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How to make Twitter a better social network: Alberto Parrella’s mission impossible

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How to make Twitter a better social network: Alberto Parrella’s mission impossible

The manager who launched a feature on Twitter is Italian it reduces the chances of a user typing something aggressive, violent or unpleasant. How? Inviting him to take a break and review the content before posting it. A sort of “count to 10” in the tech version.

He is Alberto Parrella, is a senior product manager at Twitter, the social network that Elon Musk likes (or maybe not). His work is one that is highly regarded in Silicon Valley. For four years, Alberto has lived and worked in California, where he coordinates teams and resources to understand the relationship between consumers and technology. He makes features with one goal: to improve global conversation and the quality of content on Twitter. He did experiments, studied theories of behavioral economics and written with Anita Patwardhan Butler the blog Tweeting with Consideration, where he talks about the phenomenon of the “regrettable contribution” (unpleasant contributions that are canceled) and how to solve it.

Alberto Parrella will be among the speakers of the Italian Tech Week 2022, on 29 and 30 September in Turin

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“If a user deletes a piece of content it means that they have had a negative experience and we as Twitter have failed. We asked ourselves: why does this happen? We sat around a table with groups of users and did an experiment. “When the algorithm recognizes that there is something wrong with the text, who has set the phone to English or Portuguese compare a prompt. This is a tip that encourages you to pause before tweeting, editing, or deleting the reply.

Thirty years old, originally from Caserta, Parrella is the son of two professors of Hygiene of the University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli. Third of three brothers (“I’m the one who always wins”). Liceo classico, a professor of Latin and Greek who never calls him by name but who in exchange gives him the greatest of gifts: he teaches him curiosity. He graduated in Trento: Bachelor in Economics and Management. Master’s degree in Innovation Management at the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies. Erasmus in Finland, wins a startup contest in Connecticut. Another at Virginia Tech, a university in the United States. Internship at L’Oréal in Milan, then makes an application to Twitter in the USA. “Badly I’ll take a no”. They don’t consider it. He tries again to enter London (“they were looking for someone who spoke Italian and German”). He succeeds. He starts as a data analyst, a basic job. After three years they call him from San Francisco: “Why don’t you come here to develop features?”

Arriving in California, Alberto starts creating discussion groups and understanding what’s behind a deleted tweet. He discovers that those who repent do so for different reasons: because it receives too many likes or zeroes, because someone in private writes to him: “what the hell are you doing?” or in public the offenses begin. “We asked ourselves: how to help users make the right choice? We started studying different theories. Like Richard Thaler’s Nudges, a theory of behavioral economics that goes something like this: it is the environment that determines the choices of users. in a menu, instead of putting 30 plates, I put 5, you choose better. If the prices instead of staying on the left, you put them on the right, you first see the content and choose based on that, not based on the price “.

In the first tests, the algorithm struggles to recognize the nuances of language and people are often “stressed” unnecessarily. But then learn. “Result: after reading the question Are you sure? Do you want to think about it for a moment?, 22% of people revised their initial response or decided not to send it at all. 9% of those who have been solicited once have not written offensive replies “.

“Then we said to ourselves that if this feature works, we can also use it for disinformation. The problem is the same: people act on impulse and not rationally. Just the question Have you read the article you are sharing? because the number of people who read first increases by 33%. Jack Dorsey lancia la featureand Elon Musk approves”.

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“In the social world there has always been the idea of ​​increasing the level of engagement. Often if you are a nullity, you have more likes than someone who is not. And if I I eliminate 30% of offensive content, I am impacting on engagement in a negative way. I’m doing something that, according to the old logic of social media, would be wrong. But the good news is another. There is a piece of the world that is changing. Our aim is to create something that is less and less seen over time… “.

Meanwhile, to Twitter the Musk question opens up. At the time of writing, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX has decided not to abide by the acquisition agreement ($ 44 billion) because Twitter allegedly lied about the number of accounts. The company – according to the New York Times – claims instead that Musk is just looking for a pretext not to complete the transaction. Discontent seems to reign within the social network, but Parrella prefers not to comment.

Today he works on Space, and dreams of starting a startup

When I interview him, he is on vacation in Abruzzo with his family. Will you return to Italy? “In Italy there is a lack of strong investments in entrepreneurial activities and that culture that pushes you to take risks. Sometimes it is cowardly to go abroad and maybe I am too. For now I will experience, but maybe one day I’ll be back “.

He defines himself as a 30-year-old boy like many others. Guitar, surf, ski. He lives with a girl who works on LinkedIn, did the San Francisco marathon, travels, will go to Burning Man. In his spare time he is also an Angel investor (“There are a lot of unresolved problems, you have to focus on boring things that create value”). And to the innovators he says: “Don’t tweet too much. I don’t trust whoever does it: it means being full of oneself and not very focused on what you are doing “.

If you ask him what made a difference in his life, he tells you: “At 13 my parents taught me to study. Don’t do it for others, do it for yourself. At 15 I crashed my father’s lessons: he explained and smiled. I saw the passion and dreamed of one day doing a job smiling. At 18 they told me Go, grow independent. I have had many experiences, lived, traveled. I am the last of the idiots, but I have remained faithful to the advice of my grandfather, who has me grown up with the logic of respecting the rules: You can cut a lot of corners by being smart, but you’ll only be fooling yourself, he always told me. So, sometimes I think of the millions of features made by competitors: they work, we could have copied them. But would we ever change a little piece of our world? “.

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