Twitter Direct Messages are great; they allow you to have private conversations with the people you interact with publicly, but you can’t have private conversations with just everyone. You need to ‘follow’ each other in order to have a two-way conversation, and this can cause some problems, e.g. for company or government accounts that might not want to follow everyone, but would like to be able to receive private messages.

Twitter changed this a little while ago to allow you to receive direct messages from anyone, but in today’s announcement, they’ve rolled this feature out to their mobile apps as well, making it even easier for people to receive private messages from anyone, instead of just those they follow. The new options include:

  • A setting to receive DMs from anyone, even those you don’t follow, by following Twitter’s instructions here
  • Updating messaging rules, so you can reply to anyone who sends you a message, whether they follow you or not
  • A new more prominent DM button that appears on user profile pages on Android and iOS

These changes could pose a few issues for Twitter users, however.

The first one to consider is spam: chances are if you tweet regularly you’ve seen mention spam before, where you get told you’ve won a free iPad or some other nonsense prize. Detecting whether these things were junk before was kind of easy; click on said spammers profile, and you can readily see that they’ve probably sent the same @mention to many other users, and you can block them straight away and report them for spam. Usually these accounts don’t last too long.

However, with DMs from anyone, you won’t be able to see whether an account has sent the same message to hundreds of others. In fact, they could deliberately make their account look legit from a public viewpoint, while sending mountains of DM spam to everyone. In other words, the spammers will be a bit harder to spot.

The second issue is the online trolls; they can avail themselves of the same tricks to hide their online behaviour, and it gives them another channel to launch abuse over. Twitter seems to be alive to the issue though, but their policy seems to be a bit confusing:

Twitter says that to protect users from unwanted messages, if a person deletes a message string from someone who is not a mutual connection, that essentially blocks the other party from sending further private messages.

So, does Twitter block someone if you delete the message string from someone you don’t follow? Is it by some other process? If it’s an auto block, that’s going to cause even more problems for people who might be taunted online.

As always with any new change to a service, this one is bound to be somewhat controversial, but the good news is you don’t need to have the setting enabled if you don’t want to, and then it ceases to be an issue. If you’re worried it might be enabled in your Twitter profile, jump into Settings -> Privacy and Security, then scroll to the bottom, and unlock the “Receive Direct Messages from any follower” option.