Meet Fleets: Twitter Is Testing Out Disappearing Tweets

The modern social web is a place of impermanence. Posting in perpetuity is passé; the fixed feed has mostly given way to ephemeral stories. Snap, Facebook, Instagram, and even LinkedIn have introduced temporary, self-deleting posts. Now Twitter is joining their ranks.

“Starting today in Brazil, we’re testing Fleets, a new way to start conversations from your fleeting thoughts,” the company announced in a blog post Wednesday.

Some aspects of the new feature will seem familiar. Like Instagram or Facebook stories, fleets—yes, fleets—will show up in a carousel at the top of the home timeline, and they’ll disappear after 24 hours. Fleets will also have a limit of 280 characters, like regular tweets, with the option to add images, videos, or GIFs, but users won’t be able to retweet, like, or publicly reply. People can reply to fleets through direct messages, if DMs are open. Depending on how the test goes in Brazil, Twitter says it may bring the feature to other countries.

“People have told us in early research that because Fleets disappear, they feel more willing to share casual, everyday thoughts,” writes Mo Aladham, a group product manager at Twitter Brasil, in the announcement. (An English translation of the post, originally in Portuguese, was provided by Twitter ahead of time.) “We hope that people who don’t usually feel comfortable Tweeting use Fleets to share musings about what’s on their mind.”

The news might seem strange: Nearly all tweets fall into the category of “fleeting thoughts.” From the start, Twitter’s character limit and constantly updating feed encouraged brevity and speed, if not always wit. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s cofounder and the current CEO, used to tweet regularly about literally nothing: “Walk home hoping to avoid rain. But first: after yoga bubble tea. Quickly!” Over time, though, and with more users, Twitter has evolved. Musings dashed off without thought, or intended for limited audiences, can come back as vengeful ghosts. People have lost jobs, political appointments, and friendships because of tweets that haven’t aged well.

For years, Twitter users have sought out ways to destroy those fossilized tweets. It’s always been possible to manually delete tweets through the app, or to delete your whole account. But users who wanted to make sure their tweets didn’t outlive their moment had to turn to off-the-shelf tools like Tweet Deleter and Tweet Archive Eraser, which delete old tweets at regular intervals. Those have become more popular in recent years; Tweet Deleter claims to have expunged over 700 million tweets. With fleets, Twitter brings some of that functionality into the app.

It wouldn’t be the first time: many of Twitter’s most popular features have come from its users’ improvised solutions. Before there was a retweet button, people used “RT” as a prefix for reposting someone else’s tweet. Before there was a tag function, people used the @ symbol as a shorthand reference to someone else. Fleets seems to take a cue from the rise of tweet-deleting, as much as from the rise of ephemeral posting on other social platforms.

Of all the problems on Twitter, however, social inhibition does not typically rise to the top of the list. Like many platforms, Twitter has struggled with spam, harassment, manipulated media, and coordinated misinformation campaigns. The company has been focused on “conversational healthsince 2018, after criticisms that it wasn’t doing enough for its users. Twitter’s announcement about fleets gives a subtle reference to the initiative. “We want to make it possible for you to have conversations in new ways with less pressure and more control, beyond Tweets and Direct Messages,” writes Aladham in the announcement.

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