Twitter’s “Fleets” are a hot privacy mess
Photo: Jonardo on Pixabay

Twitter’s “Fleets” are a hot privacy mess

Twitter this week launched its Fleets feature, allowing users to share ephemeral content. Unlike tweets, Fleets only last for 24 hours. Sound familiar? They’re a copy of Instagram’s Stories, which were a copy of Snapchat’s core feature. Similar things have been implemented in Facebook and WhatsApp, which should make us question the idea that capitalism breeds creativity and competition.

Almost as a side note, it’s interesting that this was launched on the same day that CEO Jack Dorsey appeared in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee along with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

Immediately, Twitter users began pointing out ways that Fleets are an absolute disaster for privacy:

  • Just did a “Fleet” and I can see which private accounts viewed it, fyi – Neil Chernaboga / @neilcic
  • You can tag accounts that have blocked you… in a “fleet” and the tag will still work to direct your followers to that account. That is not good. – Andrew Thaler / @DrAndrewThaler
  • * Can embed and link site content directly – friction is minimized. * No notification to people linked * Circumvents blocks * Transient, preventing people from figuring out what happened later – mcc / @mcclure111

And finally, if you’ve ever engaged with a Twitter user in a private DM before, you can reply to their Fleets.

In other words, Fleets seem to completely ignore the limited safety features that Twitter already has.

Fleets are what happens when a company pushes for more engagement without considering the well-being of its most marginalized users.

When someone tags you in a regular tweet, you’ll get a notification (unless you’ve blocked or muted them). That’s not the case with Fleets. And they disappear in 24 hours (or sooner if deleted), so it’s easier to hide traces of them.

If you like or retweet a tweet using a private account, the poster won’t see that unless they’re following you. I just confirmed myself that I can see which private accounts I’m not mutuals with have viewed my test Fleet.

Twitter has a safety team, and many high-profile Twitter users have pushed Twitter for changes to other feature. Recently, the service started allowing you to choose who can reply to your tweets: People mentioned, people you follow, or everyone (the default). But with that feature, anyone can retweet or quote-tweet you, forcing themselves into your conversation.

So what was Twitter’s response to complaints about Fleets? Absolutely dismissive to the concerns of its users.

Tweet from @Twitter: "some of you hating... but we see you Fleeting"

Their response is also a reminder that Twitter can and will track everything we do on their site. It remains to be seen if Fleets actually do disappear from Twitter’s servers after 24 hours, but I’m doubtful. On Instagram, stories live forever – even if you can’t see them. That’s how Instagram lets you put together your albums later.

Fleets are what happens when a company pushes for more engagement without considering the well-being of its most marginalized users. Women, people of color and LGBTQ people often face serious harassment campaigns on social media. While these companies put significant resources into new features to keep you in the app – and looking at ads – they recognize it’s not profitable to invest time and money into real trust and safety programs.