Home Social Media Companies Really Need To Get Better At … Social Media

Social Media Companies Really Need To Get Better At … Social Media

When social media companies change important functions without notice, they risk social backlash from users—often enough, a backlash transmitted by the company’s own platforms. You’d think they’d wise up about that, but so far, there’s little sign that social giants like Twitter and Facebook have figured out how not to get burned by all this pent-up social energy they’ve released.

Last week, Twitter quietly changed the way it handles users who are “blocked” by others in an attempt to minimize backlash and antagonism from those who found themselves blocked. Yet when Twitter users discovered that they could follow someone who had blocked them and see those tweets in their timeline, the social network erupted in outrage. 

See also: Twitter Revises Blocking Policy, Confuses Millions and Twitter Reverts Blocking Policy After User Outrage

It’s worth noting that many people misunderstood Twitter’s original blocking feature, and wrongly claimed that it could block other users from seeing your tweets. In fact, the only way to keep tweets from being viewable by literally everyone on the Internet is to set your account to private.

Although Twitter reverted the policy back to the one it had originally, plenty of disgruntled users were still asking why it needed to be changed in the first place. 

Social Media Déjà Vu

Unfortunately, what Twitter experienced yesterday is an all-too-common scenario for social networks. It generally goes something like this:

  1. A big social-media company—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.—makes a major policy change that affects millions of users without telling users why they’re making the change and how users will be affected
  2. The Internet discovers the change and panics
  3. The company is forced to explain itself under fire, often several times. In some cases, it backtracks completely

Last year, Instagram experienced its own dustup of this sort. The company updated its terms of service to include a clause suggesting it had the right to sell access to user photos. As you might imagine, people were not happy about the potential for Instagram—and its corporate parent Facebook—to make money off their original images.

Instagram backed off and eventually eliminated the controversial wording, but not before users and the media accused it of privacy violations

Facebook, which has earned a reputation for putting revenue ahead of user privacy, has faced similar backlashes for years. In 2007, when it abruptly unveiled an advertising service called Beacon that would track Facebook users across third-party websites. More recent examples include using user names and images in advertisements without consent, accidentally outing secrets as a result of misunderstood privacy violations, and of course the controversial Graph Search

See also: Facebook Dispels Any Remaining Confusion: You Are Its Product

Two years ago, Mark Zuckerberg admitted that the company had mishandled privacy concerns. While Facebook continues to insist that it handles user privacy transparently, it’s still landing in hot water with recent updates

To its credit, Facebook has on occasion backtracked in the face of public opposition. Zuckerberg admitted Beacon was a mistake, and the service also conceded that “sponsored stories” featuring Facebook users in ads were a violation of user privacy

According to a Facebook spokesperson, oftentimes the company does give users an opportunity to review and comment on proposed policy changes before they go into effect, and sometimes user input does, in fact, lead to additional changes.

Learning Experiences

Some companies actually have managed to learn something about communicating with their userbase. Reddit, for instance, did it the right way when it updated its user agreement last week in ways that paralleled the changes Instagram made last year. 

Redditors, of course, are no strangers to Internet panic. In this case, though, site admins managed to quell the backlash before it really gathered steam by quickly and clearly explaining the policy updates and why they were legally necessary to allow Reddit to function the way users expected.

Now, was that so hard? Other social media companies, please take note. 

In the meantime, there’s yet another option for the avatars of social sharing. Since these companies rely so heavily on user judgement, why not solicit user opinions before making controversial changes?

We’ve reached out to Twitter to see if, in the future, the company might announce changes to followers before implementing to gauge the general reaction. The company has yet to respond to our requests for comment.

Posting proposed changes—again, in a clear and compelling fashion—and letting users chew them over before formally implementing them would make social users feel more a part of the process and might even yield useful feedback for the companies in question.

Of course, many changes will stick whether users want them or not; business is not a democracy. But by being truly transparent about policy changes and what difference it makes to users, companies can avoid getting publicly shamed both in the media and on their own social networks. 

Lead image by **RCB** on Flickr

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Get the biggest tech headlines of the day delivered to your inbox

    By signing up, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy. Unsubscribe anytime.

    Tech News

    Explore the latest in tech with our Tech News. We cut through the noise for concise, relevant updates, keeping you informed about the rapidly evolving tech landscape with curated content that separates signal from noise.

    In-Depth Tech Stories

    Explore tech impact in In-Depth Stories. Narrative data journalism offers comprehensive analyses, revealing stories behind data. Understand industry trends for a deeper perspective on tech's intricate relationships with society.

    Expert Reviews

    Empower decisions with Expert Reviews, merging industry expertise and insightful analysis. Delve into tech intricacies, get the best deals, and stay ahead with our trustworthy guide to navigating the ever-changing tech market.