Why Your Twitter Feed Is Suddenly Full of People You Don’t Follow
In this photo illustration the Twitter logo is seen displayed on a smartphone with the TikTok logo in the background. Credit - Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
If you’ve signed into Twitter in the last month or so, you may have noticed that your newsfeed feels a little different.
You’re probably seeing lots more tweets from accounts you don’t follow. Some of those might be tweets that people in your network have “liked.” Others might be those Twitter says are “based on your likes.” What you’re probably seeing far fewer of are tweets from accounts that you, you know, actually chose to follow yourself.
This is Twitter’s new “For You” page, a name lifted from TikTok, which signifies the same thing it does on the short form video app: a feed of posts that some opaque algorithm, somewhere, decides you might enjoy.
It is possible to toggle back onto a newsfeed that predominantly shows accounts you follow, but this feed is reverse chronological, meaning it shows you the newest tweets first. Twitter’s old default, showing you tweets from accounts you follow with a bias for the ones dominating the conversation in your network that day, is nowhere to be seen. (While that algorithm would occasionally surface new tweets it thought you may like, these were fewer and further between than Twitter’s new For You page.)
Three months into Elon Musk’s ownership of Twitter, the platform appears to be experimenting with new ways to boost user numbers and engagement. In a pitch last year to investors who funded his acquisition, Musk reportedly promised to increase Twitter’s revenue five-fold. But on the surface, with an exodus of advertisers and a lackluster subscription offering, Twitter’s financial situation appears little better than it was before Musk’s acquisition of the company. A change to Twitter’s fundamental newsfeed algorithm might be Musk’s latest roll of the dice. The short-form video app TikTok’s recommendation algorithm is famous for its addictive properties; if Twitter can do the same for tweets, it would mean more eyeballs on ads and more dollars in the bank.
The addition of the For You page marks perhaps the most significant change to Twitter’s platform dynamic in years. It’s already having an impact on how users interact with the platform, and with each other. And in classic Twitter fashion, the For You page has birthed a new breed of Twitter celebrity, too: the menswear guy.
Starting around ten days ago, this California-based fashion writer (whose real name, coincidentally, is Derek Guy,) began appearing in the feeds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Twitter users. He runs a moderately successful Twitter account on which he tweets about—you guessed it—men’s fashion. He has opinions about the proper tailoring of suit jackets, he’ll write threads with useful tips like how to shrink an oversized sweater, and sometimes he’ll make jokes about celebrities’ sartorial choices.
Guy’s account is harmless and good-natured. But it’s not what many users signed up for. “Why is Twitter so determined to make me follow the menswear guy?” one user wrote, in a tweet last week that has been viewed over 1 million times.
In an interview, Guy told TIME he appreciated the newfound exposure, (his account has gained around 20,000 followers in the last couple of weeks,) but said he was slightly uncomfortable with the way it had come about. “That makes me feel weird,” he said of the viral tweet complaining about his account. “I’m not doing anything to push myself onto people’s timelines, and I don’t mean to annoy anybody. I’m just tweeting like everybody else.”
Previously, users would become Twitter-famous for committing some terrible crime like drinking coffee outside every morning, their tweet(s) prompting a cycle of discourse where some critics pelted them with abuse, other users sprang to their defense, and still others sh-tposted about the whole thing. That dynamic was never healthy. But Twitter’s new formula for virality might be eroding the platform’s core appeal, according to some critics. “It’s increasingly difficult to use Twitter to find out what’s going on,” wrote Max Tani, a media reporter at the news outlet Semafor, in a tweet. “The ‘following’ tab is something boring someone just tweeted, the ‘for you’ tab is some prompt tweet, a screenshot of a viral TikTok, or multiple tweets from the menswear guy. Not good!”