Effects of Algorithmic Trend Promotion: Evidence from Coordinated Campaigns in Twitter's Trending Topics

Authors Jospeh Schlessing, Kiran Garimella, Maurice Jakesch, and Dean Eckles
Venue Proceedings of the AAAI ICWSM, 2023

In addition to more personalized content feeds, some leading social media platforms give a prominent role to content that is more widely popular. On Twitter, trending topics identify popular topics of conversation on the platform, thereby promoting popular content which users might not have otherwise seen through their network. Hence, trending topics potentially play important roles in influencing the topics users engage with on a particular day. Using two carefully constructed data sets from India and Turkey, we study the effects of a hashtag appearing on the trending topics page on the number of tweets produced with that hashtag. We specifically aim to answer the question: How many new tweets are generated \textit{because} a hashtag is labeled as trending? We separate the effects of the trending topics page from network exposure and find there is a statistically significant, but modest, return to a hashtag being featured on trending topics. Analysis of the types of users impacted by trending topics shows that the feature helps less popular and new users to discover and spread content outside their network, which they otherwise might not have been able to do.