So what is important to the world right now? #ClimateScam went viral last Friday and sent users to a river of climate change memes from people who claimed it was a hoax. Earlier this week, “Sodom and Gomorrah” trended in the US, fueled by far-right anti-LGBTQ conspiracy theorists. The term “Panic of the Killed” spiked shortly thereafter, along with the name of Ashli Babbitt, a woman who was killed in the attempted coup on January 6, 2021, and who became center of conspiracy theories about the circumstances of her death.
It’s not new to point out that algorithmically trending lists can amplify bad content to huge audiences. So why does Twitter still have this feature in 2022?
Twitter’s central argument for Trends hasn’t changed much since Dorsey’s blog post. It’s a feature designed to show people what’s happening around the world and on Twitter at any given time, a Twitter spokesperson, Lindsay McCallum, said in an email. When it works best, Trends become something like online events: The “Choco Taco” trend after the ice cream was discontinued prompted others to post their thoughts on it.
Shireen Mitchell, a technology analyst and founder of Stop Online Violence Against Women, says trends are at the heart of the story Twitter wants to tell about itself — a story about how it captures and serves public conversation. But manipulated (even innocuous) trends and amplified extremism on the algorithmically generated list of trends undermine that narrative.
“Twitter continues to try to make it seem ‘trending’ in some authentic way, trending hot topics that people are interested in. But in most cases, it’s gambling,” she said.
Besides Twitter’s claim that Trends serves an important public function, there’s another reason the feature exists. It’s a source of revenue for the platform: Twitter started selling advertised spaces on Trends in 2010. Twitter is now selling what it calls what it calls. Trend takeover point and show ads in search results for trending topics.
For example, on July 28, the sponsored trending topic for a new Christopher Nolan movie was promoted at the top of Twitter’s trending list in the US and in the custom trending column “For you”. “.
“I don’t think they really think about the real benefit to the user versus the benefit to their bottom line,” says Mitchell. Twitter declined to comment on their advertising program for Trends.