Twitter stated Tuesday it could add extra context to matters that development on its service, an effort to clear up a function that has typically been used to amplify hate and disinformation.
The change comes as Twitter and different social media firms battle to reply to disinformation surrounding the U.S. presidential election. But it stops wanting an answer that some Twitter staff and exterior activists have proposed: eradicating Trending Topics altogether.
Twitter provides traits as a means for customers to determine which matters are hottest. The traits function an on-ramp for brand spanking new customers who’re studying how to discover info on Twitter and to assist all customers navigate information matters. It may be curated based mostly on private pursuits or geographic location.
But the system has typically been gamed by bots and web trolls to unfold false, hateful or deceptive info.
In February, Russian trolls fueled an American-made conspiracy theory that former Hillary Clinton staffers were rigging the Iowa caucus, and helped push the baseless theory to the top of Twitter’s trending list.
In July, white nationalists pushed the anti-Semitic hashtag #JewishPrivilege until it became a trend, and QAnon, a pro-Trump conspiracy group, made Wayfair, the furniture company, trend on Twitter with false claims that the company engaged in child trafficking.
The episodes have led some Twitter employees to believe the trends feature is not worth the liabilities that come with it. Over the past two years, current and former Twitter employees have argued that the company would never adequately deal with disinformation until it eradicated its trending list.
But in the wake of killings in Kenosha, Wis., and Portland, Ore., in recent weeks, their calls have become more urgent.
In meetings with Twitter’s policy teams and upper leadership, including Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, employees have warned that Twitter’s Trending Topics, if not adequately addressed, could ignite further violence in the run-up to and aftermath of the November election, according to two people briefed on the discussions who were not allowed to discuss them publicly.
Observers agree and recently launched a campaign using the hashtag #UntrendOctober, which asks Twitter to turn off its trending service through the election in November.
“We need to make trends better, and we will,” said Frank Oppong, a Twitter product manager, and Liz Lee, a product trust partner, in a company blog post announcing the change.
Trending Topics will now include explanatory tweets and descriptions that show why an item is trending, Twitter said. Previously, Trending Topics included a topic title or hashtag, accompanied by a steady stream of tweets about the subject, often leading users down a rabbit hole to uncover why it had become popular.
“So many of the disinformation narratives that we see on Twitter are spread by people who don’t necessarily agree with it, they are simply talking about it because it’s trending, and therefore they amplify it,” said Cindy Otis, vice president of analysis at Alethea Group, which conducts disinformation investigations. “Recognizing that has to be part of Twitter’s calculation if they want to deal with disinformation.”
Starting Tuesday, Twitter said it would offer more immediate insight.
“Some trends will have a representative Tweet pinned to them to give you more insight about a trend right away,” Mr. Oppong and Ms. Lee said. “A combination of algorithms and our curation team determine if a Tweet represents a trend by evaluating if the Tweet is very reflective of the trend and popular.”
But the people familiar with Twitter’s effort said it is only a half-measure that is unlikely to address the root problem and that Twitter lacks the financial resources to perform moderation and curation at a meaningful level.
Twitter relies on algorithms to detect tweets that are abusive or spam, and keep the tweets from appearing in trends, they added. In July, Twitter blocked 150,000 accounts that were known for promoting conspiracy theories from appearing in trends.
“There’s a well-known playbook among disinformation peddlers on Twitter on how to game the algorithm,” said Matt Rivitz, a creator of Sleeping Giants, an organization that pushes social media companies and advertisers to cut financial ties with far-right groups.
Sleeping Giants recently called on Twitter to disable trends during the run-up to the election, arguing that trends could serve as a vehicle for disinformation.
“As a barometer for what’s going on, it’s so easily gamed,” Mr. Rivitz said.