A mystery has been solved.
For our last poetry jam on Twitter, something odd happened – when I used the hashtag (#tsptry) with posts, my tweets didn’t show up in the hashtag stream.
At first I suspected that something had happened when the new Twitter app developed for TweetSpeak poetry has been installed and launched. Matt Priour, the developer in Texas who did the app with Marcus Goodyear, couldn’t find a problem.
Marcus discovered that my #tsptry tweets were also not showing up in Google searches. And that was the first clue.
Matt contacted Twitter and learned that, according to the current version of the Twitter algorithm, my Twitter account is considered “spammy.” Not exactly spam, but more “spam-like,” because my tweets include a lot of links and a lot of retweets. So I haven’t been kicked off for spam; my followers can still see my tweets; but forget it when it comes to using hashtags or having your tweets available to search engines.
It’s true that my tweets include a lot of links and retweets – by design. I find a lot of good things online – articles, posts, commentaries, poems – that I like to call attention to. And according to the Twitter rules: you’re spamming “if your updates consist mainly of links, and not personal updates.” (The “if” in that statement is significant – it doesn’t mean it will happen, only that it’s possible.)
The Twitter algorithm has decided that doing that is “spammy.” Actually, the people who design the algorithm have decided that. And no one actually examined by tweet stream and applied rational human judgment. Or even human understanding.
I have to keep reminding myself that Twitter’s algorithm is designed by IT people, that it’s constantly being tweaked, that they try to protect Twitter users from spam.
(And I also have to remind myself that it was the most visionary IT I knew who told me (in 1995) that the worldwide web was a flash in the technological pan, that it would soon go the way of eight-track tapes, because the future was Lotus Notes.)
Matt asked Twitter to fix it, but he said it may require me contacting them directly.
Have you ever tried to contact Twitter?
If you’re a developer or a reporter or a policeman, there are special contact email boxes. If you’re a customer, you click on customer support on the contact page, and you get an array of boxes that relate to commonly asked questions.
But no email box. That’s a hint that Twitter thinks it has answered every question possible and so you won’t need to contact them.
But they do provide a mailing address. That’s right, the king (or co-king) of social media provides one way for customers to contact them – and that’s via the post office.
Very retro. But not very cool. Unintended or not, there’s an important message there – that reporters and developers matter more to Twitter than customers.
So I will have to create a new Twitter account for the TweetSpeak poetry jams to be able to use the #tsptry hashtag and have it show up. Which I will do.
I’m also going to be radically reducing the links I use in tweets and the number of retweets – because I could get blocked completely. (One caution – this happened about the time of my first anniversary on Twitter, so be aware if something similar happens to you.)
But my days on Twitter are likely numbered – by my choice. I’m beginning to understand why people are migrating to Facebook exclusively. I beginning to see what several of the people I followed – people who have run afoul of Twitter rules because of how the algorithm was programmed at the time (and was later changed) – rarely post any tweets now. And these were people with vastly larger numbers of followers than I have.
But a social media algorithm is only as good as the human understanding that goes into it.