Twitter's Reply Feature and its Fiasco

Ritam Khanna,

Research Member,

Indian Society of Artificial Intelligence and Law.

In the latest, Twitter decided to change its reply settings for its users to safeguard them from the reply guys- the annoying, anonymous and unidentifiable hoax twitter users. As claimed, Facebook and Twitter are recent revolutions in web-based social media and the usage of the same has changed the shape of the democracy and politics of India time and again. The autonomy given to the users on the platform to choose their audience has both pros and cons which can affect the way we observe the social media platforms and civil liberties.

Twitter’s reply fiasco

The change is controversial because of the infamous ‘reply guys’ who are usually known as the people who stalk certain accounts of women and other users, comment on their tweets and posts and, thereafter pester them from the unrequired interactions that they solicit with women or sometimes men. Twitter through its official account announced the addition of the new feature and also made the users aware of the settings, by inviting discussion upon this change. It involves setting an option for each tweet that the person creates. All hailed praises but certain experts and critiques are sceptical of changes that might interfere with the way one uses social media platforms. Many other social media platforms like Facebook do have these similar features present on their sites but given the structure of Twitter, it will be difficult for genuine users to express themselves.

The Autonomy in choosing an audience: a myth

Twitter has in many of its privacy matters in the United States has stated that it does not have the ownership of the contents and therefore, indirectly it is not in control of the people’s opinion and what they publish on the platform.[1] In light of the ongoing scrutiny against the data owners, it became imperative that Twitter has to standardise the user audience by bringing such restrictions. The studies have shown the increase in the trends of the privacy issues being alarmed by the unidentified users of the platforms.[2] As seen in many social media platforms nowadays, privacy setting can be enforced to allow communication /interaction/sharing among friends only. However, there is a defect in this approach, the threats from a mutual friend based attack are ignored[3]. These attacks are known as Attribute disclosure which can be carried on by befriended individuals on the sites.[4]

Further, the tussle with the bad vs. good users does not end here, critiques believe that even if the reply features are changed it wouldn’t change the fate of the users. They can still be mobbed by the users by the feature of “retweet with a comment” which includes a single tab where the public user can view the commented tweets in multiple. Therefore, this renders the step ineffective when privacy and autonomy are considered of the user and the ‘right to choose’[5] is diminished.

Undermining the Civil Liberties of the Users

The Main allegation on the same is that by modifying such it is more restrictive in sense of a “social media” platform. It undermines the users who are genuinely taking part in community networking. Twitter’s approach is based on the nip the evil in the bud, however, the looming paradox of protecting the people from the condescending comments vis a vis restricting them to freely express themselves is still an impact that Twitter still hasn’t thought through.

The feature is dismantling the autonomy of the citizens as the first¸ the users can share a limited number of data as the size of sharing a tweet is generally limited to few characters; second, after the introduction of the feature the company is differing from an open platform of discussion and third, the quote tweets have backfired and now the users do not have the option to create the control over their feed and their tweets will be published by more and more reply guys, adding fuel to the fire.

The effect of it is as follows:

  1. Attacking the public policy feature: The twitter has come up be a reply feature which does worse for genuine users than for reply guys. This is not a restriction that the sites like Twitter can allow as their structure is such as that it has now become a stage for the open discussion of the politics and fair criticism of the government. This tilts the balance in favour of the government shielding than to the public voice encouragement. One bad cannot undo the whole good that the platform provides.

  2. Right to Choose one’s audience: As already deduced that the reply feature is not only a loophole to cause more and more reply guys to develop but it is in one way or other taking the autonomy of the users to choose their audience and it restores them to the same pillar of public scrutiny. The Right to Choose the audience is not something Twitter had in place earlier by after the same step the users are rendered vulnerable as they might intend the conversations for some sect of people but owing to the reply guys they will be vigorously attacked by them. Thus, the users will have no other option but to block each user or delete comments one by one creating a fuss for them,

  3. Government Accountability: The main reasons why twitter is a flourishing platform is because it changed the road map of the modern-day democracy and created a sense of accountability for their actions while listening or rather being forced to listen to the demand of the people. However, with this feature, the accountability becomes optional as the government agencies can very well put in the cloak of only restricted access and divert the much-needed criticism. The people can only be able to comment on the same when the tweet itself will trend on Twitter charts which is a less likely possibility given the narrow reply features.


  • In conclusion, the feature is a boon for the general users of the social media but it still renders the fate of the famous and the vulnerable users as being used in dubious ways. The following are my recommendations:

  • An approach for security within social networks against attribute disclosure attacks is suggested in. For privacy patterns, a measure for an attribute disclosure attack is provided when one succeeds in getting particular nodes identity.[6] A detailed list of reported cyber-crimes using social networks data can be chipped in as the reply guys, later on, develop their tendencies and move towards the more serious nature of attacks.

  • Use of biometric devices is a far fetched suggested solution. However, the issues of Biometric device utility and availability must be taken care and it is still a debatable structure in the long term. India’s privacy regime and data structures have been targeted and categorised unsafe by many experts. Further, these biometric and other wearable sensors may not be available everywhere.

  • Interaction and contact vs surveillance are the two bright faces of Social Media Platform.[7]User awareness and narcissism techniques introduced for detection of Insiders Threats, Outliers, Text, Context, video, and other uploads analysis provide very useful inferences and deductions. Recommendations of the studies on the privacy concern of the users are to be adopted by using a naive or simple technique by the means of the small questionnaires on the platforms.

References [1] Twitter Inc., Calfornia v Meghan Murphy CGC-19-573712. [2] C. Edwards, “Ending identity theft and cyber crime,” Biometric Technology Today, vol. 2014, no. 2, pp. 9–11, 2014. [3] J. L. Bevan, P.-C. Ang, and J. B. Fearns, “Being unfriended on facebook: An application of expectancy violation theory,” Computers in Human Behaviour, vol. 33, pp. 171–178, 2014. [4] X. Liang, K. Zhang, X. Shen, and X. Lin, “Security and privacy in mobile social networks: challenges and solutions,” IEEE Wireless Communications, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 33–41, 2014. [5] Navtej Singh Johar v Union of India AIR 2018 SC 4321; see also K.S.Puttaswamy v Union of India 2017 10 S.C.C. 1. [6] C. Edwards, “Ending identity theft and cyber crime,” Biometric Technology Today, vol. 2014, no. 2, pp. 9–11, 2014. [7] S. Gurses and C. Diaz, “Two tales of privacy in online social networks,” IEEE Security & Privacy, vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 29–37, 2013.


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