End Trends warzel.substack.com

Charlie Warzel, in the first edition of his new newsletter Galaxy Brain:

The entire phenomenon of “Twitter’s Main Character” functions as a master class in context collapse. Many Very Online Users approach this daily ritual as something between high school cafeteria gossip time and one of those Rage Rooms where you pay money to break things with a hammer. But what’s really happening is thousands of strong individual online identities colliding against each other. In Hunt’s case, it was horror and sci-fi fans and film buffs who felt it was important to weigh in as a way to maintain their particular identities.


Twitter’s Trending Topics only seem only to exacerbate the site’s worst tendencies, often by highlighting the day’s (frequently trollish or bigoted) main character and increasing the opportunities for context collapse. And of course, none of this is new. For years, Twitter let Trending Topics devolve into a cesspool of misinformation. Conspiracy theorists and trolls have hijacked hashtags and manipulated trending topics to sow confusion and inject dangerous ideas into mainstream discourse.

You cannot escape the cloud of radioactive waste emanating from Twitter’s trending list even if you try. For one, the structure of Twitter’s website makes it difficult to hide the list of trends.1 It is far easier, not to mention much nicer, to use a Twitter client like Tweetbot or Twitterrific, where the list of trending topics is buried in some part of the app you never have to touch.

But everybody else is seeing those trends and piling on. Most people use Twitter through its website or official apps, all of which push trending topics to the foreground, so they all get a full menu of today’s main characters from which they can choose which outrage to weigh in on. You know those rules of thumb about breaking news stories? Trending topics on Twitter are like the pure concentrated version of what happens when those rules are ignored.

  1. I had some luck by adding div[data-testid="sidebarColumn"] section[aria-labelledby^="accessible-list"] div[role="link"] { display: none !important; } to my Safari.css file, but it seems fragile and likely to break. Nothing in Twitter’s website is named semantically. The markup looks like it was written by people who do not care. I bet they do, though, and have no say in how this thing is built. ↥︎