Twitter Moments: where context goes to die even more

Two articles recounting politicians not telling the truth caught my eye Tuesday morning. That would have made it another day ending in “y,” except that the story each candidate sold didn’t make them look that much better or worse than the reality documented in contemporary records–why stick to the unsupportable story?

So I tweeted that thought and linked to these pieces about Democratic senatorial candidates: a report by the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin on how Rep. Kyrsten Sinema’s (D.-Ariz.) tales of childhood homelessness didn’t square with her family’s utility bills from those years of grinding poverty, and a fact-check by the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler ruling out a debate claim by Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D.-Tex.) that he did not try to flee a 1998 DWI arrest that he has otherwise owned up to as inexcusable.

Four hours later, Twitter’s app notified me that this tweet had been added to a Moment–a curated collection of tweets on a topic that can show up in the timelines of people who don’t follow you. You can’t opt out of this publicity without blocking the account that created the Moment, which seems impossible if Twitter’s editors were behind it.

Then my notifications started getting a little weird.

I got a bunch of retweets and likes from people who had stuck #MAGA hashtags in their bios (as in, the acronym for President Trump’s favorite slogan) or added a red X to their name (a protest against Twitter “shadow-banning” right-wing voices, an allegation that has yet to survive independent scrutiny). Maybe they thought they’d found a kindred spirit; if so, they could not possibly have looked at my other recent political tweets.

But I also received shout-outs from a few people with Resistance hashtags or blue-wave emojis conveying their outrage at Trump’s GOP. They might have approved of my overall output on Twitter, but they could not possibly have read the reports I shared in that tweet–maybe they thought I was talking about Trump or his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh?

This kind of context asphyxiation can happen any time on Twitter, but a Moment’s ability to catapult a tweet far out of your normal audience and its usual context magnifies the odds enormously. I got a sense of that from watching Helen Rosner’s XOXO talk three weeks ago, but now I understand this from firsthand experience. Thanks, I guess?

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Weekly output: mobile news apps

SAN FRANCISCO–For whatever reason, this weekend’s USA Today column didn’t post, leaving me with an embarrassing total of one story to my name for the week. Meanwhile, I find myself once again at my favorite West Coast travel destination, the reason this time being that I’m moderating a panel on a post-cable future of video content at the telecom trade group Comptel’s conference. (The organizers are covering my airfare and two night’s lodging; my regular editors said that was okay.)

Yahoo Tech mobile-news post10/13/2015: Mobile News Apps Offer More Convenience But Less Choice, Yahoo Tech

This column is the latest in an on-and-off series of stories I’ve written about a post-print future of news–see, for instance, my recent Yahoo post about ad blocking, or this 2011 Post column about Apple demanding 30 percent of news apps’ subscription revenue. I’m generally happy with how this column turned out but not my treatment of Twitter’s Moments feature; for a more thought-out take on it, I’ll point you to Mark Glaser’s post at Digital Content Next.