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Twitter’s new reply-limiting feature is already changing how we talk on the platform

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Twitter is testing a new feature that lets users decide who can reply to their tweets, the company announced on Wednesday, and some accounts are already using it in some interesting new ways.

Previously, anybody could reply to anybody on Twitter (as long as their profile wasn’t private or blocked). But now, if you’re part of the test, you can decide if you want to allow replies from everyone, only people you follow, or only people you tag — which, if you don’t tag anyone, means that no one can reply at all. Deciding who can reply to which tweet on a tweet-by-tweet basis could change how some people use the social media platform in significant ways.

Interviews on Twitter, for example, could be much more streamlined, and NBC’s Twitter account for Meet the Press has already shown an example of how. Meet the Press announced an interview with NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell and only allowed people it tagged in the tweet to reply — which, in this case, was only Mitchell. What followed almost felt like a long tweetstorm, split between two accounts.

Part of Meet the Press’ Twitter interview with Andrea Mitchell.

Limiting how users can interact with live Twitter interviews does mean that emergent conversations won’t occur as easily in the replies — you can theoretically still quote tweet messages even if those tweets have replies limited, and conversations could be started that way. Still, the limitation means interviews may not feel quite as organic as they sometimes were before.

On the plus side, the feature does make interviews much easier to follow, which would have been handy for, say, the messy #KaraJack interview between Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Recode’s Kara Swisher back in February 2019. Dorsey had some fun referencing that mess by not allowing replies to this tweet:

Limiting replies could also be used to help prevent the spread of spoilers for upcoming movies, TV shows, and video games. On Thursday, for example, Naughty Dog posted screenshots of its upcoming PS4 title The Last of Us Part II, and limited replies to people it tagged — which was no one.

The Last of Us Part II, which launches on June 19th, promises to have a deeply engaging story, and the studio is doing everything it can on social media to keep that story under wraps until the game launches, hence the move to disable replies. Naughty Dog is also trying to stop people from sharing spoilers from major leaks of the game that hit the web in late April; Sony and Naughty Dog disabled YouTube comments on the latest trailer, too.

There is the potential that limiting replies could be used more nefariously. If politicians or public officials post misinformation and don’t allow replies, people wouldn’t be able to easily fact-check a tweet in the replies that would appear under the original misinformation, where it could do the most help in correcting the record. And interestingly, the ACLU is arguing that public officials blocking replies would violate the First Amendment — President Donald Trump has yet to make use of the feature, but it will surely inspire debate if and when he does.

In the case of misinformation, if the original account isn’t allowing replies to a tweet, users can still use a quote tweet to comment. It’s not the most ideal solution — a quote tweet only appears on your feed, so a fact-check, for example, likely won’t be seen by everyone who saw the original tweet — but it’s still a way to weigh in if you aren’t able to directly reply.

Here’s an example of how that could look. However, bear in mind that in this instance, the quoted tweet did allow replies because it was posted before Twitter implemented reply blocking.

That all said, not allowing replies can have more lighthearted uses. I’ll admit I laughed at Dorsey’s tweet that I included earlier, and Lil Nas X continued to prove he is a Twitter all-star with this great prank:

There are bound to be new ideas that emerge as more Twitter users get access to reply blocking, and I’m interested to see how people use the feature in creative ways. But I’m nervous to find out what diabolical things fast food brands will say when they can limit replies only to each other.

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Wikimedia is writing new policies to fight Wikipedia harassment

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Wikipedia plans to crack down on harassment and other “toxic” behavior with a new code of conduct. The Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, which oversees Wikipedia among other projects, voted on Friday to adopt a more formal moderation process. The foundation will draft the details of that process by the end of 2020, and until then, it’s tasked with enforcing stopgap anti-harassment policies.

“Harassment, toxic behavior, and incivility in the Wikimedia movement are contrary to our shared values and detrimental to our vision and mission,” said the board in a statement. “The board does not believe we have made enough progress toward creating welcoming, inclusive, harassment-free spaces in which people can contribute productively and debate constructively.”

The trustee board gave the Wikimedia Foundation four specific directives. It’s supposed to draft a “binding minimum set of standards” for behavior on its platforms, shaped by input from the community. It needs to “ban, sanction, or otherwise limit the access” of people who break that code, as well as create a review process that involves the community. And it must “significantly increase support for and collaboration with community functionaries” during moderation. Beyond those directives, the Wikimedia Foundation is also supposed to put more resources into its Trust and Safety team, including more staff and better training tools.

The trustee board says its goal is “developing sustainable practices and tools that eliminate harassment, toxicity, and incivility, promote inclusivity, cultivate respectful discourse, reduce harms to participants, protect the projects from disinformation and bad actors, and promote trust in our projects.”

Wikipedia’s volunteer community can be highly dedicated but intensely combative, launching edit wars over controversial topics and harshly enforcing editorial standards in a way that may drive away new users. The Wikimedia Foundation listed harassment as one factor behind its relative lack of female and gender-nonconforming editors, who have complained of being singled out for abuse. At the same time, the project grew out of a freewheeling community-focused ethos — and many users object to the kind of top-down enforcement you’d find on a commercial web platform.

