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Fleets: inside Twitter’s controversial new Stories-style feature

22 November 2020

Twitter has launched its latest innovation, Fleets. Similar to the Story-like feature that has become synonymous with both Snapchat and Instagram, Fleets allows users to share content – through text, pictures and videos – to their audience, which then disappears after 24 hours. Followers can then react to the feature with emojis or via direct message and unlike tweets, Fleets cannot be retweeted, shared, liked or publicly commented on.

This new format was introduced in response to findings that many Twitter users, particularly new users, are “fearful” to post permanent content. “Some of you tell us that tweeting is uncomfortable because it feels so public, so permanent, and like there’s so much pressure to rack up retweets and likes,” Twitter’s design director Joshua Harris and product manager Sam Haveson wrote in a blog post. “Because they disappear from view after a day, fleets helped people feel more comfortable sharing personal and casual thoughts, opinions, and feelings.”

Twitter initially announced its plan for Fleets earlier this year by setting a test launch in Brazil in March before expanding to other countries including India, South Korea, Italy and Japan. The feature then made its global debut on select accounts on November 17th and will be launched more widely in the upcoming days to users on iOS and Android.

However, as with many recent changes to major digital platforms, Twitter has received its fair share of backlash over the Fleets. While many have raised concerns about it encouraging more online harassment, others are worried about the future of the app itself. It seems as though most social networking apps – especially Instagram, which also gained criticism last week for its latest update – are replicating each other to such an extent that they have lost sight of their initial purpose.

For many, Twitter is a place for banter, activism and unfiltered chat, which makes it a unique space to genuinely be oneself. And yet, the introduction of Fleets adds the company to a long list of social media platforms adopting ephemeral messages, signifying to many a step into digital conformity that tarnishes Twitter’s unique streak.

Similar thoughts were raised this summer when the app launched a series of voice tweets – a transcription feature is being added to make those accessible to hearing-impaired users. The company is alsotesting live audio spaces that let small groups of people talk privately with each other in real time – a concept reflective of the popular invite-only voice-chat app, Clubhouse.

While these are all progressive steps that have been adopted to ensure greater overall user engagement, it largely moves away from what makes Twitter stand out as an individual platform. However, until the platform begins to use a widely multi-purpose format reminiscent of WeChat, fleeting tweets it is.