SAN FRANCISCO — First Snapchat did it. Then Instagram and Facebook jumped in. Now Twitter is joining in, too.
On Tuesday, Twitter said it would introduce a feature called Fleets, allowing users to post ephemeral photos or text that will automatically disappear after 24 hours. Fleets, a name that refers to the “fleeting” nature of a thought or expression, will roll out to all iPhone and Android users globally over the coming days, the company said.
Twitter said its main “global town square” service, which people such as President Donald Trump use to broadcast their thoughts to followers, remained its marquee product. But the company said it recognized that many users simply lurked on the platform and rarely posted. Fleets, it said, could make it easier for people to communicate without worrying about wider scrutiny of their posts.
“We’ve learned that some people feel more comfortable joining conversations on Twitter with this ephemeral format, so what they’re saying lives just for a moment in time,” said Joshua Harris, a Twitter director of design. “We can create a space with less pressure that allows people to express themselves in a way that feels a bit more safe.”
Twitter’s move is part of a larger shift by social media companies toward more private and temporary modes of sharing. As public sharing on social media has spread toxic content and misinformation, many people have looked to minimize their digital footprints and communicate in more intimate groups.
Ephemeral sharing was pioneered by Snapchat. Evan Spiegel, chief executive of Snap, Snapchat’s parent company, has said he noticed that young people wished to keep their photos and communications private and temporary when he founded his company in 2011. Snapchat’s Stories feature, which broadcasts someone’s posts to his or her followers before disappearing 24 hours later, has become hugely popular.
Snapchat’s competitors have taken note. Facebook and its family of apps, including the photo-sharing site Instagram and the WhatsApp messaging app, have replicated the feature in recent years. Others, such as LinkedIn and Pinterest, have also followed suit.
Twitter has been late to the trend, partly because of the public nature of its platform. It is also more difficult to create advertising for ephemeral posts than for more permanent content, another hurdle to building the product.
In tests of Fleets in a handful of countries outside the United States recently, users gravitated to the new feature, Twitter executives said. “Those new to Twitter found Fleets to be an easier way to share what’s on their mind,” Harris said.
Smaller tech companies have also worked on innovating alternate forms of communication over the past few years. Discord, a popular communications startup among gamers and others, has popularized group chat rooms that use video, voice or text chat. Clubhouse, another startup, has pushed an all-audio, all-ephemeral social chat room approach.
Twitter said it was also experimenting with audio forms of communication among users. One of those products, called Spaces, looks and acts similar to Clubhouse, with small groups of people able to speak privately with no permanent recording of the conversation. Spaces is still in its early stages, the company said.
In shifting toward more private communications, Twitter will have to strike a balance between monitoring and limiting abusive content with the privacy of its users. Social media services tend to find it difficult to root out toxic posts and falsehoods when people are engaged in more intimate conversations and are not publicly posting.
Twitter said it was offering more tools for users to report harmful or abusive content, among other solutions.
“There is a ton we’re doing behind the scenes, expanding our rules and trying to prevent abuse and harassment before it happens,” said Christine Su, a Twitter product manager. More than half of all tweets that break the rules are removed before they are reported to the company, she said.