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How Do Twitter Trends Work?

December 23, 2020 • Shannon Flynn

If you’ve spent much time on Twitter, you’ve come across your fair share of trends. When you open the Explore tab, you’ll see a long list of trending topics you can check out. Have you ever stopped to wonder how these Twitter trends work, though?

If a topic is trending, then that means people are talking about it, but when does Twitter decide to highlight it? There has to be some sort of process or standard for these subjects to appear on the Explore tab. If you’ve ever thought about this, you’re not alone, so here’s a brief explanation about how this feature works.

How Twitter Determines Trends

As you’ve probably assumed, Twitter doesn’t have employees reading through tweets to see what’s trending. Instead, they use an algorithm to find popular topics and highlight them on the Explore page. Just because a lot of people talk about something doesn’t mean the algorithm will select it, though.

Twitter’s algorithm doesn’t just look at the volume of tweets, but the time frame they appear in as well. Some topics may generate a lot of tweets over a long period, but Twitter is more interested in popularity spikes. To make it on the trending page, something needs a lot of tweets over a short time.

This system goes a step further, too, tailoring results to each user. Twitter looks at things like who you follow and where you are to determine what topics might appeal most to you. As a result, what you see on the Explore tab won’t be the same as what someone else sees.

Other Factors in Twitter Trends

Not everything that meets the volume and time requirements will end up on the trending tab. Sometimes, the algorithm will stop something from trending, like if it violates Twitter rules or contains profane language. On the flipside, Twitter may keep something on the trending page for longer if it’s especially newsworthy or important.

Interestingly, the trending algorithm doesn’t account for spelling errors, mistaking misspelled words for a different subject. In 2015, #SanBernadino trended on Twitter, even though the city in question is actually spelled San Bernardino. In some places, the shooting didn’t trend because the two spellings split the tweet volume.

How to Hide and Mute Trends

Just as Twitter tailors trends to fit your interests, you can edit what it does and doesn’t show you. Under your Explore settings, you turn the option to show trends based on your location on or off. If it’s on, you can also select any city to see what’s trending in a specific area.

If you want to hide a trend you see, first tap the little arrow in the top-right of that listing. You’ll then see a list of reasons why you might want to block that trend. Select whichever option best applies, and you won’t see that topic in your trending page anymore.

You can also mute words and hashtags like you would with an account you don’t want to see. Under Settings, go to Content Preferences and then to Muted. There, you can type in any words or hashtags you don’t want to see anymore, but remember that spelling counts.

Get What You Want Out of Twitter

The internet can seem like a chaotic place, but there’s a lot of thought behind what you see. Twitter trends are just one example of how websites use algorithms to personalize user experiences. What seems relatively straightforward is the result of some fairly complex behind-the-scenes work.

When you understand how these things work, you can take more control over them. Edit trends as you want to get the experience you desire from Twitter.

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