In conversations with unrelated groups of friends, the topic of trending news items continues to crop up, often followed by the statement: “I intentionally do not click on things that are trending because I don’t want to contribute to the circus.” One might even say the topic of trending is #trending … if one wanted to get mocked IRL.

Is this an accurate perception? Is something trending because it’s #trending or is it trending because it is information that we want to see?’ Well, yes, no and it depends.

Regardless of site, trending topics are determined by algorithms. So, what you see as trending depends on how the developers have written the algorithm. For some, just clicking on the link does register as engagement which will reinforce the claim that the topic is trending, but, without exception, that’s not the only criteria used. Other criteria may include weighted segments of: identified individual preferences, individual demographics, macro-demographic preferences, popularity of search terms with various engines and an individual’s data and search history. Seriously.

Facebook, for example, bases its trending on pages you’ve liked, timeliness and engagement. Twitter’s trends, on the other hand, are determined by your location, combined frequency and interpretation of engagement with a hashtag – among other things.

As you can imagine, a lot is made out of this, from accusations of ‘manufacturing consent’ to the very real fact that there’s a huge amount of money to be made. Twitter has often been on the receiving end of accusations of censoring possible trends and deleting accounts. However, it is important to note that Twitter has refused requests to shut down its service or moderate its content.

So go ahead and click on the link to Kiki’s Kavalcade of Kittens, Big Brother Business already knows you want to …

 

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