Amid his endless spitting of new features for the social media network he reluctantly bought, CEO Elon Musk has announced that Twitter should no longer display what device a tweet was sent from, whether it was about an iPhone, an Android phone or the web client of Twitter. “We’re finally going to stop adding what device a tweet was written on,” Musk tweetedadding that he thinks the feature is a “waste of screen real estate and processing power.”
“Literally nobody knows why we did this,” he added.
OK, so three things. First of all, who knows if this change will actually happen. Musk’s takeover of Twitter has been messy to say the least, and the launch of Tesla CEO’s most well-known new feature, paid verification, had to be paused due to massive problems. When it comes to changes being made to Twitter under Musk’s leadership, you can’t really be sure a new feature will roll out until it actually rolls out.
Second, there are many legitimate reasons “why we did this”. Inventor of the hashtag Chris Messina argues that showing which device sent a tweet was a good way to give visibility to third-party Twitter clients like Tweetie and TweetDeck, and provides a “status indicator” to show if a tweet was sent from a desktop or mobile device . And Twitter’s former CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey agrees. In reply he simply replied that Messina “Correctly.”
But third, and perhaps most important, is Twitter’s ability to show what type of device sent a tweet fun feature.
It has to be said that this is mostly down to some good old fashioned mistakes when social media execs for various non-Apple phone brands were caught tweeting from iPhones (often by the boss of the “Twitter Police“, YouTuber Marques Brownlee). A Microsoft executive was caught cheating on Windows Phone using an iPhone once but twice. What better way to promote a Google Pixel phone and pin it to Tim Cook than with tweeting the Apple CEO from one of his company phones? Or why not express your love Samsung’s new Note 3 with the medium of an iPhone?
Android smartphone maker Huawei found itself at the center of two high-profile “Twitter for iPhone” mishaps. For the first time, brand ambassador Gal Gadot was caught tweeting about how much she loved her new Huawei Mate 10 Pro from an iPhone. But don’t worry, Gadot did it to insure quickly CNET that she actually “loves my Huawei P20 and Mate10Pro” but that a member of her promotional team posted the promotional tweet from her iPhone.
Having some fun at the expense of a famous star is one thing (imagine), but I have to admit that I felt a little more sympathy for Huawei’s external PR team at the time Reuters reported that the company demoted two employees and cut their pay by the equivalent of more than $700 a month for sending the company’s “Happy New Year” tweet from an iPhone.
But perhaps the best comedic use of Twitter’s device display feature of all time came from an account called “Dorothy,” which claimed in 2019 to have tweeted from a smart fridge after her mom confiscated all of her electronics. “I don’t know if this will tweet I’m talking to my fridge what the heck my mom confiscated all my electronics again,” Dorothy tweeted. In fact, a small note below the (now-deleted) tweet indicated that it had been sent from “LG Smart Refrigerator.”
Other tweets from “Dorothy” also included notes allegedly sent from Nintendo’s 3DS handheld and Wii U console. “I’m going forever. My mother took my cell phone. I will miss you all. I cry. Goodbye,” she allegedly tweeted about the Nintendo 3DS’ Image Share feature.
As BuzzFeed reported later, the incident was almost certainly fake. It is pretty easy to manually tell Twitter which device to view your tweets from. Also, the social network didn’t offer an app for LG smart fridges, and while it would be technically possible to send a tweet through a smart device’s built-in web browser, those tweets would likely carry the “Twitter Web App” label rather than anything specific to it the device.
But look, comedy doesn’t have to be true to be funny. That idea of a teenager so determined to tweet that he resorts to Nintendo consoles and a fridge is fun enough, and it’s a nice creative blossoming to have the punch line for each post delivered by Twitter’s supposedly impartial surface.
I’m not sure I accept Musk’s rationale for removing the feature (which, as you will recall, is that it’s a “waste of screen real estate and processing power”). His changes to Twitter’s certification marks have already necessitated the addition of an entirely new “official” designation to every single tweet from select accounts, in what seems like a far greater waste of screen real estate, and Twitter engineers have lined up to loudly criticize Musk’s understanding of the Twitter performance issues that allegedly necessitated the feature’s removal.
Yes, there are few times you can laugh at an Android-branded account when tweeting from an iPhone. But at a certain point, Musk’s willingness to turn Twitter on its head risks giving up the little features that have made everyone’s favorite hell site an occasionally fun place to hang out.