Twitter has long allowed users to send private, direct messages to one another, provided both parties mutually followed each other on the social media site.
But now, users of the microblogging service will be able to send direct messages to people they aren’t following as well as total strangers, thanks to an update released Monday.
It’s probably best to address an issue that might be causing some readers panic. The new direct messaging feature is an opt-in feature–direct messages from people you don’t know will not start flooding into your Messages box. Instead, users will have to visit Settings > Security and privacy > and then check a box indicating that they welcome incoming chirps from any and all Tweeters.
The direct message feature had previously allowed for private tweets from one person to be sent to a second person, who they were following. However, those private tweets from the first person could only be responded to by the second person if they were following the first person back.
Provided direct messages are accepted from non-followed parties, the benefit to this new system is that Tweeters will not be forced to follow Twitter streams that don’t interest them for the sole purpose of private communication. But even though the messages are out of the public’s prying eyes, the risk of tweet overload or harassment does exist. This likely won’t be a feature used by many well-known personalities.
In those and other instance, one user will have to send a public message with the other party’s Twitter handle in order to get their attention.
But open direct messaging can be an advantage to business that use the sales-driving social media site, as they can communicate directly with customers, and possibly avoid some of the public shaming that targets individuals and entities on Twitter.
According to CNET, Twitter’s move could be to counter Facebook’s recent enhancements to its Messenger app, as well as its purchase of WhatsApp. Earlier this year, Twitter had introduced group direct messages, allowing multiple users to carry on a discussion in private while using the service.