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Is Twitter’s algorithm amplifying hatred?

Woman angry at phone

Is Twitter’s algorithm amplifying hatred?

There have been a considerable number of changes made, both organisational and practical, to the prominent social media platform Twitter since it was put under new ownership at the hands of technology billionaire Elon Musk last year.

Some of these changes have related to the algorithm Twitter uses to dictate how users see content on the site. Back in February, it was found that Twitter had been artificially inflating the reach of Elon Musk’s tweets during the Super Bowl in America, as the now-former CEO’s tweets were receiving much less engagement than other notable figures.

Now, research from Berkeley and Cornell University’s computer scientists has suggested that Twitter users are being shown a higher number of tweets that cause greater anger and animosity among different online communities.

The researchers discovered that Twitter’s ‘For you’ timeline emphasises so-called ‘emotional content’ that is designed to provoke users to react to tweets at a greater rate than they would have done before the changes to the algorithm. This is especially the case for provocative political tweets, which computer scientists argue are being increasingly shown to users who exist outside of the political community that the tweet writer exists within. They suggest:

“The algorithm slightly increases the ratio of out-group to in-group content (rather than reinforcing filter bubbles or echo chambers).”

On one hand, it may be said that an algorithm that encourages emotional, often angry reactions to tweets, especially those of a political nature, can only function to create further division between opposing social and political communities online.

However, defenders of this approach to content personalisation may argue that removing ‘echo chambers’ on platforms such as Twitter is the ideal way for communities to understand each other’s views more and make social media a more constructive, cooperative space.

Without a full explanation of the reasons for this change to the Twitter algorithm, it’s impossible to know for sure what the intended impact is from the company’s point of view.

If you’re looking to further your engagement on Twitter through your own content, it may be an idea to focus on emotional content that will generate positive reactions from your intended target audience. For more expert social media and content guidance, speak to our team at Engage Web today.

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