Advertisers aren’t the only ones who don’t want ads in their Twitter replies

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Photo: Olivier Douliery (Getty Images) – It’s a low bar to set, but this may be Twitter’s worst product concept to yet. Throughout 2021, Twitter has been experimenting with some, um, dubious design changes to its site, but the most recent may be the worst yet. Twitter’s Revenue Product Lead Bruce Falck said on Wednesday that the company will be testing a new ad style that places sponsored tweets… into your chats. Ads will now appear in the first, third, or eighth replies to a particular tweet for the lucky Android and iOS users who are a part of this worldwide test.

“We’re delighted to try this out for our advertisers, and we’re keen to see how it may lead to new ways to reward Tweet writers and creators,” Falck stated. “We see a huge opportunity to establish a value-added ad solution that aligns incentives for artists and advertisers,” says the company.

As a Twitter user, I’ve always supported some of the platform’s newer features, such as Tip Jars and Super Followers, which are intended to “thank” the platform’s top users for their contributions. Twitter advertisements, though, aren’t a button you can paste into your profile like either of those programs. It’s a commercial.

They’re irritating, invasive, and occasionally strange, which isn’t the kind of thing you’d want to put in the middle of the kinds of poisonous debates that abound on Twitter’s timelines. Placing advertising in the middle of people’s chats feels like a last-ditch effort by a company that already knows it’s crammed as many ads as it can into every other nook and corner of your feed and is eager for a new method to extort money from its users.

It’s easy to understand why. When it comes to ad income, Twitter has traditionally lagged behind other big social media sites.

For example, the platform recorded an amazing $1.05 billion in ad income last quarter—and although $1 billion is nothing to sneeze at, consider that Facebook made $10.4 billion in ad revenue in the same period, and Amazon earned close to $8 billion. To put it another way, Twitter is up against some stiff competition in an industry where the platform with the most eyes on its advertisements wins.

Advertisers that wish to get in front of those eyes are also required. Because Twitter has a reputation for being a sanctuary for hate speech, harassment, and, well, a lot of porn, advertisers have been wary of having their product shown alongside people’s feeds in the past. While Twitter has taken steps to address their concerns this year—more partnerships! more metrics! more audits!—any Twitter user will tell you that the network still contains plenty of hate speech, harassment, and porn.

And, as a Twitter user, I can attest that some of the worst aspects of the network aren’t found in people’s terrible tweets, but rather in the discourse that takes place beneath them. Twitter is even experimenting with a system that warns users when they’re about to enter a particularly tumultuous discussion! It’s unclear whether Twitter is attempting to cram advertisements into its more “hot” discussions, but given how rapidly users can descend into complete jerks from one reply to the next, it seems inescapable.

And when it happens, a slew of marketers will join the screams of consumers about how bad this “test” would be. If the corporation refuses to listen to us, I hope it will listen to them.