What If Twitter Was Private By Default?

Twitter is a more open network than LinkedIn, Facebook, and most other social networks out there. New users are encouraged to start tweeting with the world (potentially) listening. But what if Twitter was closed – not open – by default?

A recent bill proposed in California would require all social networks to begin with all privacy settings in place, and the user would have to manually change each one upon signing up if he or she wanted to engage in an open network. Unsurprisingly, Twitter, Facebook, Google and a slew of other tech companies wrote an official letter protesting this bill, as it would, among other things, produce broad, rather than the necessarily specific, privacy settings to be put in place.

This got me thinking: what if this or a similar bill passed into law, and Twitter was forced to become closed by default?

As it is, a new user on Twitter is automatically part of the network, not outside of it. When he or she tweets, anyone can potentially see it via search, trending topics, or by following that user.

Twitter relies on being open like this – it’s very existence would likely cease to matter if new users began with a private feed and had to choose whether or not to open it to the network. Imagine if celebrities were on Twitter, but no one could read their tweets. News about Osama Bin Laden’s death “broke” on journalists’ timelines, but no one saw. McDonald’s purchased a Promoted Trend but only their followers saw it.

Sure, plenty of users would opt to open themselves up to the network immediately, because they understand how Twitter works. But most users who are completely new to Twitter would likely keep their tweets private, at least in the beginning, while figuring out the ropes. And then they’d get bored, because no one was talking to them. And then they’d leave.

Many people are saying that the opposition to the California social networks privacy bill only benefits the companies themselves, but I think it also benefits the users. In order to tap into the power of real-time communication, access breaking news, build a brand presence and increase your audience, and network effectively, Twitter must remain open by default. New users and veterans must all be sharing with each other, or else the network would wither away. And that would be bad for Twitter, of course, but it would also be bad for those of us who have come to appreciate hearing about global events from people half-way across the world, or being informed of the day’s news as-it-happens.