So Justine Bateman, you know, Mallory Keaton from Family Ties, completely lost her cool this morning with a bunch of people on Twitter. She kept noticing people she doesn’t follow showing up in her tweet stream and proceeded to publicly call them all “shitheads.” Of course, what she doesn’t realize is that this really is a feature and not a bug. And it could spell some trouble for Twitter if they don’t handle it properly.
The issue is that Twitter apparently enabled Bateman’s account with the new retweet functionality. Obviously, she wasn’t made aware of it, and doesn’t seem to know what the feature actually is. Clearly, she doesn’t frequent TechCrunch or a number of other tech blogs who have been covering this upcoming change extensively, because if she did, she would know that with the new retweet changes, users will now see the original tweets that are being retweeted in their stream, rather than a person they follow retweeting it. This means that people who you don’t actually follow could show up in your stream, which is exactly what happened to Bateman.
Here’s what she wrote to Thing Labs (makers of Brizzly) founder Jason Shellen:
Mr. Shellen, I don’t know what kind of deal you cut with TwitterBerry or how much it cost you, but suddenly you’re on my Twitter feed and I NEVER OPTEN TO FOLLOW YOU nor do I wan to.
I’m set to flame this incident all over the Internet. I suggest for the sake of your reputation on-line, YOU GET YOUR TWITTER ACCOUNT TOGETHER, and stop attempting to shove your posts into other people’s feeds.
Sincerely, Justine Bateman
There have been plenty of other examples of her threatening other Twitter users who showed up in her feed too. Including blogger John Gruber and Twitter engineer Ryan King.
Setting aside the fact that it’s mildly hilarious that Bateman thinks that somehow users are to blame for this, and that she thinks her lame Internet threats will put an end to all of this, there is actually a potential issue here for Twitter.
When the new retweet functionality goes live, which should happen relatively soon, Twitter needs to make it very clear to all users that the change is happening, and what exactly it means. Otherwise, we could very well see a backlash similar to Bateman’s only on a massive scale.
As we’ve seen when Facebook rolls out changes to its site, users generally don’t like change, even if it’s for the better. The backlash that occurred immediately after Facebook rolled out their News Feed a few years ago is a perfect example of this. As is the backlash FriendFeed initially saw when it rolled out its real-time continuous updating system earlier this year. Both of those changes were for the better, and users eventually realized that, but initially they thought the company was ruining their experience.
I think Twitter’s new retweet functionality is in the same boat. It seems like it will ultimately be a positive change for the service, but plenty of users are sure to hate it at first. There’s not much Twitter can do about that other than explain what is happening very clearly and to say something along the lines of “try it out, give it a chance.” But if they drop the ball on the transition, potentially millions of users who have no idea about the change are going to wake up and think their Twitter accounts have been compromised by tweets of people they don’t follow.
If those users are thinking clearly (which Bateman clearly wasn’t), they’ll likely questions whether Twitter has sold them out and violated their privacy (which, of course, won’t be true, but that’s how it should look to those users not in the know). Or they’ll see it as another Twitter failure.
So in some ways, Twitter is lucky that Bateman seems to be a hotheaded user who doesn’t mind attacking people publicly on the Internet. She has given them a potential taste of what is to come. Twitter should look at her reaction and come up with a plan for how they’re going to explain this upcoming change to other confused users.