How Twitter Filtering Is Going to Destroy the Relationship Between Twitter and Television (2014)


In 2010, I wrote about “How Twitter Changed Television” and how the power of immediacy made Twitter addictive to content providers, content promoters and the mass television audience. Twitter offered a unique window into the entertainment realm and it drew in the viewing audience into the conversation eager to find a way to communicate with their favorite stars and celebrities, and to make their voices heard about the TV shows they were watching.

Getting involved with the conversation for a TV show became the thing to do. Live-tweeting episodes by stars, writers, producers and virtually everyone associated with a TV show became an instant success and fans ate it up. It ensured that fans watched TV shows live, which was vital to TV shows for the precious overnight ratings and it became an alternate way to ascertain just how many viewers were watching a show in real-time — particularly as it became increasingly evident that the Nielsen’s ratings data was failing to capture all the viewers for a TV show.

So between 2009 to 2014, live-tweeting and working to get a TV show to trend during its broadcast became a coveted and necessary element of watching and broadcasting television. In the intervening years, everyone in the television industry seemed to flock to Twitter as a way to ensure their paychecks, a TV show’s longevity, and that the fans felt like they were a part of the creative process. Virtually every single television show uses live-tweeting as a way of interacting and engaging its audience. It has been a fantastic, unparalleled, and extraordinarily mutually-beneficial relationship, the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else on the Internet – even Facebook pales in comparison due to is much maligned “filtering” of user timelines.

Unfortunately, last week the news broke that Twitter was changing one crucial aspect of its service. It was adopting the unpopular Facebook algorithm, which would cull through the gazillion tweets each day or hour and only make viewable the most popular or relevant tweets. (See the article, “Twitter CFO says a Facebook-style filtered feed is coming, whether you like it or not”)

Facebook has been repeatedly slammed for its practices of screening what its members can view in their timelines. Now that Twitter has adopted the same practice, there has been little fuss so far – but that is perhaps because it has not been implemented yet. But it will be. One day, Twitter users will login and find that a huge chuck of their timeline will be missing. They will be stuck in “timeline hell” as Twitter chooses what tweets they see based on some algorithm.

What a nightmare. This is exactly what makes Twitter so popular: its unfiltered access to information in real-time. It is finding out what the current events are happening, seeing people’s reactions to an event, and being able to respond and participate that makes it so popular. Unfiltered – that is the secret ingredient. No one wants to have their favorite celebrity’s tweets prescreened or to have only every other tweet appear on their timeline. Twitter users want to see it all. They want to choose who to follow, who to block and who to mute. That freedom to unrestricted, unfiltered information is what made Twitter such an amazing social media platform. If a celeb goes on a tweet-rant, everyone wants to see all the tweets. If there is a political protest or a fugitive manhunt in progress, users want to see exactly what is going on – every single tweet, not just the most popular tweets about it. Also what may be popular to the masses does not equate to what is interesting and newsworthy to the individual. If the political protest is in your town, every single tweet matters. If there is a manhunt in progress and streets are being closed and areas evacuated, every single tweet matters; likewise, if there is a natural disaster or severe weather situation. Cameramen for news stations cannot be everywhere all the time or may not have access, so Twitter users have found by turning to Twitter they can find up-to-the-second information on what is happening now.

Similarly, in the entertainment industry, everything is time-sensitive. Tweets as movie-goers come out of a movie let other friends and family (or anyone following a movie hashtag) see their live reactions. And for the purposes of television, live-tweeting by talent and the audience is just as imperative. Fans want to see every single tweet that stars, writers and producers have to share about the behind-the-scenes escapades or to learn teasers about upcoming scenes, episodes or storylines. Simultaneously, fan reactions provide those who create, produce and broadcast a TV show a sense of what is working, what is not, and how successful their show is long before the outdated Nielsen’s data will be released. But live-tweeting only works if everyone’s tweets can be seen. Filtering would disrupt the conversation on both sides and it would ruin the live-tweet experience. It would make a formerly-valuable social media tool obsolete. Fans would be frustrated. Talent would wonder where their fans are. Television studios would beat their heads against the wall for investing in taking the time to schedule a live-tweet just to have it be “filtered” and virtually unusable.

Other worthwhile articles on Twitter “filtering” are: “Why Twitter Should Not Algorithmically Curate the Timeline. It’s the Human Judgment of the Flock, Not the Lone Bird, That Powers It” and “On the Difference Between Communication, News, and Entertainment”. Interestingly, one writer tried to clarify how the Twitter algorithm would not “filter” users timelines, but if you read the article carefully, he admits there will still be some filtering in the Twitter timelines. Here is that article: “Twitter Will Never Be Like Facebook. And that’s a good thing.”

While Twitter has not yet implemented the dreaded “filtering” on user timelines, it is something all users should be aware of and exactly how it will immediately effect what they see. It is terrifying. Twitter users have become accustomed to getting the information they want without restriction, without “big brother” intervening, and without the big new conglomerates dictating news based on their own corporate and political agendas. But now that Twitter has captured nearly a billion users, it is seeking to exploit that captive-audience through its control for its own motivations (whether corporate, political or even religious) by implementing an algorithm that determines what its users see in their timelines.

Frankly, that is not what I signed up for. Twitter was a service that previously guaranteed unrestricted, unfiltered access to anything I want to hear about — without restriction. It was that unfiltered access that was so addictive. It is why I tune in everyday and check what is going on Twitter. It is why everyone seems to now check Twitter throughout their day to see what the news is, to find out what is happening, and to have a chance to participate in topics of conversation that interest them.

If you take that away, what good is Twitter? Why bother logging in or checking in? It will be only curated news. It will only display whatever Twitter deems newsworthy or popular. How useless is that? If you are holding onto Twitter stock, this is the time to sell, for the very thing that made Twitter unique and valuable is about to vanish – and with it, millions of angry, frustrated and disillusions users.

So I posit: this would be the opportune time for a competitor to get ahead of the curve and set up shop for all those Twitter users who are going to be looking for a new social media platform to play on. It will not just be the television industry looking for a place to talk with its audience, it will be anyone who has a product to sell that needs their promotions to remain unfiltered and guaranteed to reach their intended audience.

Facebook has already been derided for its inaccessibility by the youth of today. I am guessing that young users, as well as users of all ages, will be abandoning Twitter once they realize it is not the communication tool they originally signed up for.

So goodbye, Twitter. It has been nice knowing you. Corporate greed and inability to see what made itself valuable in the first place is going to be its very undoing. In the meantime, I look forward to the next social platform that remembers that users do not like having their words filtered or the things they want to see usurped by a corporate algorithm.

We are on the eve of the death of Twitter as the death knell has sounded. Are you ready for it?

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