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Twitter Circle Might Be the Reason to Start Tweeting Again

Safe, private spaces could protect our conversations

  • Twitter is testing Circle, a way to have private conversations with up to 150 people.
  • Conversations can be more nuanced, more intimate, and free from trolls and hate speech.
  • Circle might be enough to bring lapsed users back to Twitter.
Welcome to Twitter on a mobile device
Pixabay

Twitter’s new Circle is all about small groups, and it could revolutionize how we use Twitter.

Circle—currently in testing—lets you chat with up to 150 hand-picked people, followers or not. This adds a certain kind of trust and privacy, and could introduce crucial context into a medium that chronically lacks it.

“By allowing Twitter users to select who they talk with and who they invite into their ‘circle,’ it makes it much more like a private party than a town hall,” privacy advocate and founder of Restore Privacy Bill Mann told Lifewire via email. “Instead of anyone being able to be part of a conversation, Twitter Circle gives you power to choose only the people you want to chat with.”

A Flat Circle

Back in 2011, Google launched its Google+ social network, which included something called Circles, a way to share stuff with small numbers of people. It failed, thanks to the fact that few people actually used it, and it was confusing even for them.

Twitter Circle might be different, because it adds an excellent feature to an already highly-successful micropublishing platform, and at the same time turns Twitter into more of a social network. Instead of sharing a tweet with the entire world, you can opt to tweet only to your select audience.

A piece of information intended for one audience finds its way to another—usually an uncharitable one—which then reads said information in the worst possible faith.

A Circle could consist of close friends, people in a social group like a sports team, work colleagues, and so on. And because so many people already use Twitter, it’s an easy sell to get friends and colleagues involved. In fact, from the video shared by Twitter, it appears that you can just include people in the conversation unilaterally, which should help get things going.

And while this still isn’t the place for sharing secrets, it could bring a lot of people back to Twitter who left because of the trolls, misogynists, and nazis.

“While Twitter Circle will allow users to share posts with a selected group rather than tweets being available to all Twitter users which provides some exclusivity to content, it adds little privacy because posts can still be screenshot and the screenshot can be shared on Twitter for anyone to see,” Andrew Selepak, social media professor at the University of Florida, told Lifewire via email.

context

One drawback of Twitter—or any other public platform—is that it lacks context. If you’re discussing, say, racism in a small group, you can push the conversation into uncomfortable areas while still keeping things civil, and without your words being taken out of context.

If the same conversation takes place in a public place, then any comments can be quickly taken out of context.

“[Context collapse] generally occurs when a surfeit of different audiences occupy the same space, and a piece of information intended for one audience finds its way to another—usually an uncharitable one—which then reads said information in the worst possible faith,” writes journalist and author Charlie Warzel on his Galaxy Brain Substack.

By putting discussions into silos, we can have much more meaningful conversations. This is something that social media can lack, and is essential to developing a useful and fulfilling online discourse.

Twitter on a phone screen in front of a world map
Edar / Pixabay

But it’s not just about deeper discussions. By limiting discussions to smaller groups, these conversations can stay focussed, and they can remain free of the trolling and hate which plague Twitter. Perhaps, as Selepak points out, a celebrity’s thread will inevitably get leaked via screenshots, but that doesn’t make Circle any less useful for the majority.

What it could mean is that Twitter becomes a place to stay in touch with friends, colleagues, and any other group. The 150-user maximum makes it big enough to be flexible—using it as a noticeboard and chatroom for your bike polo team, for example—while remaining small enough to be manageable, and socially intimate.

Twitter Circle, which everyone will inevitably end up calling “circles,” might be an amazing cure for much of what ails Twitter. It’s simple in both concept and execution, and it immediately removes the worst aspects of the service—trolls, misinformation, bots, and hate speech—while encouraging the development of personal relationships. Now, all Twitter has to do is not screw it up.

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