"Fleets" is trending on Twitter because it's Twitter's latest update. "Stories" is trending because it's basically identical to Instagram Stories. "Snapchat" is trending because it feels like every platform is now turning into Snapchat. And "So Twitter" is trending because the hot-take environment the platform has fostered for so long has come to bite it in the ass.
This week, Twitter rolled out a new feature called "Fleets" that, much like Snapchat and Instagram Stories, allows you to share content that expires after 24 hours. To use Twitter's words, Fleets are "disappearing posts that make it easier than ever to share your fleeting thoughts with others." You can make Fleets from scratch using text or photos or you can take an existing tweet and Fleet it. With Fleets, there are no likes or replies, just direct messages.
Instagram: Insta Stories— Fiersa Besari (@FiersaBesari) November 17, 2020
Whatsapp: Whatsapp Stories
Facebook: Facebook Stories
Youtube: Youtube Stories
Snapchat: .... pic.twitter.com/9FrETAuSgL
These aren't groundbreaking features that most people on Twitter haven't already seen elsewhere. Still, given how dependent we've become on social media, you'd think we'd get a few weeks' notice that change is afoot. Something to ease the blow of a significant change to the digital places that expand our tiny little quarantined lives. Because this isn't just an update, it's a transgression.
This week has been packed with social media platforms updating their features: Twitter added "Fleets" to make it more like Instagram. But Instagram's latest update ruffled just as many feathers for putting Reels and shopping features front and center. Where your muscles are used to clicking to see your likes and interactions, you'll now find a host of products you can purchase through the app. Beauty influencer James Charles criticized the update, and people are tweeting at Kylie Jenner to do the same to see if Instagram will reverse the changes — the last time Jenner took a similar stance, Snapchat took a blow to the jugular.
So Twitter is Instagram now and Instagram is a mall . What’s next Amazon is the state ?? Wait— cancela lansbury (@gossipbabies) November 17, 2020
From a consumer relations perspective, users have invested time and energy into building audiences and creating content that keeps these platforms alive and relevant, only to have the rug pulled out from under them. But for its users, Twitter and Instagram are more than just products, these platforms have cornered the market on community-building spaces. Artists and activists, especially, have long subverted these platforms to build audiences and wealth to funnel into their causes. If the platform changes so much that it's no longer useful for that, they may leave it for another one as we saw with Tumblr.
Even if an update isn't so significant that it makes the platform unusable, people are still going to have strong reactions to it. Twitter's head of Experience Research Team Nikkia Reveillac says hostility is just part of the cycle of accepting changes in social media: "When we changed our Like icon from a star to a heart, people protested. As we changed our timeline to be ranked not reverse chronological, #RIPTwitter trended (this trended again when we tested Fleets earlier this year!). When we switched from 140 to 280 characters in a Tweet, people said they wouldn't use it — ever."
I will NEVER use 280 characters nor will I favorite or retweet a tweet with them. THIS IS MY FIGHT SONG— chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) November 8, 2017
remember when everyone freaked out over twitter changing the character limit from 140 to 280? can't imagine going back to those days of trying to be a "short form" tweeter. my stream of consciousness is relentless and insufferable and this mode of expression needs to reflect that— jgz (@jennygzhang) November 17, 2020
So while these changes are often unwelcome, historically, we've adapted. The introduction of Fleets and the reorganization of Instagram may make us uncomfortable because they remind us of just how little power we have over these platforms we now rely on more than ever, but it's precisely our reliance on them that ensures we'll stick around. And even eventually embrace these very updates.