By now you’ve probably read enough about the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, his death in a Manhattan jail, and the attendant conspiracy theories that consumed social networks over the weekend. President Trump led the charge, retweeting a conspiracy theory that sought to implicate former President Bill Clinton. While there is much blame to go around, Charlie Warzel finds that Twitter bears a special responsibility for what one researcher termed “the Disinformation World Cup.” Warzel writes: At the heart of the online fiasco is Twitter, which has come to largely program the political conversation and much of the press. Twitter is magnetic during huge breaking stories; news junkies flock to it for up-to-the-second information. But early on, there’s often a vast discrepancy between the attention that is directed at the platform and the available information about the developing story. That gap is filled by speculation and, via its worst users, rumormongering and conspiracy theories. On Saturday, Twitter’s trending algorithms hoovered up the worst of this detritus, curating, ranking and then placing it in the trending module on the right side of its website. Despite being a highly arbitrary and mostly “worthless metric,” trending topics on Twitter are often interpreted as a vague signal of the importance of a given subject. This hands-off approach to editorial intervention in the news cycle, coupled with algorithms that promote the most popular posts, is by now a familiar villain. It played a key role in, for example, the promotion of anti-vaccine zealots on Facebook, and… [Read full story]
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