Officially joining a growing list of social media platforms fascinated by ephemeral messages, Twitter unveiled a new feature called “Fleets” on Tuesday to give users the option of sending vanishing tweets.
As its name suggests, the idea is to allow people to express fleeting thoughts and opinions, sparking more engagement. Fleets disappear after 24 hours, and can’t be retweeted, liked or publicly replied to, but users can respond with text or emojis via direct message.
In a blog post, design director Joshua Harris and product manager Sam Haveson explained, “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…. 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.”
The company conducted tests in Brazil, Italy, India and South Korea, and found that people felt more comfortable participating in conversations because their comments weren’t cemented for all time.
Indeed, the company clocked Fleets users talking more on the platform.
People can find Fleets of people they follow at the top of their feed, and they can create Fleets in two ways — either from their homepage or by grabbing an existing tweet and Fleeting it out, whether text, photos or videos.
In both look and function, the feature resembles Stories, the format made popular by Snapchat — the original ephemeral messaging network — and which later spread to Facebook and Instagram.
After Snapchat popularized self-destructing messages in 2013, the concept found its way to other places in the social media universe, from Facebook’s main app to YouTube. Even LinkedIn started testing it via a stories format earlier this year. Most recently, Facebook brought ephemeral messaging to WhatsApp and vanishing mode to Instagram and Messenger.
The renewed interest in ephemeral messages lately arrives at a time when some social media giants find themselves under fire and regularly hauled in to explain themselves before Congress, most recently on Tuesday. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey have often ended up being attacked and berated with conflicting accusations, and Tuesday’s appearance was no exception. Simply put, Democrats believe these companies don’t do enough to combat misinformation, but whatever actions they do take inflames Republicans, who see the tactics as proof of bias and censorship against conservatives.
It’s an untenable situation, and Fleets might be seen as one way to help ease tensions. If tweets shot off in the heat of a moment automatically disappear, the company could avoid taking controversial steps with them, whether that’s taking down messages, labeling them or letting them stand.
On the other hand, the feature may not help as much as Twitter might like. A vanishing tweet still lives for 24 hours — which is plenty of time for screen captures to memorialize someone’s thoughts or reactions. That could make them more permanent than intended.
Fleets rolls out to both Android and iOS users. Twitter intends to continue developing and updating it, adding new features over time, such as stickers and more creative tools based on how people are using it.
The company is also exploring other features, some of which may encourage intimacy on the platform and make it less of a firehose of public grievance or abuse.
A range of audio features are in test, including voice tweets, audio direct messages and a new format called “audio spaces,” which allows users to host “rooms” with some participants and others in listening mode only. The goal is to help users that tend to be victimized by online harassment, such as women or marginalized people, and allow them room to speak in a safe space. A private feedback feature is also being considered, so users can alert others if they’ve gone too far or need a time out.