In many ways, the internet is built on fraudulent readings. Measuring article and video views keeps the wheels of online advertising spinning, while counting likes, favorites, etc. creates an insidious trickle of “engagement” that makes us all open apps when we should know better. But some stats are dumber than others, and Twitter’s new number of public views for tweets is certainly one of them.
Twitter has long counted views for tweets, but rather chose to keep this information tucked away in its analytics menu: a data-heavy feature loved only by social media executives and sadists (but I repeat myself). Knowing how many views a tweet has gotten is certainly useful information, but only if you run a business or a brand. For the rest of us, it means nothing good at all.
Twitter knows this – or at least did. Former employee Paul Stamatiou, who joined the company in 2013said he was working on a view counting feature back in 2015, but he and his team found it was just too sad to launch.
“IIRC we tested it and most people got no views and we had to have some thresholds before it was depressing to show it as ‘0 views’,” Stamatiou tweeted. He notes that the company’s intention had been to show users that they weren’t “tweeting into nothingness”, but that the number of views showed that most of them were. “[it] felt like a useless vanity to show that it was not worth further investment,” Stamatiou concludes.
This disparity between the number of views, likes and retweets is already highlighted by users. “The view count is really about to ruin mutual relationships because if I ask a question and no one answers, but that shit has 50 views, I’m killing everyone and myself,” tweeted user @eternalcurse, passionately. “This ‘view count’ is the dumbest feature in Twitter history. hey here’s the number of people who saw your tweet and completely ignored it. does that make you feel good, is that useful to you,” observed @capybaroness.
Stamatiou’s review is interesting, though, because it also highlights what I think is actually one of Twitter’s most compelling features: tweeting into the void. As Stamatiou points out, it’s not necessarily fun to be reminded that no one is reading what you tweet, but I think the ambient sense that no one has gives is more often than not a good thing.
Twitter is big, open and always on the move. These qualities provide a freedom comparable to the anonymity of the city. At best, it means you can just watch life flow by on the timeline and just say whatever comes to mind. And as others have pointed out before, the site really gets awful when you reach a certain level of notoriety, be it through a single viral tweet or through a gauche and persistent commitment to gaining followers. That’s when the hordes arrive at you, eager to misinterpret you in any way. But if you’re alone and tweeting a few mutual tweets into the void, it’s – dare I say it – pretty fun.
All of this helps explain why the number of public views is such a bad idea. They’re bad because they have one of every tweet event. Counting views creates potential for failure, comparison, scrutiny and analysis. Rather than tweeting into the void, it encourages us all to become brand managers of our own lives (as if the pressure to do so wasn’t already there); engagement hunters trying to get lucky with our next #THREAD and summaries of financial advice and the impending technology revolution. It’s perhaps no coincidence that public tweet views encourage us to become just the kind of people who seem to be actively enjoying Elon Musk’s new Twitter; one where you can pay for priority. Basically, adding view counts will do to Twitter what they already did to YouTube.
Whether the number is high or low, it doesn’t matter. If it’s low, it means you were ignored; if it’s high, it means you screwed up somehow that’s about to be revealed to you with great prejudice as the internet comes screaming at your door. Anyway, Twitter’s view counts already look like little Geiger counters, crackling with menace as they register the most radioactive substance on the web: attention.