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Twitter branches out into voice chat – what could go wrong?

(SOCIAL MEDIA) We’re learning more about Twitter’s forthcoming audio chat rooms, but what is Twitter learning about moderation?

Twitter open on a smartphone on table next to a cup of warm brown tea.

Twitter wants you to talk more with more people. Like, actually form words. With your mouth.

In November 2020, the micro-blogging giant announced it’s testing its new Audio Spaces feature, which allows users to create audio-only chat rooms – making it what Wired calls a copycat of the new and buzzy Clubhouse app.

Twitter itself hasn’t released many details, but tech blogger/app-feature detective Jane Manchun Wong has been tweeting some of the deets.

How it works

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Here’s what we know about the private beta version, according to Wong: Users create a chat room and can control who is admitted to the group, whether it’s the public, followers, or followees. Group size is currently limited to 10. Members can react with a set set of emojis: “100,” raised hand, fist, peace sign, and waving hand. Spaces conversations are not recorded, but they are transcribed for accessibility. It uses Periscope on the back end.

One thing that’s not clear: The actual name. Twitter’s announcements have been calling it Audio Spaces, but the product’s handle is @TwitterSpaces.

It’s Twitter! What could go wrong?

The big gorilla in the chat room is moderation – as in, how do you keep humans from being terrible on Twitter?

We can all be forgiven for skepticism when it comes to Twitter’s aim to keep Audio Spaces safe(ish). Twitter can be a toxic stew of personal insults and even threats. Interestingly, Twitter is starting its test by inviting users who are often targets: Women and people from marginalized groups. Great idea! Who better to help craft community guidelines?

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Requiring platforms to shut down hate speech and violent threats is having a moment, and Clubhouse is already in the controversy mix. Even as invite-only, the app has had some high-profile failures to moderate with threats toward a New York Times reporter and a problem anti-semitic conversation. It seems likely Twitter is paying attention.

Also on the safe(ish) side: The space creator is all powerful and can mute or kick out bad actors. Spaces can also be reported. Then there’s the transcription, which sets Audio Spaces apart from similar apps. Chat transcription was aimed at accessibility but, TechCrunch suggests that might help keep things civil and appropriate if people know their words are being written down. Hmm. Maybe?

Also… Why?

It doesn’t appear that there was a groundswell of demand from users, but Audio Spaces at least is something different from the feature pile-on making the social media big dogs start to look the same, as in Twitter’s also-new Fleets, Instagram’s and Facebook’s Stories, Snapchat’s… Snapchat. (See also Instagram’s Reels, Snapchat’s Spotlight, TikTok’s… TikTok.)

Clubhouse does appear to be hugely popular in Silicon Valley – and it has the investment capital to show it – so maybe there’s something to this audio-only chat thing. But we’ve already seen pandemic-fueled Zoom-happy-hour-fatigue, as users have gotten frustrated with too many people talking at the same time. Video chat can give users at least a few more clues about who is talking and who might be about to talk. Audio-only chat seems like it could quickly devolve into a chaotic cacophony.

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But, Twitter says, conversation will flow naturally, and it advises users to “be present.”

“Just like in real life, the magic is in the moment,” it says.

It’s beta testers will surely have a lot to say about “magic” and “moderation.”

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Lisa Wyatt Roe is an Austin writer and editor whose work has been featured on CNN.com/Travel, in Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine and in the book “Seduced by Sound: Austin; 100 Musicians on Why They Make Music.” Travel and live music feed her soul. Volunteering with refugees feeds her sense of purpose. And making friends laugh feeds her deep (yet possibly sad) need to get all the laughing emojis on Facebook.

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  1. Pingback: If you're not on Clubhouse, you're missing out - here's why

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