Vatnik Soup
Soup number142
Date02.04.2023
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Twitter

In today’s #vatniksoup, I’ll talk about Twitter. Elon Musk recently released the Twitter’s algorithm as open-source for all to see (kudos!), and people have already found some interesting things from the code.

Here’s my analysis on the most interesting findings.

1/21
First of all, let’s start with the “I told you so” moment: On 26 December 2022, I theorized that pre-Elon there was a adjustment in the algorithm that prioritized Ukraine-related content, making it more visible, thus making it gaining more likes and retweets.

2/21
After Elon took over, my engagement in Ukraine-related content went down by 40%. This same drop was experienced and reported by Denis Zakharov (@betelgeuse1922) and Julia Davis (@JuliaDavisNews). Apparently, right after taking over Twitter, Elon Musk put in place an...

3/21
...algorithm change that PENALIZED all Ukraine-related content, making it less visible. For bigger accounts like Davis’, 40-50% drop in engagement is HUGE. Now, this could’ve been due to there being a Ukraine-boosting prioritization before, which he then reversed...

4/21
...- I guess we’ll never know. If the penalization list is in chronological order, the addition to punish Ukraine-related content was the latest addition.

Now, the rest of the algorithm works pretty much like all social media algorithms work: promote thought-provoking...

5/21
...content and kill any conversation around it. Each like gains 30x boost, re-tweets get a 20x bonus, and replies have no effect at all. So appease to your audience and refuse to talk with the dissidents, and you’ll be rewarded by the algorithm.

6/21
Adding media helps, and adding both videos and images gives you a 2.0x boost. External links, on the other hand, may hurt your engagement especially if the account is fresh. I assume this was done to counter the spam bots that spread harmful and spammy links.

7/21
Your following-to-follower ratio also matters, and there’s an algorithm that reduces the engagement of users who follow a lot of accounts but have only few followers. This could be used to counter the “follow me and I follow back” accounts who try to...

8/21
...garner a large following in a short time.

If a lot people have muted or blocked you, your engagement goes down. Same happens, if a lot of people have recently unfollowed you or reported your account for spam and/or abuse.

9/21
Having Twitter Blue gives you a HUGE boost in engagement, ranging from 0 to 100 with the default of 4x.

Besides Ukraine-related content, there are penalties for posting disinformation, medical misinformation (most probably related to COVID-19), calls for...

10/21
harmful acts (probably installed after Jan 6th), “not safe for work” content (usually porn), content with withheld DMCA strikes, and hateful and/or violent content.

But if the account is big enough, these penalties don’t even matter. Take for example Donald Trump Jr.’s...

11/21
..disinformative tweet about Zelenskyy banning the Ukrainian Orthodox Church: this was clearly a lie and was labelled as such, yet the tweet itself gained 16 000 retweets and 64 000 likes. Once you’ve got big enough audience on Twitter, none of the penalties apply.

12/21
Remember those Twitter circles which shows who you interact with most? Twitter does those, too.Most of the users who tweet regularly are put inside a circle & posting on topics outside of your circle actually hurts your engagement. Now, this penalty is 10x which is again huge.13/21
So just keep on posting stuff that appeases your audience and you won’t get punished. Any new perspectives and challenging of people is strictly forbidden, at least if you want to stay relevant. Twitter also tracks the time people spend on your tweets, probably to increase..14/21
..the engagement of threads. If people spend over 2 minutes reading your tweet or if people check your profile through one of your tweets, you also get bonuses.

Twitter also detects for “unknown language”, so misspelling, typos or using of words that don’t exist penalizes..15/21
..your engagement a LOT (0.01x penalty). So even if you have a good message, it can be penalized if it’s badly written. This again seems like a measure against auto-translation bots that spew out bad English en masse.

Interestingly, Twitter also tracks closely the...

16/21
...engagement of US political system, by tracking the impressions on both Republican and Democrat users. It also tracks how so-called Power Users and Elon himself are doing in terms of impressions.

To conclude: Twitter’s algorithm is working exactly like other social...

17/21
...media platforms, meaning that it promotes the idea of “information bubbles” and echo chambers. It seems that Elon Musk also lied when he said that Twitter now promotes all viewpoints equally - as there’s a engagement penalty for all Ukraine-related content.

18/21 Analysis and visualization by Pauli Ohukainen (2022).
I actually appreciate Musk for releasing the algorithm as open-source, but there’s also one big problem: it allows social media manipulation on Twitter to be taken to a whole new level. Let me give you an example: if troll farms want to decrease the engagement of a ...

19/21
...dissident, all they have to do is create hundreds of accounts that then mute/block that dissident’s account. They can also increase engagement for propagandists and grifters by retweeting and liking their content. Actually, anyone can do it - buying 1000 likes ...

20/21
...costs you today around 30 USD, and 500 retweets can be bought for 15 USD. Or, if you’re the owner of the platform, you can just change the algorithm so that EVERYONE sees your tweets whether they care about your message or not.

21/21
Big shoutout to all analysts, including @amasad @0xCygaar @xerocooleth @steventey @aakashg0
APPENDIX: Some of the claims here have been disputed, see for example this thread:

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