These problems came to a head last year, when the Wikimedia Foundation suspended a respected but abrasive editor who other users accused of relentless harassment. The intervention bypassed Wikipedia’s normal community arbitration process, and several administrators resigned during the backlash that followed.

The board of trustees doesn’t mention that controversy, saying only that the vote “formalizes years’ of longstanding efforts by individual volunteers, Wikimedia affiliates, Foundation staff, and others to stop harassment and promote inclusivity on Wikimedia projects.” But on a discussion page, one editor cited the suspension to argue that the Wikimedia Foundation shouldn’t interfere with Wikipedia’s community moderation — while others said a formal code of conduct would have reduced the widespread confusion and hostility around it.

Amid all this, Wikipedia has become one of the internet’s most widely trusted platforms. YouTube, for instance, uses Wikipedia pages to rebut conspiracy videos. That’s raised the stakes and created a huge incentive for disinformation artists to target the site. Friday’s vote suggests the Wikimedia Foundation will take a more active role in moderating the platform, even if we don’t know exactly how.

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BuzzFeed’s quizzes get new multiplayer mode to help you socialize from home

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BuzzFeed has introduced a multiplayer version of its classic quizzes called Quiz Party, which lets you and up to three friends complete them simultaneously in your browser. The feature gives you a unique URL to share with friends so you can quickly found out, as a group, what geological epoch matches your personality or what Disney princess you are based on your blood type. (Disclaimer: these are not, so far as we know, real BuzzFeed quizzes.)

At the moment the functionality is quite basic. You’re each still essentially completing the quiz on your own, and there’s no chat feature to let you talk to your friends. But it’s a lot more social than simply sharing the results of a quiz on social media, and waiting for friends to complete it in their own time.

Although you work through the questions individually, you can see each player’s progress at the top of the screen, and you get your results as a group. So it means there’s nowhere to hide when a quiz inevitably sorts you into the wrong Hogwarts house (read: Hufflepuff).

BuzzFeed’s CTO Peter Wang tells TechCrunch that the company is seeing an explosion of interest in quizzes. Traffic had tripled year-over-year as of March this year Wang said, with interest apparently being driven by everyone trying to keep themselves entertained while cooped up at home during the pandemic. He adds that the company plans to expand Quiz Party over time. That means more quizzes, but it could also mean new functionality like music and chat support, the CTO said.

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iFixit launches massive repair database for ventilators and other medical devices

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Teardown and repair website iFixit has just posted what its CEO Kyle Wiens says is “the most comprehensive online resource for medical repair professionals.” The new database contains dedicated sections for clinical, laboratory, and medical support equipment, in addition to numerous other categories of devices. It also provides more than 13,000 manuals from hundreds of medical device manufacturers.

Wiens says the effort began with a crowdsourcing campaign to collect repair information for hospital equipment, with a focus on “ventilator documentation, anesthesia systems, and respiratory analyzers — devices widely used to support COVID-19 patients.” But the effort grew from there, spanning more than two months as iFixit added dozens more staff members to the project; began talking to more biomedical technicians, doctors, and nurses about their day-to-day needs; and started collecting and cataloging information from libraries and other sources.

“Hospitals are having trouble getting service information to fix medical equipment — and it’s not just a COVID-19 problem. We’ve heard countless stories from biomedical technicians (biomeds, for short) about how medical device manufacturers make their jobs more difficult by restricting access to repair information,” Wiens writes in iFixit’s blog post about the new database. “Thanks to travel limitations, the problem is bigger than ever. Manufacturer service reps can’t keep pace with the growing demand for repair of critical hospital equipment. Even if they could, they can’t respond as quickly as the biomeds, already at the front lines.”

Wiens says that it’s common for biomeds to spend hours on the internet looking for repair information to fix a device or prevent a crucial piece of equipment from failing when it’s needed most. “So we’re fixing it. For the last two months, iFixit has pivoted half of its staff toward building the world’s most comprehensive medical equipment service database. It’s a central, multi-manufacturer library of user manuals and repair documentation for thousands of devices,” he writes.

The medical repair database is split up into nine categories, with each containing countless subcategories for basically any type of device you’d find in a medical setting. For instance, the clinical equipment category contains 53 subcategories for everything from anesthesia systems and Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) machines to respiratory analyzers and ventilators. The database also has medical training manuals, information on medical furniture like decontamination systems and hospital beds, and an exhaustive section on surgical equipment repair and maintenance.

Wiens explains in iFixit’s announcement post that some medical device manufacturers make this information more easily available online than others. “But for their day-to-day work, biomeds have long relied on a rag-tag set of web resources to get the job done. Among the most popular is Frank’s Hospital Workshop, a Tanzania-based site that hosts hundreds of medical device manuals — it’s the unofficial biomed bible,” Wiens writes. The goal was not to outdo that website or try to overtake it in popularity, but to add new documents and manuals that weren’t available before to a database including existing resources.

“To be very clear: iFixit does not make money on this project. We are providing hosting and curation free of charge, and free of advertising, to the medical community,” Wiens says. “We welcome manufacturers to join us and contribute toward an up-to-date central repository for the biomedical community. We also welcome biomeds around the world to join iFixit’s repair community. No technician is an island, and we hope to facilitate an exchange of knowledge and troubleshooting.”

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