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The Fleet’s In: Twitter Launched its Version of Stories

Twitter just launched a new feature most of its users have never asked or even wished for: disappearing tweets, it calls Fleets. Yet, Twitter assures its base that this is what at least “some of you” really wanted for Christmas or whatever we should call the occasion of this new feature.

As a frequent Twitter visitor and retweeter, I really do wonder who would have bothered to tell a public form that they find, “Tweeting uncomfortable because it feels so public, so permanent, and like there’s so much pressure to rack up Retweets and Likes.”

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Really, I don’t know why anyone would feel pressured unless they are speaking for a brand or a public figure whose sole motivation in being on social media is to get their posts shared and liked. For those in it for what passes for conversation online, those numbers matter less.

However, back to the Twitter account about how Fleet is a solution for social anxiety:

“To help people feel more comfortable, we’ve been working on a lower pressure way for people to talk about what’s happening. Today, we’re launching Fleets so everyone can easily join the conversation in a new way – with their fleeting thoughts.”

And just like that, the world is a better place and the inane arguments that find new forms of ad hominem attacks on social media are displaced by love and understanding.

Of course, not, but from the way Twitter announces this move, you’d think that was the case. They claim they have proof! They proudly point out that offering temporary posts, in cultures that I’d venture to say are quite different from that of the United States, made people feel less nervous about getting their feet wet on the platform:

Through our tests in Brazil, Italy, India, and South Korea, we learned Fleets helped people feel more comfortable joining the conversation – we saw people with Fleets talk more on Twitter. Those new to Twitter found Fleets to be an easier way to share what’s on their mind. Because they disappear from view after a day, Fleets helped people feel more comfortable sharing personal and casual thoughts, opinions, and feelings. These are early findings from our tests and we’re excited to learn more about how Fleets are used by you.

If this reminds you of Shapchat, it should, though Facebook co-opted this successfully with its Stories. Other platforms that tried the disappearing posts approach, like LinkedIn, did not succeed as well.

I have to say these kinds of things really bring out my inner cynic. First of all, when I want to use Facebook, I’ll use it (and even when I do, I only end up posting to Stories by accident). I’m coming to Twitter for a different kind of experience than the closed circle, quasi-private conversations surrounding Stories.

That is what the Fleets would do, as Twitter explains:

Your followers can see your Fleets at the top of their home timeline. Anyone who can see your full profile can see your Fleets there too. If you have open Direct Messages, anyone can reply to your Fleets. If you want to reply to a Fleet, tap on it to send a Direct Message or emoji to the author, and continue the conversation in your Direct Messages.

Second of all, this warm fuzzy reassurance encourages people to rely too much on their followers’ courtesy.  The “now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t effect should not make people feel comfortable posting what they would consider potentially embarrassing or compromising.

Here’s a rule of thumb: don’t ever post something to a public forum that you consider confidential or too personal to be seen by the entire world. Even if the tweet itself disappears, it won’t disappear from people’s memory and may even live on forever in a screen shot.

Think of it as a phone conversation. You may assume it’s gone when it’s over, but it’s not erased from the other person’s memory.

Remember what Zoe Heller observed in What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal]

“We are bound by the secrets we share.”

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