Social media networks are no strangers to playing around with their features, privacy settings and user experience. They are in the business of selling advertising, and if they can increase their number of users or time spent by existing users, they’re moving in a good direction.
New changes made by Twitter this week alter the way the platform works, in a way that could be a negative for young users and their parents.
Until now, a user’s timeline (what she sees when she open up Twitter) is made up of the most recent posts and retweets from the people that she follows. Other than the occasional ad (a “promoted Tweet”), that’s it. Now Twitter is taking the liberty of adding other popular content. From Twitter’s support section:
“Additionally, when we identify a Tweet, an account to follow, or other content that’s popular or relevant, we may add it to your timeline. This means you will sometimes see Tweets from accounts you don’t follow. We select each Tweet using a variety of signals, including how popular it is and how people in your network are interacting with it. Our goal is to make your home timeline even more relevant and interesting.”
Here is where it could get dicey for parents. Twitter is well known for having very few content restrictions. Nudity, pornography, drug references and profanity are all permitted, and common. If your daughter has carefully curated her list of whom she follows, the good news is that she won’t see any of that.
Now that might change. Let’s say that someone tweets a leaked nude picture of one of the guys from One Direction. Twitter’s algorithm might decide that it is very relevant to her. Maybe Ed Sheeran will come out in support of hard drugs. Again, Twitter decides. Sure, your child could go seek that information out, but Twitter may serve it up to her on a silver platter.
If you’re a parent who has helped your teen keep it clean online, this has the potential of throwing you a few curveballs. We’d like to assume that Twitter’s algorithm will screen out inappropriate “relevant” content, but it might not. As a parent I would rather not leave it to Twitter to decide what my teen sees.
Bad move, Twitter.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.