Is Twitter really changing its algorithm to be more like Facebook?

Rumors that Twitter will implement a Facebook-style algorithm to curate users' feeds has raised concerns that the site could lose its distinctiveness as a real-time social platform. 

Dado Ruvic/Reuters
A 3D-printed logo for Twitter is seen in this picture illustration made in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina on January 26, 2016. Four senior Twitter executives are leaving the media company, CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted in Janurary, the biggest leadership changes since Dorsey returned as chief executive as he struggles to revive the company's growth.

#RIPTwitter was the trending hashtag on Twitter Saturday, as angry users protested the social networking site’s rumored algorithm changes.

Currently, Twitter arranges tweets in chronological order. 

But BuzzFeed reported Friday that the social networking site plans to reorder its content. Using an algorithm similar to Facebook’s, according to BuzzFeed, Twitter will put more value on tweets users might like to see. Instead of a home page with a chronological log of all followers’ tweets, the new system would elevate specific tweets to the top of the feed, regardless of when they were published. 

In other words, the Twitter algorithm would decide which tweets get shown and which don’t, just as Facebook reorganizes and filters users’ News Feed by predicting favorable content. 

And the response by Twitter users was almost unanimously negative. 

“One of the great rewards of being an adult is deciding ON YOUR OWN who (and what) you should be interested in. #RIPTwitter” Actor Rob Lowe tweeted Saturday. 

“Dear Twitter, don’t try to be like Facebook, we don’t like Facebook #RIPTwitter,” tweeted @dearcalumthood on Saturday. 

@YouHadOneJ0B, a parody account with 183,000 followers, tweeted this picture Sunday morning to convey what they saw as Twitter’s copycat move:

And Ello, a competing, ad-free, social networking site, tweeted this:

CEO Jack Dorsey took to his own Twitter account Saturday to try and quell the anxiety of his site’s 974 million users with a series of tweets.

And while Dorsey’s tweets may have dispelled some fears, he avoided falsifying the rumors outright. He said the company has no plans to reorder timelines next week – leaving open the possibility of change after that.  

Despite the negative feedback, Dorsey is likely trying to find a real answer to some real problems, as Digital Times editor Stephen Conmy says: 

Twitter’s algorthim-free content sometimes usurps Facebook on breaking news

In August 2014 when Ferguson, Missouri broke out in violence over alleged police brutality, Twitter feeds were flooded with live videos, tweets and pictures. But because the events were not yet circulating on popular news platforms that feed Facebook’s algorithm, relevant content on Facebook was delayed.  

Algorithms have consequences,” Zeynep Tufekci wrote in a piece for The Message, referencing the news delay on Facebook. And if it weren’t for Twitter’s unfiltered content, she asks, “Would [Ferguson] ever make it through the algorithmic filtering on Facebook?” 

And while Twitter may come out on top when it comes to breaking news, it is definitely falling far behind Facebook in revenue. Twitter has essentially failed to add any new American users in 2015 and earnings continue to fall, running at a loss of $132 million after taxes.

“It would make the company even more appealing to advertisers and, in turn, much more valuable,” Jason Stein, CEO of social media agency Laundry Service, told BuzzFeed in 2015 when algorithm rumors first started to form. 

The bleak finances at Twitter have accompanied a realignment of leadership roles. Founder Jack Dorsey was named permanent CEO in October in hopes of reviving the fortunes of a perpetually second-tier social media site.   

“The [natural] order is cherished by Twitter’s core users, with many arguing its organic surfacing of news and conversations is what makes Twitter work,” explains BuzzFeed. But “Most ad agencies are not set up to buy ads on the fly…meaning they miss out on the most valuable part of Twitter, its real time nature, and can’t make [ad] campaigns that fit in.”

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