Twitter's mute button doesn't go far enough. Let's broadcast unfollows: Peter Nowak

(Creative Commons/Kevin Krejci)

(Creative Commons/Kevin Krejci)

Who’d have thought a simple mute button could capture the zeitgeist of the times so well? Twitter’s new feature, unveiled Monday, really does capture the passive-aggressive nature of social media.

As product manager Paul Rosania explained in a blog post, “Mute gives you even more control over the content you see on Twitter by letting you remove a user’s content from key parts of your Twitter experience.” With a click of a mouse button or a tap of a screen, you can banish messages from that annoying person who tweets too much or who engages in long conversations with others that you’d rather not have to listen in on.

The muted person, however, doesn’t know they’ve been silenced on your timeline and they keep seeing all of your tweets, retweets and so on. You can always unmute them as well, should you ever want to.

It’s basically like unfollowing someone without actually going the distance, and indeed Facebook has had this sort of function for some time. Third-party Twitter tools such as Tweetdeck also allow for timeline management that can effectively silence users. Twitter is now just making it even easier.

But why mute someone when you can – and possibly should – simply unfollow them instead?

Sure, there’s the awkwardness that can result. Suppose your boss sends out hundreds of innocuous tweets a day and you have no choice but to unfollow him. What happens if he notices? Will he give you the stink eye or possibly even confront you about it? Or what if it’s a friend – shouldn’t you follow them out of courtesy, even if they never have anything interesting to say? Will their feelings be hurt if you unfollow them?

To make matters worse, there are tons of tools out there that can track who unfollows you, to be used by people ranging from savvy brand managers to paranoiacs. Heck, Twitter even offers a level of this itself through its “analytics” function; found under “settings,” the feature lets you see which of your tweets have been the most popular and which ones likely led to unfollows.

But muting is, in many cases, the cheap way out – and it doesn’t really help anyone. If that annoying over-tweeter is simply being quieted, he or she may never get the message that a swath of unfollows can send.

Perhaps Twitter should go even further and introduce a tool that broadcasts to users when people have unfollowed them. It could even take the form of a sternly worded message, like, say, “Hey dummy, that borderline racist tirade you just went on cost you a whole bunch of followers. Since Twitter is a public forum, maybe you should learn some social graces.”