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This article was published on October 22, 2021

Conservatives say Twitter suppresses their voices. Twitter says it amplifies them

Color me surprised

Conservatives say Twitter suppresses their voices. Twitter says it amplifies them
Thomas Macaulay
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Thomas Macaulay

Writer at Neural by TNW — Thomas covers AI in all its iterations. Likes Werner Herzog films and Arsenal FC. Writer at Neural by TNW — Thomas covers AI in all its iterations. Likes Werner Herzog films and Arsenal FC.

It’s tough being a conservative on Twitter. Everywhere you look, those damn liberals are censoring right-wingers for dropping truth bombs based on facts, not feelings.

At least, that’s what I’ve heard from conservative pundits and politiciansThe reality, however, appears to be rather different.

A new study by Twitter found that the platform’s algorithms actually amplify right-wing voices.

The research revealed that tweets from right-wing politicians and news outlets are both amplified on Twitter’s algorithmically ranked Home timeline. However, the social network isn’t sure why.

Rumman Chowdhury, the head of Twitter’s machine learning, ethics, transparency and accountability team, tweeted that the company will now investigate the causes:

Twitter is a sociotechnical system — our [algorithms] are responsive to what’s happening. What’s next is a root cause analysis — is this unintended model bias? Or is this a function of what and how people tweet, and things that are happening in the world? Or both?

The first part of the study examined millions of tweets by elected officials in seven countries (Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, the UK, and the US).

In every country other than Germany, tweets from accounts on the political right received higher algorithmic amplification than those on the political left when studied as a group.

Notably, however, the recommender systems did not amplify extreme ideologies over more moderate ones. Per the study paper:

We found that in countries where far-left or far-right parties have substantial representation among elected officials (e.g. VOX in Spain, Die Linke and AfD in Germany, LFI and RN in France) the amplification of these parties is generally lower than that of moderate/centrist parties in the same country.

The researchers used public, third-party sources, such as official institutional websites, to identify the account’s political party affiliation. Credit: Twitter

The researchers also analyzed whether the recommendation algorithms amplify political content from news outlets in the US. To this, they examined hundreds of millions of Tweets containing links to articles shared by people on Twitter.

They found that right-leaning news sources were also favoured by the algorithmic system.

The outlets were categorized based on media bias ratings from two independent organizations, AllSides and Ad Fontes Media
The outlets were categorized based on media bias ratings from two independent organizations, AllSides and Ad Fontes Media. Credit: Twitter

Twitter’s study is not the first to contradict the claim that conservatives are suppressed on social media. Or the second. Or the third.

It is, however, unusual for a platform to share so much internal research into algorithmic recommendations. I find it hard to imagine Facebook providing similar transparency.

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