How algorithms bias affect Twitter’s timeline and ecology of news

Algorithm bias are excluding significant amount of qualitative informations at the detriment of non english and non american users on Twitter

twitter bias

I write this post to denounce how processes of selection encrypted in Twitter marketing strategy via algorithmic coding are affecting Twitter’s ecology of news today and impacting negatively the experience of random users specifically non US citizens.

Twitter is a platform I used to know through a work of research I conducted in-between 2010 and 2013 for the need of the PhD program in ICTs I was completing both in France and in Canada about hashtag activism in times of social crisis in Québec.

It’s the first PhD dedicated to Twitter in the world so better say that the body of literature was more than partial and I had to link several pieces of knowledge and expertise to design my own methodology of data visualization. As a result, I spent countless hours of observation and research online and as it happens, it got me in love.

There was nothing better than to wake up in the morning and to connect with my new fancy to see all the new babblings posted chronologically during the night. These times were really exciting because, while working on my research on the anti-G20 coalitions in Toronto in 2010, I had the chance to catch the emergence of the Arab Spring as it was coinciding. And it was the first ever social movement of all times being watched around the world in real time.

At the time, Twitter was really the place-to-be for researchers, librarians and talented social justice activists from everywhere who had access to primary sources and diversified and unfiltered contents. It was also a place for building solidarities and civic friendship around common issues and causes.

There were the Arab Spring, but there was also the Quebecker student strike Red Square against the scholarship fees, the Occupy movement, the protests in Spain and South America, that would later lead to the massive engagement during the american elections (Obama, Trump), the movement for women against violence (#WhyIstayed, #BringBackOurGirls), the #BlackLivesMatter movement, #PreyforParis…

Basically Twitter INC. owns his design to the work of us.

I found the platform to be a good site for observing the  participation of audience for news production and wrote a consequent paper on how the information is processed through times and space and is remediated by Twitter users to enable minority groups to reach audience and visibility.

But I also noticed, following publication, how non english contents get discriminalized and I went through myself lots of discrimination for producing a scientific account that doesn’t reflect an american-centered perspective or doesn’t play the US (big corps) interests.

My researches also conducted me to worry about the limits of the platform that started to introduce by the end of 2012 some filters in the timeline to identify the most popular contents among users. Algorithms are each day excluding more valuable and qualitative information because of bias generated from their mere creators. They’re censoring the internet (Debaveye, 2012a, 2012b).

End 2015-2016, Twitter INC. implemented its algorithm that allows users to see more tweets from the people they interact with and the most popular tweets from the followees – the people you follow (this, fine), but the algorithm is also making you see more tweets of what it decides to be popular contents for you based on the number of see, likes and retweets, just as Facebook. And it’s where things get wrong. Algorithms add bias where there isn’t!

It’s understandable that Twitter has tried to improve its literacy giving the increasing amount of informations produced daily but the issue is about the way the algorithm used has been coded at the detriment of non US citizens by people who are reflecting their own personal views.

And THIS really bothered me a lot because as a social network researcher having interests for alternative contents and creative practices, views that are not the most popular, i.e. emergent ways of seeing the world that are not majoritarian and often gets more significance were hidden from my timeline.

It completely messed with my experience on Twitter. I also experienced it in my interactions with others when I faced limits because I was not having thousand of followers which by the way has never be the point.

I am not fanning popular contents and I often post about unconsensual subjects or taboos (like rape abuse back in 2013 when nobody talked publicly about or corruptions in the liberal politics). I guess I am not the only one that connected on twitter to get access to something else than marketized and unilateral views!

As a coincidence, the highlighted tweets in the timeline be it randomized or by hashtag research are from American people located on the West Coast, when they don’t represent a significative portion of the people I follow, i.e. from the same location than the very guys who are programming the machine. And I don’t care about it. My scientific and personal interests are not about insiders’ views. Basically I am super bored now.

This peculiar features are really making of Twitter a media for celebrity where the most seen get the most authority biasing readers into the choice of sources. The algorithm is completely opaque which means that the team in charge with the business objectives can give premium access to sponsors and partners in the timeline.

It also makes Twitter vulnerable to scams as people can then simply buy followers and already existing contents instead of letting it grow organically to impact their visibility in the timeline of tweets hidding the original works of the ones who are fighting for public goods, the ones who keep Twitter alive and human.

The ones that we see today in the #netneutrality protest, the ones who come from the margins and from the minorities, not the beautifully marketized minorities portrayed in demagogical campaigns, the ones who are ugly, difform, hurt, betrayed, disfigured, the ones who never found their way in this pyramidal economy and fight to reach ends every day, the ones who never found their way in the polls, the ones of the people, the normal people.

To protest against that increasing and unacceptable move from its funders, I asked Twitter to remove filters for 2018 in order to reinitialize the platform the way I used to know, cherish and use it and not in the best interests of its investors. Now with the end of net neutrality in the U.S, we can fear that this move for profits accelerates its path with more censure of every discourse that displease the investors, which would permanently damage the fragile ecosystem of news and contents that users have been contributing to build through the years, for some, at their own perils.

I am talking about all the social justice activists that used Twitter for criticizing abuses and ended up in jail. I am talking about all the women who bravely confronted public stigma to share their experiences about rape to end violence against women. I am talking about the people who got murdered in countries of war for exposing truths. And I am talking about the little Twitter itself that has lost his soul and his crying his mamma.

This is really saddening me too much. I hope Twitter got that without the users that made it grow, it is nothing else than a ridiculous gadget in the hands of capitalists of disaster.

This is concerning because Twitter, Facebook and Google might become pro-american imperialism tools that aim at benefiting the US oligarchy ONLY by appropriating the work of the local and foreign communities to make high profits. This is concerning because they will play the game of english speakers or of whose who master best the rhetorics at the detriment of alternative languages and cultures. In other words, they will be a low return on investments strategy for whose who wish to create alternative platforms for non profit only market.

Maybe we could encourage Twitter dream team to read a bit more about the concept of friendship in the terms of Aristotle, as a civic friendship bridging people together in times of scarcity, and not in the one of their 3 best friends.


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