Some Twitter users hate Fleets. Here's why new features are usually despised.

Kalhan Rosenblatt
·5 min read

When Fleets, Twitter's new story feature, rolled out Tuesday, some users were less than thrilled.

From tweets bemoaning why another platform would add the story function to memes about the name's similarities to the laxative enema brand, the function has been widely mocked.

Twitter said it added the feature as a way for users to create posts with less permanence than a tweet — a fleeting thought.

And although users lambasted Fleets, an almost identical story function to what's available on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, LinkedIn and others, those same users began to use the function almost immediately.

While there are valid critiques of Fleets and how they could be used in regard to misinformation and harassment, experts say the users' first reaction will typically be to resist changes to a site or app that they've grown accustomed to, even though they typically adopt the change as the preferred version of the platform later on.

Experts said there are many reasons why people haven't immediately warmed up to Fleets.

Although there are likely many people who love the feature, going against the grain in a highly polarized digital world means risking criticism or, worse, getting canceled.

"Whether it's politics or features on social media, people are worried about speaking out against the prevailing opinion because they're worried people react so harshly in this cancel culture," said Karen North, a professor of digital social media at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. "Even though it's not quite as strong in things like whether you like a Twitter feature, the fact is the zeitgeist right now is one of hostility toward people with different opinions."

Fear of getting canceled is just one factor in why so many users may fall in line with the opinion that a new feature is bad, but North and other experts say groupthink, bandwagoning and resistance to change also play a major role.

"Social media is kind of inherently prone to bandwagons. In fact, that's how social media survives. Social media is about being social, which means you're looking at what others do and following others and that's why you have metrics like number of likes and number of retweets and number of comments," said S. Shyam Sundar, a James P. Jimirro professor of media effects and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University. "Those are all indicators of bandwagon."

Sundar said that in addition to this phenomenon, users who are used to an established platform typically revolt when there's a large change to what they're used to — even if it resembles a function the person is already using on another platform.

"It kind of robs the uniqueness away of that platform for them or their own identity as a Twitter user and they feel like it might be diluting Twitter to a lesser platform if it imitates what they consider to be a more ephemeral platform like Snapchat, which they are not using as much because of those features perhaps," Sundar said.

Sundar and North agreed that reverse engineering features on a platform that has seen success elsewhere, is typically beneficial for the platform in the long run — even if the user base is resistant.

"Instagram, with all of its Facebook money, has proven to us that you can reverse engineer a popular feature and people might complain initially, but the ease — the user experience ease — of having everything in one place becomes very appealing," North said, referencing how Instagram adapted Snapchat-style stories for its platform.

However, that doesn't always mean that the users are right in thinking they don't need or want the change that has been implemented to the platform. North and Sundar both said the model originates with Facebook, which would implement changes that infuriated its user base only for users to eventually decide the new format was the one they preferred.

"They wait out the audience. People used to say it was going to be their downfall because they were angering their core audience and their entire audience by changing things in ways that were unpopular and they just sat there and waited and eventually ... people would comply and get used to it," North said.

There have been some cases in which platforms released a feature and then backtracked. In 2018, Instagram released an update that had users swiping through photos rather than scrolling down their homepage. The platform claimed the update was a mistake, meant to be tested by a select few users rather than everyone on the platform. The backlash was fierce and, quickly, Instagram reverted to its scrolling format.

Instagram also released an update this week, shifting where some of the buttons on the app are located and causing some backlash among users who say they don't like the new layout.

On Instagram, users will be forced to learn how to use the new layout, while Twitter users could theoretically ignore Fleets.

North said that current Twitter users might be put off by Fleets, but those current users might not be Twitter's intended audience for Fleets. She said that the platform might be attempting to reel in a new user base that will engage with the feature, adding that she believes Fleets will eventually find a home on the platform.

"To me, it now looks like they're trying to broaden their appeal and reach out to a different audience," North said. "That's what it looks like."