External programmers can now search for bugs or suggest improvements. Twitter places great hope in the “collective intelligence” of its users.
Twitter has largely made the algorithms used by software to select tweets for individual users public. The aim is to create “trust through transparency”, said Twitter owner Elon Musk in an online question and answer session on Saturday night. He thinks that users should not trust any software algorithm on a platform that is not comprehensible.
With Twitter, users can view tweets either in chronological order or selected by software. In the latter case, tweets from profiles that are not actually followed can also be selected in the “For you” area. These recommendations take into account, among other things, which posts most recently aroused the interest of a user.
When evaluating the software code of the algorithms, experts quickly discovered that a separate category was provided for Musk tweets. When asked about this during the question and answer session, Musk called it “strange” and assured that he did not know about it.
Own “Elon” category
A Twitter software developer said the “Elon” category only exists for statistical purposes and that there is “no preferential treatment in the algorithm”. According to the software code, another category in this area is whether a user is a Democrat or a Republican in the American party system. With the evaluation of such information, one wants to ensure that no groups are preferred or disadvantaged when changes are made to the software, said the Twitter developer. Musk announced that the categories would be removed quickly.
The emergence of the Musk category is the first evidence that Twitter is at least statistically tracking how well its owner’s tweets are performing. In mid-February, a report that Twitter temporarily increased the reach of Musk’s tweets also called supervisors in Germany into action. The Bavarian State Center for New Media (BLM) announced that it was investigating whether such manipulation had been observed on Twitter in Germany. There has been no information on the course of the investigation since then.
At the time, users noticed that among the contributions selected by the software in the “For you” area, there were suddenly a large number of tweet replies from Musk. The industry blog “Platformer” reported, citing Twitter employees, that developers of the online service had previously been asked to drastically increase the reach of Musk’s posts. The trigger was Musk’s annoyance that his tweet about the Super Bowl football final was displayed much less frequently than that of US President Joe Biden. At the time, Musk denied that there was a deliberate increase in range. It was just a software error that made the answers weighted the same as tweets.
What does “open source” mean?
Open source is a software development philosophy in which the source code of programs is made publicly available. Among other things, this should increase trust in the software and make it easier to find errors. The best-known representative of this approach is the Linux operating system, which also forms the basis for Google’s Android mobile operating system. Professionals and hobby programmers all over the world work together on the code. Microsoft, for example, is pursuing a closed-source approach with Windows. The source code is kept strictly under lock and key and only made accessible to the company’s own developers. Microsoft acquired Github for $7.5 billion in 2018.