Aside from the potential for bad actors hijacking the feature (most of us have seen those tweets where text is spread across multiple lines, taking up the majority of a person’s timeline), I really am apprehensive around what this means for blind and visually impaired people.
Similar to when they further rolled out voice tweets without improving its captioning functionality, it’s bizarre that they would test something like this without first making the ‘alt text’ setting visible on every account. Currently, you have to opt in
to making your images accessible, and that shouldn’t really be the case.
If this test leads to the implementation of a new feature, then those who rely on alt text face a flood of larger inaccessible images, drowning out the other types of content available on the platform, which is often more inclusive to them.
After all, up until this point, content such as videos, Spaces, images, GIFs and voice tweets all had a somewhat equal footing on the timeline in terms of how much space they take up - they all worked within the same parameters.
The moment those parameters change, the more likely it is that more people will move to the larger content formats to boost their reach - understandable, of course, but it’ll mean finding a plain text tweet (what can very well be the smallest content on the platform) is like finding an accessible needle in an inaccessible haystack.
On this point, Twitter’s Paul Stammy replied: “Twitter is a place to come for congregations and not a place for photo galleries. We don’t want to diminish the words that people put in.” He added that they’ll be looking at other content types and their place in the timeline soon.
As for automated image descriptions, Twitter’s Chief Design Officer, Dantley Davis, did go on to confirm
that discussions were being had around this issue. He later went on to tell me in a Space
that it could be that alt text is automatically generated before users can go in and edit it.
They’d still be a fair way off Facebook’s offering
in this area if they did decide to introduce this, but social media companies must ensure that they aren’t adding to the misconception that automatic is an alternative to manual access.
It isn’t. The former is there as a ‘safety net’ of sorts for when you’ve failed to make your content accessible - even then, it isn’t completely accurate, as it’s using a computer.
More on this in an upcoming edition of this newsletter…