Twitter introduces personalized news alerts ahead of the World Cup

Platforms that held news outlets at arm's length are starting to exercise more editorial control through a combination of human editors and algorithms.
by Alyssa Newcomb /  / Updated 
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Twitter is introducing new features to curate and personalize its platform.Kacper Pempel / Reuters file

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Twitter is embracing its role as a news platform with a slate of product updates that will personalize the stories users see.

Twitter announced on Wednesday that users will soon begin to see personalized breaking news notifications at the top of their timelines, along with tweets and video that add more context to events. The feature provides a way for users to see the best tweets on breaking news events without having to follow hashtags or search for relevant users.

Twitter will also bring personalization to the breaking news alerts it sends to users.

“This is a long-term strategy for us to make Twitter easier to use and to see what is happening,” Keith Coleman, vice president of product at Twitter, said. “This is the first of many experiments and changes in this direction.”

Users can expect to start seeing the news alerts around events at the World Cup, which starts on Thursday.

Coleman said that Twitter wants to make it easier for people to follow along as an event unfolds —whether it’s an episode of "The Bachelorette," the North Korea summit or a volcanic eruption.

“There is awesome stuff out there, so the reality is it is hard to get the best of it,” Coleman said.

In the past few years, news and social media platforms have become inextricably linked. A Pew Research Center study from 2017 found that two-thirds of Americans get news from social media platforms.

Those platforms were keen to host content but held news organizations at arm’s length in an effort to remain impartial about what users consumed. But after the recent controversies over the spread of fake news, most companies have grown more comfortable taking on some editorial responsibility, usually through a combination of algorithms and a human touch — which is what Twitter will be using for its breaking news feature.

Twitter’s step to further embrace news, including deciding what deserves to be featured as an important and relevant story, comes the same month that Facebook killed its trending section but announced that it is funding original news programs for its Watch video platform. Facebook also turned heads with recent job posts for “news credibility specialists” and a survey asking users to identify trusted news outlets.

Twitter will also begin experimenting with sending personalized breaking news alerts, though users can opt out. Facebook has also been experimenting with how it handles breaking news.

If Twitter’s latest embrace of news is successful, it will drive more user engagement, which can mean more revenue. The company has struggled since going public but turned its first profit in February, and its stock is up 155 percent from a year ago.

Twitter’s Moments, which feature a curated selection of tweets around particular topics and events, will also receive a redesign. Instead of swiping through a moment, users will now be able to vertically scroll.

Joanna Geary, director of curation, said Twitter’s team has “been learning a lot from our own platform and from our own users since we launched Moments in 2015” and has confidence in the mix of human decisions and the algorithm.

“We want to make sure you are getting the things that matter to you,” she said. “It is not a simple case of the curators deciding what you see.”

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