The modern social web is a place of impermanence. Posting in perpetuity is passé; the fixed feed has mostly given way to ephemeral stories. Snap, Facebook, Instagram, and even LinkedIn have introduced temporary, self-deleting posts. Now Twitter is joining their ranks.
“Starting today in Brazil, we’re testing Fleets, a new way to start conversations from your fleeting thoughts,” the company announced in a blog post Wednesday.
Some aspects of the new feature will seem familiar. Like Instagram or Facebook stories, fleets—yes, fleets—will show up in a carousel at the top of the home timeline, and they’ll disappear after 24 hours. Fleets will also have a limit of 280 characters, like regular tweets, with the option to add images, videos, or GIFs, but users won’t be able to retweet, like, or publicly reply. People can reply to fleets through direct messages, if DMs are open. Depending on how the test goes in Brazil, Twitter says it may bring the feature to other countries.
“People have told us in early research that because Fleets disappear, they feel more willing to share casual, everyday thoughts,” writes Mo Aladham, a group product manager at Twitter Brasil, in the announcement. (An English translation of the post, originally in Portuguese, was provided by Twitter ahead of time.) “We hope that people who don’t usually feel comfortable Tweeting use Fleets to share musings about what’s on their mind.”
The news might seem strange: Nearly all tweets fall into the category of “fleeting thoughts.” From the start, Twitter’s character limit and constantly updating feed encouraged brevity and speed, if not always wit. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s cofounder and the current CEO, used to tweet regularly about literally nothing: “Walk home hoping to avoid rain. But first: after yoga bubble tea. Quickly!” Over time, though, and with more users, Twitter has evolved. Musings dashed off without thought, or intended for limited audiences, can come back as vengeful ghosts. People have lost jobs, political appointments, and friendships because of tweets that haven’t aged well.
For years, Twitter users have sought out ways to destroy those fossilized tweets. It’s always been possible to manually delete tweets through the app, or to delete your whole account. But users who wanted to make sure their tweets didn’t outlive their moment had to turn to off-the-shelf tools like Tweet Deleter and Tweet Archive Eraser, which delete old tweets at regular intervals. Those have become more popular in recent years; Tweet Deleter claims to have expunged over 700 million tweets. With fleets, Twitter brings some of that functionality into the app.
It wouldn’t be the first time: many of Twitter’s most popular features have come from its users’ improvised solutions. Before there was a retweet button, people used “RT” as a prefix for reposting someone else’s tweet. Before there was a tag function, people used the @ symbol as a shorthand reference to someone else. Fleets seems to take a cue from the rise of tweet-deleting, as much as from the rise of ephemeral posting on other social platforms.
Of all the problems on Twitter, however, social inhibition does not typically rise to the top of the list. Like many platforms, Twitter has struggled with spam, harassment, manipulated media, and coordinated misinformation campaigns. The company has been focused on “conversational health” since 2018, after criticisms that it wasn’t doing enough for its users. Twitter’s announcement about fleets gives a subtle reference to the initiative. “We want to make it possible for you to have conversations in new ways with less pressure and more control, beyond Tweets and Direct Messages,” writes Aladham in the announcement.
Disappearing tweets may make users feel less anxious about their tweets coming back to haunt them, and that could indeed be a boon for some people’s mental health—the popularity of stories on other apps like Instagram, where there’s been a lot of focus on pressures to appear perfect, attests to this. Ever since Instagram introduced Stories in 2016, the use of the feature grows more and more, and has now outpaced posts on the main feed. Twitter may be lusting after similar success, hoping that with the promise of deletion, your Twitter fingers may get even quicker. (And any prospective paths for growth likely look even better to company execs in light of the activist investor Elliott Management entering the scene, as Bloomberg reported Friday.)
Twitter says Fleets will follow the same rules as other content on Twitter, and people can report them the same way they report tweets. Fleets won’t be available for anyone to see after 24 hours—there isn’t an archive, like on Instagram—but Twitter will hold onto them for cases of harassment, abuse, or issues that may involve law enforcement. “We’ll maintain a copy of Fleets for a limited time after they are deleted to enforce any rule violations and so people can appeal enforcement actions,” says Aly Pavela, a communications manager at Twitter. “Our Trust and Safety team uses their expertise and knowledge of observed behavior on the service as well as ongoing research to make sure we have safeguards and channels to route and address any violation of the Twitter Rules.”
The company says it chose Brazil, its test market, because it’s one of Twitter’s “most conversational countries.” It’s also a country grappling with issues like online disinformation: WhatsApp, in particular, became a platform for coordinated disinformation campaigns during Brazil’s election in 2018. It remains to be seen how fleets will be used there—but plenty of people will be watching.
More Great WIRED Stories
- How UFO sightings became an American obsession
- Algae caviar, anyone? What we’ll eat on the journey to Mars
- How to work from home without losing your mind
- Deliver us, Lord, from the startup life
- Share your online accounts—the safe way
- ? Want a real challenge? Teach AI to play D&D. Plus, the latest AI news
- ??♀️ Want the best tools to get healthy? Check out our Gear team’s picks for the best fitness trackers, running gear (including shoes and socks), and best headphones