On Monday, Twitter announced a small update to its platform that has a big impact: the roll-out of a “mute” function, which allows users to block the tweets and retweets of another user without actually unfollowing them. Naturally, Twitter itself blew up with opinions about the feature — though it has been around for years via the company’s Tweetdeck platform — leading some to question why mute is so powerful.
I think that mute is an excellent social media tool that should be available across all platforms, but I also think it could become even more useful to improve social media experiences.
Muting is the easiest and most efficient way to cut through social media noise without severing social ties or ruffling any feathers. For Twitter, this could mean silencing the tweets and retweets of an overeager friend while still allowing him to DM you. On a more general social network like Facebook, which allows you to “Unfollow” timeline updates, it means silencing a particularly annoying relative who you can’t spurn with an “unfriend.”
With social media, we stay connected to more people than we care to hear from daily, but we may not want to sever that connection entirely. Muting users keeps the daily noise down by keeping unwanted voices out, making the overall experience of social media much better.
Different social media platforms have different policies for muting or blocking user conversations. On Twitter, muting completely removes a user’s tweets from your feed, but they can still send you a Direct Messages or a reply (which differs from the way the way a Block works.) On the other hand, Facebook allows you to unfollow others or block them from sending you event and game invites. But not all platforms have a way to mute users: for example, Instagram only has a block function that removes updates and new photos from the blocked person’s feed, and Pinterest doesn’t allow for muting users without unfollowing or blocking them.
I think all social media platforms should not only incorporate a muting feature, but that it should go even further. For example, imagine if you could mute a particular hashtag entirely — say to block a particular kind of photo on Instagram or a conversation on Twitter. Or there could be a temporary mute feature that silences users during a given time without blocking them permanently — anything from silencing a certain user during work mornings to silencing them for an entire election season. By creating new and precise ways to mute a user or conversation, the long-term experiences on social media sites could vastly improve.
Social media is constantly full of noise and unwanted updates, but sometimes it’s just not right to be impolite. Muting users has the potential to bridge that gap, and make it more tolerable for all of us.