Even on its best day, Twitter’s trending section wasn’t exactly a stellar feature.
Seemingly dropped from an unfeeling algorithm in the sky, the tab has nearly always been filled with out-of-context names, random nonsense-phrases from the president, and — oh yeah — some lovely disinformation.
But in the age of coronavirus, holy hell is it bad. Like bad bad.
Every day, it’s a new name entirely divorced from context. In a panic, you rush to see: Did they die!? Do they have the virus!?
Sometimes, you’re rewarded with a phew. Other times, not so much.
The other day Lizzo and Dave Grohl were both trending and I was like no way and yes, luckily, no way. But a couple of days ago it was Fred Willard and SHIT, NO, NO.
Even as I wrote this, the retired basketball player Jermaine O’Neal trended and I wondered… did… did he get COVID? (No, it was the anniversary of an infamous NBA fight.)
Remember the last bit of good news? I mean, truly good news and not… hey… maybe we’ll have a vaccine… some… day.
Yeah, me neither.
And maybe that’s why Twitter’s trending section seems especially hellish lately. All its worst features are amplified — it is the exact wrong tool for the moment.
Trending topics functions via an algorithm, which selects popular words, names, phrases — whatever — from the firehose of news and plops it down in front of you. When you assume the vast majority of the blast from that hose is gonna be shitty — as in, our only news is bad news — then damn if trending isn’t just a panic attack waiting to happen.
we need a separate “this person didn’t die” trending section
— ☕netw3rk (@netw3rk) May 11, 2020
I don’t need a snippet of President Trump’s latest press conference. But, at the very least, it would be nice to know why I’m seeing it without clicking into a flood of tweets that I then have to parse through. I don’t need to see a beloved figure’s name, looming and alone, and then have to click around to figure out what he hell is up.
I know this feels like a petty complaint. It is! And, to be fair, Twitter did add a tab for following COVID-19 news inside of trending topics, which I guess is nice for folks not tied to the news like yours truly.
Trending was never great to begin with. It’s never really given you a good picture of what’s going on online that day. You couldn’t even call it a snapshot. It’s like staring through the backend of keyhole: it’s a fuzzy, distorted image of what’s happening.
The trending section is easily flooded by things no one actually cares about — internet flotsam — or only tells one or two words of an important story. Every story is pretty damn important these days. Trending topics isn’t helping.