Future Tense

Introducing “Fleets,” Twitter’s Version of Stories

The blue Twitter logo with a white bird in motion.
OLIVIER DOULIERY/Getty Images

On Tuesday, Twitter launched “Fleets,” an ephemeral feature that lets users post tweets, videos, or pictures that vanish after 24 hours. The name comes from fleeting—get it?

Users’ fleets will be in a story-like bubble at the top of their Twitter timeline, and followers are able to respond to them in a direct message. Completely private, fleets can’t be retweeted or shared. In a blog post, Twitter stated that its goal is to encourage those afraid of the public nature on the platform to air out their thoughts more privately.

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“Through our tests [earlier this year] in Brazil, Italy, India, and South Korea, we learned Fleets helped people feel more comfortable joining the conversation—we saw people with Fleets talk more on Twitter,” design director Joshua Harris and product manager Sam Haveson wrote in the Twitter blog post. “Those new to Twitter found Fleets to be an easier way to share what’s on their mind. Because they disappear from view after a day, Fleets helped people feel more comfortable sharing personal and casual thoughts, opinions, and feelings.”

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Although Snapchat created the disappearing story feature first, social media apps like Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest soon followed. Instagram’s Stories feature, which was implemented in 2016, was created to encourage users to share more frequently and candidly. The company expected that others would follow.

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“Just like when Facebook invented the [News] Feed, and every social product was like, ‘That’s an innovation, how do we adapt that to our network?’” Instagram’s CEO and co-founder Kevin Systrom told the Verge soon after it launched. “You’re going to see stories pop up in other networks over time, because it’s one of the best ways to show visual information in chronological order.”

While Fleets are a way to ensure more privacy and less harassment, it is unclear how Twitter will navigate users potentially screenshotting and posting other users’ Fleets. There’s no indication Twitter will provide a notification if one has screenshotted a fleet, like Snapchat does with its stories.

Twitter also announced Tuesday that it is planning to test a new audio feature called audio spaces, which will be similar to what you find on the startup audio app Clubhouse. Through audio spaces, people can have non-permanent voice conversations with other users. Although in its early stages, Twitter will have to figure out ways to moderate these conversations for accuracy and harassment, something the platform battled throughout the election season. Clubhouse has had incidents of misinformation and hate speech spreading on the platform, most notably in September when hundreds of users were engaging in anti-Semitic commentary in chatrooms.

In acknowledgment of this, Twitter’s Spaces will roll out to certain users at the end of this year—in particular, those who are disproportionately subject to online harassment.

“We are going to launch this first experiment of spaces to a very small group of people—a group of people who are disproportionately impacted by abuse and harm on the platform: women and those from marginalized backgrounds,” Twitter staff product designer Maya Gold Patterson said in a press briefing.

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.

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