being blamed for the 2016 US election results, however, the major social media networks have been ordered in no uncertain terms to allow only approved ideas to spread on their platforms, a First Amendment-shredding reality which was confirmed by White House spokesperson Jen Psaki last month. 

But while Twitter’s new past-eraser might allow some endangered users to purge their accounts of troll-bait, it’s just as likely to be used to gaslight others by lobbing some particularly nasty rhetoric at them – only to insist the post was never made.

Twitter has been busy rolling out new features this week, including an OnlyFans-like subscription model called ‘SuperFollows’ and another feature aimed at blocking ‘harassment’ using the platform’s famously humorless bots to determine when an interaction is harmful.

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