Is Twitter Being Gamed?

Maybe, If You Don’t Get Twitter

The New Your Times recently published this article: How Twitter Is Being Gamed to Feed Misinformation – NYTimes.com

But the biggest problem with Twitter’s place in the news is its role in the production and dissemination of propaganda and misinformation. It keeps pushing conspiracy theories — and because lots of people in the media, not to mention many news consumers, don’t quite understand how it works, the precise mechanism is worth digging into. ~ Technology, New York Times

I’ll agree that fake news is a huge problem today. It’s even humorous watching fake news promoters calling real news outlets—wait for it, fake news outlets.

The article above mentions fake people, or bots, adding to the problem. Yes, there are fake people on Twitter (and Facebook), but part of the problem is rooted in users simply following accounts and retweeting on a whim. Critical thinking skills have often been tossed aside in a simple effort to increase vanity numbers. So often, Twitter users follow accounts without really digging into their history and content very well.

As I often say, the real crux is rooted in ad tech. Algorithmically sorted feeds try to make a newsfeed or timeline more engaging because it is a requirement in the world of ad tech. Algorithms present topics as trending, or of interest in users feeds with this goal in mind. Their business model relies on keeping folks engaged and coming back.

Twitter seems ready to dive headfirst into algorithmically sorted timelines, but fortunately still provides some ways to view the reverse chronological display of tweets that it was famous for—and which made Twitter a great news aggregator. This is one reason a 3rd party Twitter client often offers a better experience than Twitter’s own official apps and another reason I like Tweetbot.

While ad tech and algorithms help with the dissemination of fake news by being easily manipulated, users are responsible for choosing which accounts to follow in their timelines. It’s not that difficult to find news sources that are sound or individuals who are real influencers in various industries and topics. Trust me on this though—don’t let follower counts decide who is an influencer worth following (that’s another area ripe for manipulation).

Real or not doesn’t matter too much to me. Content is king. If the content is solid, passes the common sense test, and can be verified by other means, then I’m more likely to follow or retweet—even if the source was pseudonymous or a bot. I also like seeing Twitter accounts with homepages that include some tweets with only plain text. When every tweet just contains a link, I’m a little more cautious. Tweets with just plain text guarantee some personality.

However, because many follow whoever and whatever tickles the funny bone while complaining to Twitter that their timelines are uncontrollable, Twitter responds with more algorithms to try and sort that mess out. Those algorithms are bread and butter to the world of ad tech which relies on the same tech for the tracking and targeting of ads.

So if you don’t get Twitter, it might be a good time to try and get it. For me, Twitter is a great news aggregator that works because of it’s forced brevity. Alternate tweet sources are easy to find with little wasted time. 140 character limits are the reason why I’ll take Twitter over Facebook in combatting fake news—I like being my own curator. Concise tweets are easier to fact check.

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