Twitter is Trying to Encourage Users Against Spreading Articles They Haven't Actually Read—and it Has Elon Musk's Support

Twitter is trying encourage users against spreading news articles they have not actually read, improving the "health" of conversations.

In a move to boost "informed discussion" on the Jack Dorsey-led social network, officials said an experiment is now being conducted on Android devices that will see users shown a prompt when trying to circulate unopened articles to their followers.

"Sharing an article can spark conversation, so you may want to read it before you tweet it," the verified Twitter Support account revealed Wednesday. "To help promote informed discussion, we're testing a new prompt...when you retweet an article that you haven't opened on Twitter, we may ask if you'd like to open it first."

Sharing news of the test, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey wote: "Did you read the article you're about to spread?" Responding, Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk wrote: "Great point. Many articles are retweeted based on headlines that don't match the content."

It was not immediately clear how many users will be involved in the test or how long it will be running for in total. Twitter has been contacted for clarification by Newsweek.

Great point. Many articles are retweeted based on headlines that don’t match the content.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 10, 2020

The support profile responded to questions from several users after the announcement, clarifying the prompt is not related to advertising and confirming that users in the test will still be given the option of ignoring the prompt and re-sharing the article.

"If you tap to retweet an article link, we'll check if you've recently clicked the article link only on Twitter, not elsewhere," it told to a user who raised tracking concerns. "When you see the prompt, you'll always have the option to go ahead and retweet."

Asked about the motivation behind the experiment, it said: "We wanted to test a way to improve the health of a conversation as it gets started. And to see if reminding people to read an article before they share it leads to more informed discussion."

For now, the prompts will apply to links to news outlet domains, Twitter added.

Referencing the new test, Kayvon Beykpour, product lead at Twitter, said the sharing of unread links or articles that go viral can be "powerful but sometimes dangerous."

It's easy for links/articles to go viral on Twitter. This can be powerful but sometimes dangerous, especially if people haven't read the content they're spreading. This feature (on Android for now) encourages people to read a linked article prior to Retweeting it.

— Kayvon Beykpour (@kayvz) June 10, 2020

A 2016 study cited by The Guardian from Columbia University and Microsoft Research suggested close to 60 percent of links posted on Twitter are never clicked.

Last month, Twitter Support said the platform was running a test on iOS that would give users the option of revising replies containing language that "could be harmful."

"We're trying to encourage people to rethink their behavior and rethink their language before posting because they often are in the heat of the moment and they might say something they regret," a Twitter trust and safety chief told Reuters.

Dorsey's attempts to increase "health" on the platform have been ongoing for years. "We've focused most of our efforts on removing content against our terms, instead of building a systemic framework to help encourage more healthy debate, conversations, and critical thinking. This is the approach we now need," he wrote in 2018.

Late last month, Twitter was the first to slap a "public interest notice" on a controversial post from President Donald Trump for "glorifying violence," hiding it from public view.

While the Twitter user experiments continue, Dorsey explained in January why one oft-requested feature—an edit button—is unlikely to materialize this year, if ever. In an interview with Wired, he said that the platform began as a SMS messaging service.

"As you all know, when you send a text you can't really take it back," he said. "We wanted to preserve that vibe and that feeling in the early days. But now, we have an app and a lot of people are using us on the web, and there are some issues with edit.

"One is you might send a tweet, someone might retweet that, and an hour later you completely change the content of that tweet. The person that retweeted the original tweet is now re-broadcasting something completely different. So that's something to watch out for."

Jack Dorsey
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey speaks during a press event at CES 2019 at the Aria Resort & Casino on January 9, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. David Becker/Getty