Twitter’s welcome move will have side effects
The algorithmic timeline is a few years old now, and there’s no doubt it influences users’ impressions of the service. By displaying a popular tweet 23 hours after it was published, it encourages users to extend its lifespan. So, tweets that go viral can go really viral. It’s possible to see the same tweet pop up again and again for days, as more casual users log on and share it when they see it for the first time.
So, while some of those who love to see fresh content in their feeds may cheer the return of chronological, they may also miss getting quite so many retweets and likes on their own output.
And there’s a knock-on effect. You don’t have to look far to find harassment and abuse on Twitter, but the algorithmic timeline amplifies the sense that the platform is full of it. Tweets in which people talk about harassment they have suffered or others have suffered often go viral, and reach a much bigger audience thanks to the algorithm identifying them as ‘popular’ tweets.
So, if you choose to just see the latest tweets, Twitter may seem less rife with harassment – and a less depressing place – because you’ll see fewer tweets talking about it.
The risk is, if those stories of harassment get less of an audience, the pressure on Twitter to resolve the problem once and for all might be reduced. On the other side of the same coin, you could say that by seeing their activity discussed less, harassers may feel they’re making less of an impact and be less inclined to continue.