Twitter tested a feature that suggests users to unfollow, as first spotted by TheNextWeb’s Matt Navarra earlier today. The test lasted for only a few days, and it has since concluded. “We know that people want a relevant Twitter timeline. One way to do this is by unfollowing people they don’t engage with regularly,” reads a Twitter statement given to The Verge. “We ran an incredibly limited test to surface accounts that people were not engaging with to check if they’d like to unfollow them.”
While seemingly innocuous at first glance, Twitter is currently embroiled alongside other social networks and technology companies in a controversy over perceived liberal bias. President Donald Trump and other right-leaning figures claim the platform unfairly persecutes conservative voices and news outlets through practices like shadow banning, verification removal and bans, and algorithmic de-ranking. (The claims have been wildly overstated, using thin evidence and skewed definitions of terms like shadow banning.)
Twitter is now suggesting accounts to UNFOLLOW!
— Matt Navarra (@MattNavarra) August 29, 2018
This week, Trump has heightened his attacks on tech companies, suggesting yesterday that Google search results are biased against conservatives, kicking off a flurry of confused inquiries to members of the White House and Congress on whether a proper investigation into Silicon Valley liberal bias will ever actually occur. Later on that day, Trump lumped Facebook and Twitter together with Google, said the companies “are on troubled territory,” and “better be careful,” lest the US government regulate them presumably. But as past incidences have shown, while Trump enjoys doling out threats to perceived rivals, he does little to follow through.
Still, Twitter testing an unfollow suggestion list could give more ammunition to its critics. The moment a prominent conservative appears on the list, it’s likely the feature would be used as a weapon to bolster claims of liberal bias in Silicon Valley. Helping people follow fewer accounts that they don’t like could help them enjoy more. But Twitter’s timing, coupled with its lack of disclosure around the initial test, aren’t helping its case.