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How I built Blindfold for Twitter

Twitter has a special place in my heart. It’s one of those love/hate relationships you endure because at the end of the day the balance is ever-so-slightly in your favour. Over the years the microblogging platform went through a lot of changes, and not all of them were great. In fact, rarely Twitter has announced a feature or a change to an existing feature that would result in a round of applause from its users.

Retweets are one of those features that has come a long way since it was officially introduced in 2009 (Quartz has a nice history of RTs, hashtags, and mentions, if you’re interested). It started as a simple `RT: (quoted tweet)`, but over the years it morphed into a dedicated feature that allowed people to retweet posts without creating a new one. This is where it starts to get hairy.

A problem in the making

Retweets in a form as we see today are a rapid way of passing on someone else’s opinion, links, news, etc, without much thinking. By default, it encourages knee-jerk reactions to a point where some people started adding “RTs are not endorsements” to their profile, despite the fact that however you look at it retweets are in fact endorsements, because you’re giving someone else’s voice a platform.

The functionality started to become problematic as soon as Twitter switched from a time-based feed to an activity-based one, where the platform itself was deciding what to show you based on your network’s activity. People started seeing a lot of depressing news, spam, hate, and other things we could do without, simply because retweets made it easy to pass forward negativity.

As we have a greater recall of unpleasant events and things happening around us, we tend to overemphasise them in our communication. It makes us more depressed over time and leads to a vicious circle, where the more depressed we are, the more we cling to the negativity around us. Retweets turned on the negative faucet and let us soak up the radiation.

A half-baked solution

Twitter thought it might be good to turn off retweets from people we follow. The implementation is hidden on the list of people you follow and it allows you to disable retweets for one account at a time.

Wait, what? What about those that follow more than 10-20 people (which means an outrageous majority of Twitter users)? Sorry, you have to go one-by-one.

I thought this wasn’t an exactly good experience, as I follow around a 100 of people on Twitter. Going through my list one account at a time, accounting for slow page reloads and several clicks for each action, would take me a few hours at best. I a search for a solution I stumbled upon Twitter API endpoint that exposes this exact functionality to the public.

An app is born

In a flash, I decided to build a small web app that would allow me to sign in with my Twitter account and disable retweets for all accounts at once. The design was quick and dirty and the functionality was dead simple: two buttons, one for hiding RTs and one for showing them. Blindfold was born.

Default Blindfold screen after signing in with a Twitter account.
Default Blindfold screen after signing in with a Twitter account.

As expected, Twitter API has limited the functionality severely, as you can only target 1000 accounts at a time and their public rate limits are capped so low, it begs a question why they haven’t shut down the API altogether.

Blindfold isn’t a cure for negativity on Twitter, but according to a handful of people that used it, it helps them filter out the bullshit, a lot of the fake news, and other crap that would otherwise inhabit their feed. It’s a fire-and-forget kind of tool, unless you follow new people that is, in which case you have to sign in again and hit that blue button one more time.

Blindfold’s magic works only on official Twitter apps, so if you use Tweetbot or Twitterrific you may still see retweets, but that may soon change since Twitter is planning to deprecate their Activity API that third-party apps currently use.

The app doesn’t store any data, doesn’t access any of your information other than your profile name and photo, but because Twitter doesn’t have granular permission for its public API, you have to give Blindfold full access to your account, and that’s why its code is publicly available on GitHub. I invite you to double-check it, if you are a skeptical type of person (I know I am).

I have no illusions about Blindfold solving the problem with negativity, hate, or spam on Twitter, but I’m hopeful that it can at least make your experience a bit more manageable. If you used Blindfold, feel free to report any bugs on GitHub.