You Can Now Send Photos Privately Using Twitter

A feature ripe for abuse

Updated, 6:15pm.

Twitter users can now privately message photos to each other, the company announced today in a blog post.

The feature looks pretty straightforward. Using one of the company’s mobile apps, you can send and view photos using Twitter’s pre-existing direct message feature. On Twitter.com, users will be able to view but not send photos.

This is what photo messaging looks like:

Twitter

There’s a larger piece of news here, but it’s a little hidden. See that third tab in the lower navigation bar, that now says “Messages”? That used to be the “Discover” tab, a feature that algorithmically sorts tweets and stories to present a more summarized, aggregated view. Twitter has bumped that feature to “Timelines,” where a user’s main timeline also lives. 

Discover's former placement indicated that it was something Twitter wanted to funnel user attention to, a feature it thought needed to grow. Messages, meanwhile, took multiple taps to get to: You had to go to “Me,” open an envelope icon, and finally scroll through a list of senders. 

Displacing “Discover” with “Messages” suggests that Twitter wants to give some attention to its direct messaging feature again, which the company had long been seen as neglecting.

Why? It surely doesn’t have anything to do with the company’s increasingly intense battle with that other publicly-owned social network, the more massive one, founded at Harvard in 2004. Because if it did, this would seem curious: In two days, Facebook-owned Instagram will hold a large press event in New York City, where it’s expected to unveil—what else?—private image message.

One other thought: Image messaging is an intriguing feature to consider, too, in light of Twitter’s other recent change to direct messaging. The service now allows users to receive messages from users they don’t follow (or—updated!—it did, briefly. It’s now removed the feature. So it looks like the potential for abuse that initially concerned me won’t exist.) While users can opt out of that feature with a simple checkbox, it’s hard to imagine that the two features combined—the ability to send images to strangers—won’t be abused.

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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