On Wednesday, Twitter announced that audio tweets are slowly coming to its iOS users. Audio tweets will last for up to 140 seconds and iOS users will be able to multitask while listening to them. The feature is largely targeted to people like musicians, podcasters, and journalists, though seemingly pushed forward without Android support, accessibility, or moderation considerations for the benefit of activists involved in the widespread protests calling for the defunding and abolition of police.
How will they work? — Each voice tweet can last for a maximum of two minutes and 20 seconds and anything longer will get split across up to 25 tweets. That means people can, conceivably, record 58.5 minutes of audio. There's no way we're listening to an hour of a stream of consciousness on Twitter, but perhaps that's just us. We could, conceivably, be convinced to listen to a set from a great musician, though.
At this time, audio can only be added to original tweets. Product designer Maya Gold tweeted that there were more editing features in the design process, but the team stripped them away to let users experience of audio tweets and feedback on them direct future functionality. The feature is currently in beta for some iOS users but will hit all iOS devices soon. There is no current timeline for an Android rollout.
A user’s profile picture at the time of posting an audio tweet will serve as its central image, and it won’t update if they change their profile picture later. This could enable users to temporarily change their profile picture to a relevant image for an audio post.
Depending on personal autoplay settings, users will need to tap a tweet in order to listen to the audio. Using an iPhone will give users the benefit of multitasking in the form of a docked audio window and background play while in other apps, but it seems like a feature guaranteed to halt scrolling. How effective are you at listening to one person while reading completely separate information?
What about the hard-of-hearing and moderation? — When we reached out to Twitter regarding their approach to making audio tweets accessible and how the platform intends to moderate them, the company underscored the nascent nature of the feature. Twitter is still “exploring ways to make this feature accessible for all” and plans to create additional monitoring systems before the feature is widely available. Beta audio tweets are subject to traditional moderation, including misinformation warning labels.
It can be (comparably) easier to scrape for explicit or hate-fueled content in video and text, but Twitter already has a notorious Nazi problem its existing moderation systems can't handle. Obstacles like vanity and syntax at least allow for a little real-time editing in those contexts, even in the darkest corners of the platform. The off-the-cuff nature of hitting record in the app, however, feels like a recipe for disaster. It's also one way to make it even easier for people to create convincing deepfakes with accompanying audio that sounds like the real person.
Instagram has one of the more popular audio-only features in social media, but it’s designated for private messages only. Twitter wants to throw even more — now literal — noise in your feed and it’s half-baked, even for a beta feature.