Originally posted on Gigaom:
One of the fears about the explosion of information online is that users might become more narrow in their interests — either because they are overwhelmed by the amount of content choices facing them, or because personalization filters will wind up catering to their existing preconceptions. In a recent post on the topic, Cornell University communications professor Tarleton Gillespie makes exactly that kind of criticism about Twitter’s algorithms, and specifically its “trending topic” filters. Handing over more of our information consumption to companies like Twitter may make our lives easier, but does it also make them narrower as well — and if so, what do we do about it?
Gillespie’s argument starts off with a discussion of how various “Occupy Wall Street” topics failed to trend on Twitter despite the frenzy of activity around those subjects during the demonstrations in New York and elsewhere. There were repeated accusations and conspiracy theories that said Twitter was somehow censoring the topic of Occupy Wall Street and any related hashtags, even after the company described its trending-topic algorithm — and how it looks not at volume of a specific term, but the volume of activity around that term over time (in other words, a sustained level of high activity won’t necessarily trip the filters).