Curating Quality? How Twitter’s Timeline Algorithm Treats Different Types of News

Jack Bandy*, Nicholas Diakopoulos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

This article explores how Twitter’s algorithmic timeline influences exposure to different types of external media. We use an agent-based testing method to compare chronological timelines and algorithmic timelines for a group of Twitter agents that emulated real-world archetypal users. We first find that algorithmic timelines exposed agents to external links at roughly half the rate of chronological timelines. Despite the reduced exposure, the proportional makeup of external links remained fairly stable in terms of source categories (major news brands, local news, new media, etc.). Notably, however, algorithmic timelines slightly increased the proportion of “junk news” websites in the external link exposures. While our descriptive evidence does not fully exonerate Twitter’s algorithm, it does characterize the algorithm as playing a fairly minor, supporting role in shifting media exposure for end users, especially considering upstream factors that create the algorithm’s input—factors such as human behavior, platform incentives, and content moderation. We conclude by contextualizing the algorithm within a complex system consisting of many factors that deserve future research attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSocial Media and Society
Volume7
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2021

Keywords

  • algorithm auditing
  • algorithms
  • journalism
  • news
  • platforms
  • social media
  • Twitter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Computer Science Applications

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