Following a trial run in Brazil and South Korea at the beginning of the year, Twitter has launched a global roll-out for its new "fleets" feature. As per usual with updates to social media apps, the initial feedback has been mostly derisive.
But first, what is a fleet? A fleet is a tweet that expires after 24 hours – a "fleeting thought.” It's basically Twitter's answer to an Instagram or Snapchat story, and similarly, the fleets occupy a small glowing circle at the top of the platform. Much like a tweet, the self-deleting fleet can contain text, photos, and video, as well as an option to tag other users.
With over 500 million tweets posted every day, many would think that Twitter's USP – a constantly refreshing stream that somehow feels like a genuine community – was already a winning strategy to keep social media both informative and addictive. Yet Twitter developers Sam Haveson and Joshua Harris explain that the pivot from microblogging to nanoblogging is as a way to combat the social pressure that comes as a side-effect of this USP strategy; of being so online and of tweets being so permanent. But of course, this doesn't mean that fleets don't arrive with their own set of side-effects and alarm bells.
To encourage dialogue (and possibly hotter takes) fleets allow users to reply privately via the DM feature. Perhaps, due to their ephemeral nature, fleets make the potential for targeted harassment – the unbudging thorn in Twitter's side – rather large. And although Twitter has introduced a new warning label to identify the spreading of misinformation, it's not clear whether this will also be applied to fleets, or really how they will be regulated at all. Of course, in our era of collecting receipts, a fleet can always be screenshotted and reposted without the original author’s knowledge, meaning the feature is not as fleeting as it may appear.
In a sense, it may be that fleets will see Twitter become more casual and interpersonal, a shy boi in the tweets, freak in the fleets type situation. But still, the possibility for spreading hate speech seems like a predictable outcome when users are invited to tweet whatever they want and it'll disappear a day later.
This latest feature follows the platform's new voice tweet activation (a "veet"?) and precedes a soon-to-be-released group voice chat feature called Spaces. Given the potential for harassment in a voice group chat, too, Twitter will be reportedly making the feature available to women and historically marginalized communities first.
These changes follow a stream of updates taking place across the world's major social media platforms, hingeing around a shaking up of power structure that has always presumed Instagram to be on top. Yet the result of this shakeup feels more like a dance in which they all swap places and morph into one another.
For example, Instagram, with its newly predominant shopping feature, has devolved into a kind of spiritual successor to a mall from the 1950s – popular but somewhat uncool kids lurking about, shopping opportunities, and commercials to absorb mindlessly as you feel your real-life fade away.
As the generation who grew up on Instagram find themselves a little older, and with more disposable income, it does make sense that the company tries to capitalize on the fact that many of its users aren't just browsing for memes. But, as make-up artist James Charles expressed, this move around "makes it very, very clear where their priorities lie, and that is making money and only making money.”
What's more, the platform was recently surpassed by TikTok as the second favorite app among US teens (#1 is still Snapchat), which helps to explain IGs priority in promoting its most TikTok-like feature, Reels. It has made posting photos and stories less accessible and replaced the <3 button with a shopping bag icon to take you to an online marketplace, much to the ire of its users.
As Tyler, the Creator wrote, "why the fuck would you put that corny reels shit right there @instagram and the shop from insta? like brooo i get it get cho money baby but give us the option to retain a layout that's just for pictures and friends sheesh.”
Naturally, the move is intended to keep users hooked on Reels so they won't go on TikTok, but as all the apps are cowering in the fattening shadow of the video app, the battle for market dominancy and user attention is risking these platforms losing their initial appeal in the first place, namely to provide social connection and discussion on, as Twitter puts it, "what's happening?"