Earlier this week, Twitter users noticed the platform appeared to be testing a feature where it would suggest accounts a user might want to unfollow. It’s just like how the platform will suggest — based on a number of factors, like your current following list and your interactions — people you should follow. Except it’s not, because it’s the opposite.
“We know that people want a relevant Twitter timeline. One way to do this is by unfollowing people they don’t engage with regularly,” a Twitter spokesperson told Slate. “We ran an incredibly limited test to surface accounts that people were not engaging with to check if they’d like to unfollow them.” The test has since been completed and the platform is not currently using the feature. But honestly … I wish it were. “You can improve your timeline by reviewing some accounts you may not need to follow,” the test module explained to users. Why, yes, Twitter, I would like to improve my timeline.
Currently, I follow just over 2,000 people on Twitter. Journalists. News outlets. Teens I’ve followed over the years for interviews. People I actually know in real life. “Friends” I followed back in college when I joined Twitter using my school-issued email and the platform automatically suggested I follow. It’s a list that could benefit from some culling. But the way Twitter is currently set up makes doing that just tedious enough that I never bother. Sure, I’ll unfollow people if I happen to see a particularly bad tweet from them come across my feed, but once you amass a following list into the hundreds or thousands, it becomes less and less likely that you’ll catch every bad tweet from everyone you’re following.
This leaves you with a couple of options. Option one is to type in, by name or handle, each account you want to unfollow. Option two, and an even bigger pain, is to scroll through the list of everyone you follow searching for people to ax. The list is in chronological order, meaning if you want to get back to the people you didn’t follow most recently, who are probably the people you currently want to be seeing tweets from, you could be scrolling for some time. There’s also a third option where you go completely nuclear and use a third-party program to unfollow everyone and start from scratch. This seems aggressive.
Instead, I’m down with the idea of Twitter algorithmically deciding which accounts I probably don’t care if I see anymore. And I’m really down with it serving them up to me in an easy-to-unfollow list. Frankly, Facebook could take a note here, too. Have you ever tried to unfriend a large group of people on Facebook? Say, every member of the Queensbury High School class of 2010? You can’t. As with Twitter, if you want to unfriend somebody, you’re going to have to do a lot of scrolling and clicking. (Facebook sorts algorithmically so your “real” friends, or at least the people whose content you interact with, will be listed first. The people whose content you ignore, or don’t really see anymore, will be at the bottom.)
Does this feature seem like it has the potential to go a little hinky? Sure. The platform is only just barely on the other side of this summer’s so-called “shadow banning” scandal. (For the record and the umpteenth time, Twitter is not suppressing, or “shadow banning,” tweets from conservative accounts. Or any accounts.) But provided that Twitter can explain why it’s serving users the suggestions it serves, there won’t be room for certain circles to complain that Twitter is prejudiced against them. Again, this is only if Twitter can be transparent about the criteria it’s using. (Something Twitter has struggled with in the past.) But if it can … then bring on the unfollow suggestions. It is time to thin my Twitter herd and I would like some help. Plus, if you’re going to be unfollowing somebody who might be offended by your actions what do you think will be more offensive, that Twitter suggested you should do it or that you chose to unfollow them in the first place?