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4 Olympics related searches that tell you everything you need to know about Twitter

August 8, 2016

Maybe you haven’t really kept up with Twitter, but you should probably know that Twitter doesn’t have the greatest reputation regarding civility and harassment. I don’t want to go into all of the stories of people being harassed on Twitter, but instead I’ll just point out what happened when I clicked on a few Olympics-related Twitter trending topics.

First, let’s look at Michael Phelps:


If you look to the left here, you’ll see “Related searches.” I assume that Twitter generates these based on data of what people have searched for before. So, presumably, it thinks that a lot people are interested in his race and in his race time and in his time. Seems reasonably.

But of course, some people are also interested in his wife, and some are interested in his marijuana appreciation.

But this is fairly tame.

Let’s jump over to Cody Miller:


So, people want to see the video, people want to see the reaction. People want to see his chest, probably because of his pectus excavatum. And there’s a lot of internet love since he apparently is an imgurian, recently journaled his quest over on the site, and mentioned the site in his victory speech.

Still, so far, so good.


Next, we have Simone Biles. People are interested in her floor routine, and whether she’ll win the gold…but some people have other comments about her height, race, and beauty.


And finally, we have Katie Ledecky. It seems some are interested in her future academic and athletic career at Stanford (which she has deferred enrollment until after Rio). But I mean…just look at those other related searches.

I don’t know how much tweaking Twitter does to these lists (if any). I know there was some drama recently about Facebook tweaking its trending topics. But if Twitter’s related searches just happens to represent the unedited collective consciousness of the Twittersphere, then maybe that tells you everything you need to know about Twitter.

EDIT: After originally publishing this post, I got some feedback via Facebook that made me realize that the post really is very premature as is.

For example, couldn’t someone just say that this doesn’t really reflect on Twitter at all (and the question of whether Twitter does enough to oppose harassment is a different question)? For example, if one used auto-complete suggestions from pretty much any search engine, one would find that those suggestions would tend to represent the population of search users, whatever their biases are.

So, at best, this suggests that the userbases of various internet sites have certain preoccupations, but how can that relate to Twitter.

My followup questions were:

Do search engines and social networks have similar relationships with their userbases where we should expect a similar “hands off” approach, just reporting user preferences, etc.,

Or…to come at it from another perspective, to the extent that social networks generate their value as being the locus of user-generated content, then wouldn’t the content generated by twitter users (and the content that twitter either emphasizes or de-emphasizes) be *everything* to do with twitter?


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