who does twitter recommend to you?
April 2, 2020 1:15 PM   Subscribe

Because of the gendering and racializing of expertise, I don't follow men who primarily retweet other men, even when I like their work as journalists, scientists, etc. And yet... I've noticed that Twitter almost always recommends men and more often not, white-appearing men, in "You might like" and "Relevant people." People who use Twitter (while logged in), who does Twitter recommend to you?

This gendering/racializing of knowledge (epistemic injustice for those who like to nerd out on political philosophy) shows up in "man-els" and the photo of the covid-19 presidential taskforce. On Twitter, there are of course practical responses like #citeblackwomen and #womenwhoknowthings

I try to retweet and @ people who are in categories generally perceived to be less authoritative (women, young/young-looking, people of color, English language learners, nonbinary). But Twitter is almost always recommending dudes to me! Is this true for everyone?
posted by spamandkimchi to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
- indigenous activists
- friends of friends
- trans fanartists

I had to refresh the recommendations widget more than 10 times to get a cishet white man.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:21 PM on April 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

It doesn't seem to be true for me. I think maybe because I follow a lot of local journalists and writers, many of whom are not white dudes.
posted by ferret branca at 1:37 PM on April 2, 2020

I have a few white guys, but mostly women, including a few women of color. Definitely a mix, more heavily towards women. Are you still following mostly white dudes, even if you're not RT'ing them?
posted by bluedaisy at 1:47 PM on April 2, 2020

Best answer: White dudes, nearly always. It seems to have to do with the last few people I replied to or faved? And yeah I make it a practice (now) to only follow women, POC, etc and still they're like "Hey you should follow Wil Wheaton!" I use a script so I don't see that panel anymore. I think early on in Twitter I was mostly following dudes (b/c Twitter was mostly dudes) and it's also possible Twitter thinks I am a man? And I talk about technology a lot which maybe is also part of it.
posted by jessamyn at 1:52 PM on April 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

Mix of journalists and random people, mostly POC, gender split looks half-and-half female-appearing and male-appearing with the caveat you can't tell a person's gender through a glance at a Twitter profile unless they include it in there. I don't know anybody recommended to me.
posted by schroedinger at 2:08 PM on April 2, 2020

Best answer: You've looked on the Connect page? On my account at least, it's quite explicit about why it's recommending those users to you. "Because you follow X, Y, and Z" or "Followed by people you follow" or "You liked X's tweet" etc.

Maybe it's just my account, but the algorithm doesn't seem to care about retweets, just likes.
posted by neckro23 at 2:18 PM on April 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: For me, it recommends:

(a) A lot of (mostly young) linguists, because I follow a lot of (mostly young) linguists that are my actual friends, and it's recommending people in those networks. It represents the diversity of those networks pretty well.

(b) Some nerd internet celebrities, including hbomberguy and zoe quinn - as far as I can tell this is pretty evenly split for gender but they're all white right now.

(c) A mixture of politicians, news outfits, celebrities and trending experts in the "you may be interested in" tab. The experts in the last tab are all white men, as far as I can tell. There are some women and POC in the tab as well, but they're writers and comedians (not e.g. experts in virology).

I wonder if the white male virologist trend is a good example of the problem you're running into. Twitter seems to be promoting the accounts that are trending the most here - this doesn't seem to be related to my likes and follows at all.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:33 PM on April 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

My network is mainly people in the same profession as me, some people in the same sector, and some people that I know in real life, plus a few celebs/comedians. I mainly get recommended people in the same profession. These are primarily white and more often female, which accurately reflects the demographic of my profession.
posted by plonkee at 3:09 PM on April 2, 2020

I made an effort about six months ago to only add new people to follow if they are not cis white men. I now very rarely get cis white men recommended to me, which is great.

I think those algorithms depend much more on who you already follow (and who they follow) than they do on your pattern of likes and retweets.
posted by lollusc at 3:54 PM on April 2, 2020

(On the other hand, although I try to only follow fellow academics, because I want my Twitter feed to be mainly about stuff relevant to my research areas, a large number of the people who it recommends to me now are primarily activists. I don't know if that's a Twitter algorithm thing - people who mainly follow BIPOC and LGBTQ people tend also to follow activists - or if it's more about the specific individuals I'm following. Maybe even the ones who primarily post about academic topics also themselves follow a lot of activists and political accounts).
posted by lollusc at 3:58 PM on April 2, 2020

My top recommendations were 2 women of color and one white man; when I click for more I get four white women and two white men.
posted by hungrytiger at 4:26 PM on April 2, 2020

Response by poster: neckro23, thank you! I hadn't looked specifically at the Connect page, and am going through their different recommendations based on specific people I follow. They only gave me three sets, the one for China/Asia journalists that was 2/3rds men, the one for epidemiologists was mostly men, and the one for Black Lives Matter was half/half split. (With the caveat that I totally am using first names to guess gender)

I'm going with the theory that the algorithm gives more weight to my likes than who I follow or who I retweet. I tend to use likes as bookmarks, so I'm not as careful with echo chamber/old boys network effect but my more recent likes are more reflective of my general Twitter usage... I remain baffled though why Twitter recommends so many cis white men to me.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:56 PM on April 2, 2020

Response by poster: So I'm looking @aetiology (who I don't follow) and this is the list of people Twitter comes up for "Similar to Dr. Tara C. Smith" -- all men (or at least named with common male names like Adam and Marc) until #13. I think Kutsuwamushi might be right re: the virologist problem/trending accounts issue.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:57 PM on April 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Two white guys and a white woman in my list right now. Clicking for more I get more diversity in the "Because you follow" lists, and a lot of white people and brands (plus Modi and AOC) in the others.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 6:07 AM on April 3, 2020

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