Logging onto Twitter this week may have felt familiar to people who consume the site on their computers - controversy over something the president has said, astonishment over record-breaking temperatures. But while the content seemed unchanged, the social network had overhauled its look.
This week, Twitter unveiled a redesigned version of its website, greeting desktop users with a new appearance and added features including dedicated pages for bookmarks and exploring topics. The company described the new Twitter as a "a refreshed and updated website that is faster, easier to navigate and more personalized," bringing the desktop version closer in look and feel to the Twitter people use on their phones.
Dominated by a white background and thin borders, the Twitter home display is divided in three columns. One is for navigation, with icons that take users to dedicated pages like lists, direct messages, and notifications; a second, central column is the feed of tweets; and a third is for searches, trends and recommendations for people to follow.
The page for direct messages has been expanded, the company said, to allow users to read conversations and send messages from the same view, resembling an email inbox. People can now select a second dark mode, that's closer to black than gray. And users with multiple accounts can switch between them from the side navigation column.
But the changes users see on the surface arrive as the social network faces deep-seated criticism about how it operates. Like its industry peers Facebook and Google, Twitter has come under fire from a broad array of critics, including the president, lawmakers from both parties, academic researchers, and advocates for women and minority groups.
A long-standing complaint against Twitter - that it fails to protect users from abuse and harassment - was advanced again by researchers and activists earlier this week, following a series of tweets sent by President Trump. On Twitter, Trump called on several Democratic members of Congress to "go back" to their countries - prompting widespread condemnation. But the company said the president's tweets did not violate its rules, which ban attacks on people on the basis of their race, ethnicity or national origin.
Independent researchers who study social media said they struggled to see how Twitter came to that conclusion. Twitter recently announced that it would add a special label to posts from world leaders if they violated the company's policies against offensive content. The company's policy does not allow hate speech and harassment by ordinary users, but allows such content to remain if the posts are from political leaders, since those tweets are deemed newsworthy. But Twitter said earlier this week that it would not affix the label to Trump's tweet.
Activists and researchers who observe how social networks police hate speech and harassment said that Twitter failed its first important test to enforce this policy.
Twitter's redesign and its latest high-profile moderation decision comes as the company says its clamping down on extremism and abuse. Earlier this month, Twitter updated its policy against hateful language to cover tweets that dehumanize people based on their religion. The ban against dehumanizing language, the company has said, will eventually expand to other groups of people.
© The Washington Post 2019