News has been spreading that Twitter will be inventing a mute button that might sound like an initial way to mute the voice in your head you hear when reading tweets. While that particular voice can never go away, the idea of blocking tweets from showing up in one’s stream without having to unfollow someone is pure brilliance. Why it hasn’t been brought to the desktop edition of Twitter a long time ago is still a bit of a mystery. Considering Tweetdeck had a mute option available several years ago, Twitter knew about the feature once they acquired the company around the same time.
While Twitter’s “mute” feature is still in experimental phase as of this writing, you have to wonder if Twitter has some foresight on what might happen when people start using it. Intended as a way to temporarily block people who might be overly annoying in your Twitter stream, it still has numerous questions behind how useful it’s really going to be.
On a sociological level, what’s going to be the real difference between a block and just unfollowing someone who you regularly don’t love reading?
The Decision When to Mute and When Not To Mute
Twitter says that the mute button will give people a chance to mute people only temporarily until they decide that the person has been muted enough. But how will someone know whether someone is worth unmuting? In a better technological world, we’d have a bit of a preview of their tweets to see if they’re still going on a 12-hour Twitter rant muted them for in the first place. Even in that regard, if you muted someone to stop reading about spoilers on a TV show, you may not have any warning they still aren’t doling those spoilers out.
In theory, the mute button is the real solution to the problem of spoilers on Twitter. The complexity of it all is that you may have to mute everybody you know in order to stop all spoilers. Sometimes spoilers can come from those you least expect, including those on the same coast you are. If they’re on the west coast, they may be watching an east coast feed off satellite that gives away everything you were waiting three more hours to see. It’s one reason why I’ve always wished for a time zone mute button to just mute all tweets from the time zone where a show is airing to give a broader sense of dealing with spoilers.
Beyond that, you have more of a sociological problem in deciding whether muting is really editing parts of the world that bring a larger picture to Twitter.
The Bigger Picture of Your Twitter Stream
If you follow as many people as I do, your Twitter stream is a direct conduit to the entire world at large. When checking in there during the day, you have nearly everything showing both the positive side and underbelly of our planet. All of that turns into a bit of a Yin and Yang that helps form your impression of people and events today. No matter that you despise a person going on a three-hour tweeting rant about something (usually rare anyway), it shouldn’t annoy you to a point where you remove it from view.
With abuse of the mute button, it may end up taking away from conversation on Twitter that could inevitably be useful. Even if you want to tweet someone controversial on your follow list, that’s what makes the beauty of Twitter what it is. I read two-way and multiple-way conversations on Twitter every day that are extremely entertaining and insightful, no matter if it’s a nasty argument underway. Imagine if that person just muted the person out for a day and then took a notion to unmute them later that evening.
When you have to mute a person at all, you might as well unfollow them, because they’re always going to do something that’s going to annoy you sooner or later. It’s also going to be vice versa.
All of this may explain why Twitter will keep the mute button just in beta phase beyond the date of this article. If you’re reading this five years from now and the mute button is in full use, let’s follow one another with intent on reading everything we tweet. The only exception may have to be if the government takes over the Internet and our Twitter streams are full of large black bars.