Arguably, by far the most interesting thing about Twitter is its real-time nature. What’s happening now?

But in an official Twitter announcement last week, the popular social media platform is manipulating that and more by injecting Tweets from people and companies users don’t follow along with ad content and promoted Tweets. This was posted on the Twitter Help Center:

◦You may also see content such as promoted Tweets or Retweets in your timeline.
◦Additionally, when we identify a Tweet, an account to follow, or other content that’s popular or relevant, we may add it to your timeline. This means you will sometimes see Tweets from accounts you don’t follow. We select each Tweet using a variety of signals, including how popular it is and how people in your network are interacting with it. Our goal is to make your home timeline even more relevant and interesting.

Twitter has been so compelling, so addictive particularly for anyone interested in that big but too-often-overlooked journalism W, When. For such chocoholics, Twitter’s like floating on a river of Swiss milk chocolate and slurping in brand new, hot-off-or-even-before-the-press-run news and commentary. So reporters, PR pros, wannabe PR types, activists of all stripes, celebrities, trend setters — those interested in breaking news — in the now — have been hooked, and hooked deeply.

In her recent article Natasha Lomas of TechCrunch characterizes the magnitude of Twitter’s timeline or feed changes:

Twitter Pollutes The Timeline

If your Twitter stream is looking a little more crap random than usual there’s a concrete reason for that: Twitter has made a behind-the-scenes change which means it’s algorithmically adulterating the mix of content you see. Not that they’re putting it like that, of course. The specific change in how your Twitter timeline operates allows for the company to inject additional content into your feed from other users you don’t follow. This is in addition to promoted tweet advertising content — you still get that thrust into your feed too. So basically this change means tweets from people you’re not interested in may now show up in your Twitter feed. And judging by the popularity reference, at least some of the content being algorithmically injected is exactly the sort of mainstream trivia that makes Facebook so uninteresting to a large swathe [sic]  of Twitter users…

Of course the reason for this late-summer change is to make Twitter more attractive and accountable to advertisers. Like Facebook it’s about the bottom line: how much ad revenue they will generate and not about what’s newsworthy or interesting  to Twitter users. And, the race is well underway with social media giants including Facebook and Twitter to be the first to the mobile platforms’ ad dollars feeding trough.

In his recent article Christopher Heine of AdWeek reported on some of the recent millions involved in mobile ads for Twitter and Facebook.

Big Brands Are Driving Facebook And Twitter’s Mobile Ad Explosion

Twitter … reported that it raked in $224 million in mobile ad sales during the second quarter, up from $180 million in Q1. The newest figure also represents a 36 percent jump compared to 2013’s fourth quarter, when the social media platform brought in $165 million. The San Francisco-based tech company will achieve more than $800 million in mobile ad revenue if it keeps the pace it has set in 2014 so far. Facebook’s Q2 mobile ad sales were 34 percent greater compared to Q4 2013, and it could draw a whopping $6 billion from the marketing category with a strong finish to the rest of the year.

Lomas of TechCrunch continues with what this newly injected, so-called “popular or relevant” content means for Twitter users:

This change is also BS. I say that as a long time Twitter user with 21,600+ tweets to my name over six years using the service. If it’s stuff from someone I don’t follow, then — sorry, Twitter — to me that stuff is probably crap. If I wanted to eyeball a stream of populist rubbish I’d be using Facebook. Or, as one of my TC colleagues judiciously put it, “just because something is ‘popular’ does not mean it’s ‘relevant'”. Twitter declined to answer a series of questions I put to it about this change — including whether it will offer an opt out — saying only that it updated its Help Center…

Most users’ Facebook timelines have long ago become largely filled with “promoted” posts, ads, random posts that get “likes” or “shares” and other things that Facebook — and not its users — deem interesting or relevant. So one effect is that a Facebook user’s timeline will have at the top those ads, promoted posts and other things Facebook designates as interesting for users — although they’re often from between 12 and 24 hours old — in other words a decade old in Web-time.

So is Twitter’s heretofore mostly exceptional, freshly made, gushing dark chocolate, user-selected information river in danger of becoming more a stream of mud with bits of flotsam? Or, at least according to one technology news source are they injecting users’ feeds with even more unsanitary stuff? Is it becoming true once more, and depressingly so these days, as Marshall McLuhan contended: “the medium is the message”?

Twitter: Twitter Help Center

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1 Comment

  • Good content however I think the major issue here isn’t ad sponsored content filling up your Twitter time line or big companies driving sponsored content messaging across Twitter and other social networks.

    No.

    The major issue at play here is the very idea of tailored content – certainly when it comes to news. This is a very basic argument yet a very important point – the moment your news content becomes tailored to you through your click history, your history of retweets/favorites and what content is popular, that is the moment we lose the ability to decide what content is important and what content is nonsense.

    The basic argument here is simple – news content is news content for a reason. Factual based content, whether you like it or not, is fact based content. Real news challenges the reader to open their mind, see into another world and learn new information which might (hopefully) fly in the face of what they already know to be true. That is the major point of news – to inform against already known information.

    The moment news content becomes curated by companies, personal history or a “popular across your network” model, is the moment we lose our ability to understand what is real content and what isn’t. The more content becomes curated, the more content grows to reinforce what we already hold true. Curated content based on history or what is popular doesn’t challenge, it doesn’t shake, it doesn’t spark difference of opinion. It only serves to reinforce and dumb down.

    This is the major problem with Twitter’s content change. The more Twitter becomes like Facebook, the more it will lose gravitas.

    Sponsored ad content is one thing but sponsored news content tailored to lull users into acceptance is unacceptable

    – Brad Yale
    @twitter-14347035:disqus Community Specialist