• Kellen Voss

Why everyone on your Twitter timeline agrees with you

Kellen Voss, Freelance contributor for The Run. Kellen is an assignment editor with Fox 17, as well as an editorial writer for Clutchpoints. His previous work can be read at The Grand Valley Lanthorn, The Holland Sentinel, and Sidelion Report. Follow him on Twitter @SpecialK5252 or Instagram @Kellenvoss52 .

Twitter: One of the most popular social media apps today.

There’s a reason why Twitter is one of the most popular websites on the planet. Not only can the social network help people get in touch with friends, writers, and celebrities from all over the world, but almost everyone’s personal Twitter feed tends to align with their own beliefs. It’s human nature to surround one’s self with like-minded people, but that’s especially true on Twitter. As described by Christopher Seneca of ‘Wired’ recently, the reason that our society tends to spend a lot of time in social media echo-chambers is because most people’s Twitter feeds are chock-full of people with blue checkmarks talking about points that the user agrees with.

Austrian researchers Dominik Kowald and Elisabeth Lex agree with this sentiment, as in a study published in 2018, they found that confirmation bias is shaping how Twitter feeds look because of algorithms used when Twitter users tweet out certain hashtags. Based on how present confirmation bias is on Twitter feeds, the researchers make the case in the study that Twitter users should try to diversify their followers and should monitor their hashtag use in order to get more perspectives on their social networks.


This is excellent advice that is especially relevant during an election year: Twitter users should try to monitor their Twitter feeds by following users with different perspectives and remaining cognizant of their own hashtag use in order to broaden their perspectives within the powerful social network. If every Twitter user tried to pay attention to people with different perspectives then them, it will not only help to improve civil discourse within the social network, but it can also help to lessen the bi-partisanship that has been painstakingly present on social media in American society.


The darkest documentary of 2020 (which is saying a lot)

In September 2020, Netflix released a documentary on their platform that quickly rose to the No.1 spot on their ‘Top Ten’, indicating that the documentary was one of the most watched programs on Netflix for most of the month. The documentary, appropriately named ‘The Social Dilemma’, features a number of former Silicon Valley employees, most of whom had high-ranking jobs at various social networks before ultimately quitting for the same reason: they hated how powerful the apps they were working to build were becoming, and could not ethically continue to work within these social networks.

These experts explained the rather ominous ways that these apps get their users to spend so much time on their platforms, from simple ways like sending notifications to more complex ways like keeping track of how much time users spend looking at certain pictures or posts.


It’s insanely creepy; one former Twitter employee said that every user is being tracked, and every post that users click on is being tracked in order to shape Twitter feeds and gain an unlimited amount of data from their users. That data is then sold to advertisers, making the highest-ranking executives on platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram some of the richest people in the history of mankind.


Study: Why we use hashtags on Twitter so much

Kowald & Lex did similar tracking in their studies, monitoring the hashtag use of more than 90,000 Twitter users to determine how those hashtags shaped their Twitter timelines. The results they found were not surprising based on the confirmation bias that experts say is all over the social networks, but especially Twitter. In the study, the researchers found that between 66% and 81% of hashtag usage is in the form of retweets from celebrities, influencers, and verified users with blue checkmarks. In other words, close to ¾ of the hashtags used on Twitter come from seeing a celebrity using the hashtag, agreeing with them, and then re-using the hashtag on users’ own personal feeds.


That’s an incredible amount of influence. Based on May 2020 statistics, there are about 6,000 new tweets sent out per second, with a large portion of those using hashtags. From interpreting the confirmation bias study, it can be assumed that at least 3,960 of those tweets happen simply because users agree with other users, and want to express that on the platform.

US Elections have also significantly increased the usage of social media.

As Kowald & Lex concluded in their study, “We find that people tend to reuse hashtags that were used very recently by their own and/or by their Twitter followees, which means that confirmation bias in hashtag usage is also strongly influenced by temporal effects.” The study proves that confirmation bias is rampant on Twitter, which could be dangerous to the way that the digital world engages in civil discourse.


The more we socialize on Twitter, the more we divide.

Part of the reason why bipartisanship is as prevalent as it is in American politics is because Twitter feeds are shaped by confirmation bias. In 2020, a left-leaning individual is highly unlikely to agree with points made by right-leaning users, and vice versa. This is partially because their own news feeds are filled with people, a large portion of which being influencers with blue checkmarks, tweeting out points that they agree with.


This confirmation bias is part of the reason why the American political climate is as polarizing as ever before: as FiveThirtyEight laid out last year, because there are so many people that can be defined as radicals towards the liberal or conservative sides, the moderate middle is practically nonexistent. Based on the research done by Kowald & Lex, this can partially be chalked up to the rampant confirmation bias on Twitter feeds. The political discourse on Twitter feels as nasty as it ever has before, but that is partially to the fault of these Twitter algorithms. Because Twitter feeds are designed to display like-minded individuals to the user, there’s a case to be made that it’s harder to change someone’s opinion in 2020 than ever before.


Conclusion.

As stated above, based on how prevalent confirmation bias is within the Twitter feeds of users, Twitter users should try to monitor their Twitter feeds in order to welcome a broader range of perspectives. Users can do this by following other users with different perspectives and remaining cognizant of their own hashtag use in order to broaden their perspectives within the powerful social network.


If every Twitter user made an attempt to listen to people with different perspectives than them, it will not only help to improve civil discourse within the social network, but it can also help to lessen the political bipartisanship that could ultimately destroy society in it’s current form. Welcoming these other perspectives can not only help Twitter users to become more informed on important political issues, but also help the world be more peaceful and united as a whole.


Follow Kellen on Twitter @SpecialK5252 or Instagram @Kellenvoss52 .

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