Twitter goes full douchebag

Twitter is to block most third-party apps, which don't comply with their strict rules on access.

We've written, at length, on Twitter's attempts to safeguard the profitability of its network against all-comers, so this shouldn't come as any surprise: the company has confirmed that, from March 2013, they will begin enforcing a de facto ban on third-party apps.

The ban is revealed in two passages in a post to developers by Twitter's director of consumer content, Michael Sippey. The first tells developers that the company's "display guidelines" will become "display requirements", while the second explains that from now on, any service with more than one million users will need special permission from Twitter to continue growing.

The display requirements are an incredibly strict set of requirements which not only hit their intended target, third-party consumer clients like Tweetbot, Econfon or Ubersocial, but also a huge number of unintended ones – Jason Kottke says that his aggregation site Stellar meets just four of the 16 requirements, while Marco Arment, developer of the popular Instapaper reading app, thinks that his "liked by friends" feature will have to be pulled, or at least rewritten, to comply.

Other rules look likely to hit services like Flipboard (which breaks 5.a., "tweets that are grouped together into a timeline should not be rendered with non-Twitter content. e.g. comments, updates from other networks") and Storify and Favstar (which break 3.b., "no other social or 3rd party actions may be attached to a Tweet"). Or they would, had Twitter not clarified that actually, those latter two are the "good" apps. Ryan Sarver, the company's director of platform, tweeted that they are what they want in the ecosystem.

This ought to be good news - two of the most useful third party apps are safe - but in fact, it's even more upsetting. It shows that, from the off, Twitter's rules all contain an implicit "...but you can ignore these if we like you." If that is the case, it's not hard to imagine that they also contain an implicit "...and no matter how well you follow these, if we don't like you, you're off the service." Everything using the network does so at the capricious whim of its overlords.

The million user limit is even more indiscriminately applied. Any application, no matter what it does or how well it complies with the published rules, needs to "work with [Twitter] directly" to get more users than that. It is, essentially, a rule that gives the company carte blanch to pick and choose whether any company getting too big can be allowed to grow.

Most companies try to keep customers by keeping customers happy. Twitter is clear in its intentions: it wants to keep customers by making it extraordinarily difficult for them to leave. It is holding its network hostage; you can go, but you can't take your friends with you.

In July, when Twitter first acted on their intentions to block clients which "mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience" I wrote that:

That is bad enough for the company, but up to now, the users of those apps are a minority on the service. The vast majority of twitterers use the website itself, or one of the official clients on mobile devices.

But with these changes, Twitter hasn't just hit the apps used by a small (nerdy) minority of users. There are going to be very few Twitter users who aren't affected in some way or another by this attempt to turn the site into a Facebook-style walled garden.

Ben Brooks, author of the Brooks Review, sums up the news:

We like to make analogies to Apple in tech blogging circles, so here goes: this is the moment in Twitter’s life where they kicked Steve Jobs out of the company and told Sculley to run it.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Hot or not: why teens can't stop rating each other online

From Instagram to Snapchat, teenagers are using popular apps to request, and award, appraisals. But what does it mean for teens' well-being?

Before there was Facebook, there was Facemash. Launched by Mark Zuckerberg in October 2003, this site placed two Harvard students’ pictures side by side and asked users to vote on who was more attractive. The game was quickly shut down by the university and Zuckerberg faced charges – which were later dropped – of violating people’s privacy. “One thing is certain,” he wrote at the time, “and it’s that I’m a jerk for making this site. Oh well. Someone had to do it eventually.”

In the 2000s, there was hotornot.com – a site where people rated each other out of ten. Then came Fitsort, a Facebook plug-in allowing users to see where they ranked in attractiveness compared to friends. But social media remains the biggest offender, teenagers using hashtags and captions to invite judgement. The means may have changed but the ends are the same. Teens are obsessed with rating each other’s looks online. As you might guess, this is often a far from pleasant experience.

“I didn’t start really getting comfortable with myself until this year,” says Natalie Sheehan, a 17-year-old from Oregon who, between the ages of ten and 15, was often rated four or five out of ten by her peers. “When I got rated low numbers, it really took a toll on my self-confidence and for the longest time I was uncomfortable with who I was and how I looked.”

On the whole, being rated is an “opt-in” experience. In 2012, however, many young Facebook users began to create “hot or not” videos, in which they reeled off their classmates’ names and rated them without their consent. Mostly, however, users are asked to “like” Instagram or Facebook pictures, or send an “X” on Snapchat in exchange for a rating. So, why are teens so keen to open themselves up to this kind of judgement?

“The teenage years are typically a time where a young person develops their self-identity, and they do this through comparisons,” says Angharad Rudkin, a chartered child clinical psychologist, when I ask her why every recent generation seems to do this. “Fitting in and being accepted by peers is a critical aspect of this developmental stage, so this rating system is revealing a process that has taken place for many generations, but in a much less explicit way.”

But it is the explicit nature of the ratings that causes problems. Although some users privately message each other, most post publicly. Ania Hałuszczak, a 15-year-old from Shipley, Yorkshire, tells me that popular people get more “likes” on their “like for a rate” statuses because their opinion is more valued. The potential for humiliation is huge.

“The ‘online disinhibition effect’ is the tendency for people to say or do things online that they typically wouldn’t in the in-person world,” says John Suler, the author of Psychology of the Digital Age: Humans Become Electric. “We all know that in high school there is a lot of cruelty going on, and so that will happen online, too, often in a magnified way. People think that what’s online is not ‘real’, or that it’s all some kind of game, so why does it matter if you’re cruel to others?”

Cruelty doesn’t have to be oblique to have an impact. “One of my friends wrote a status: ‘Like for an honest rating on looks.’ I liked it, telling myself I wouldn’t think twice about the outcome,” Ania says. “She wrote ‘8 xx’. The rating upset me even though I didn’t want it to. I can remember thinking, ‘What made her give me an eight? Where did I lose those two points?’ I decided that I just wasn’t pretty enough. After all, she was being honest.”

Ania and Natalie say that, as they got older, rating became less common. But like playground chants and clapping games, these practices are handed down to the next generation and they seem to be most popular with ten-to-14-year-olds. “As they get older, teenagers tend to prefer more intensive one-to-one relationships, where the group process is slightly less influential,” Rudkin explains. Yet does being rated poorly have a lasting effect on a teen’s psychological well-being?

“I definitely look back and laugh at it now, since I don’t take any of those ratings from when I was in middle school seriously,” Natalie says. “I have grown up since then and now I know that it doesn’t matter what people think.”

Nonetheless, she confesses that she wishes she had never rated people, nor given others the opportunity to rate her. “My appearance isn’t for judging. My appearance isn’t who I am,” she says. “I am who I am. My looks don’t define me. So boys and girls who continue to rate people’s beauty on a scale of one to ten, please do yourself a favour and try to love yourself.” 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 18 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn’s revenge