Users should now be able to better understand the criteria according to which tweets are selected. Meanwhile, Elon Musk has to ask himself uncomfortable questions.

Twitter has largely made public the algorithms that software uses to select tweets for individual users. 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.

On 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.

Elon Musk knew nothing of his own favoritism

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.

A Twitter software engineer 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 make sure 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 at least statistically records how well its owner’s tweets perform. In mid-February, a report that Twitter had temporarily increased the reach of Musk’s tweets also prompted supervisors in Germany to take action. The Bavarian State Center for New Media (BLM) announced that it was investigating whether such manipulation could have been observed on Twitter in Germany. Since then, there has been no information on the course of the investigation.

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”, citing Twitter employees, reported 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.