In a blog post, Twitter revealed that its algorithm promotes right-leaning content more often than left-leaning content. However, the company isn’t sure why that’s happening.
The findings discussed in the blog post draw from an internal study that looked at how Twitter’s algorithm amplifies political content. In the study, Twitter looked at millions of tweets posted between April 1st and August 15th, 2020 from news outlets and elected officials in Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, the U.K. and the U.S.
In all those countries, except Germany, Twitter found that right-leaning accounts received more algorithmic amplification than the political left. Similarly, right-leaning content from news outlets benefitted from the same bias.
Twitter says it doesn’t know why the data suggests its algorithm favours right-leaning content. The company claims it’s a “significantly more difficult question to answer” because it’s a result of “interactions between people and the platform.”
However, The Verge cites Ph. D. candidate Steve Rathje, who published research explaining that divisive content about political outgroups is more likely to go viral. Rathje told The Verge that negative posts about political outgroups tend to receive more engagement on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter. For example, if a left-leaning politician posts something negative about a right-leaning politician (or vice versa), that negative post will likely receive more engagement.
With that in mind, it’s possible right-leaning posts on Twitter spark more engagement, leading to more algorithmic amplification. Further, it’s worth noting that Germany — the only country where the algorithm didn’t favour right-wing content — has an agreement with Facebook, Twitter and Google to remove hate speech within 24 hours. While the factors may not be related, if the algorithm favours divisive, negative posts, and right-leaning users post that kind of content, it could be why Twitter’s seeing the algorithm favour right-leaning content everywhere but Germany, where there’s an active effort to remove that content.
It’s not a problem isolated to Twitter either. Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower who leaked internal documents from the company, claimed Facebook’s algorithm also favours divisive content and hate speech.