Twitter's trending section is an extra hellish minefield during the pandemic

Twitter's trending topics really aren't great during the COVID pandemic. Image: Mashable / Vicky leta By Tim Marcin2020-05-24 19:00:00 UTC Even on its best day, Twitter's trending section wasn't exactly a stellar feature.  Seemingly dropped...

Twitter's trending section is an extra hellish minefield during the pandemic
Twitter's trending topics really aren't great during the COVID pandemic.
Twitter's trending topics really aren't great during the COVID pandemic.
Image: Mashable / Vicky leta

Even on its best day, Twitter's trending section wasn't exactly a stellar feature. 

Seemingly dropped from an unfeeling algorithm in the sky, the tab has nearly always been filled with out-of-context names, random nonsense-phrases from the president, and — oh yeah — some lovely disinformation

But in the age of coronavirus, holy hell is it bad. Like bad bad. 

Every day, it's a new name entirely divorced from context. In a panic, you rush to see: Did they die!? Do they have the virus!?

Sometimes, you're rewarded with a phew. Other times, not so much. 

The other day Lizzo and Dave Grohl were both trending and I was like no way and yes, luckily, no way. But a couple of days ago it was Fred Willard and SHIT, NO, NO

Even as I wrote this, the retired basketball player Jermaine O'Neal trended and I wondered... did... did he get COVID? (No, it was the anniversary of an infamous NBA fight.) 

Remember the last bit of good news? I mean, truly good news and not... hey... maybe we'll have a vaccine... some... day. 

Yeah, me neither. 

The 'Jersey Shore' star didn't have coronavirus. People were just thirsting over a selfie.

The 'Jersey Shore' star didn't have coronavirus. People were just thirsting over a selfie.

Image: Tim Marcin / Mashable / Twitter

And maybe that's why Twitter's trending section seems especially hellish lately. All its worst features are amplified — it is the exact wrong tool for the moment. 

Trending topics functions via an algorithm, which selects popular words, names, phrases — whatever — from the firehose of news and plops it down in front of you. When you assume the vast majority of the blast from that hose is gonna be shitty — as in, our only news is bad news — then damn if trending isn't just a panic attack waiting to happen. 

I don't need a snippet of President Trump's latest press conference. But, at the very least, it would be nice to know why I'm seeing it without clicking into a flood of tweets that I then have to parse through. I don't need to see a beloved figure's name, looming and alone, and then have to click around to figure out what he hell is up. 

I thought the guitarist from The Who had died or had COVID. It was his birthday.

I thought the guitarist from The Who had died or had COVID. It was his birthday.

Image: Mashable / Tim Marcin / Twitter

COVID

I know this feels like a petty complaint. It is! And, to be fair, Twitter did add a tab for following COVID-19 news inside of trending topics, which I guess is nice for folks not tied to the news like yours truly. 

Trending was never great to begin with. It's never really given you a good picture of what's going on online that day. You couldn't even call it a snapshot. It's like staring through the backend of keyhole: it's a fuzzy, distorted image of what's happening. 

The trending section is easily flooded by things no one actually cares about — internet flotsam — or only tells one or two words of an important story. Every story is pretty damn important these days. Trending topics isn't helping.

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