Tech by VICE

How to Take Your Twitter Feed Back From the Algorithm

A reminder for the new year: You can use these muted strings to force Twitter to be better.

by Samantha Cole
Jan 3 2020, 1:00pm

Image via Flickr user Andreas Eldh

Twitter's algorithmic feed has been loathed and derided by users since it started in 2018. For years, the platform worked like a simple RSS feed, showing users content posted by people they follow in reverse-chronological order. You could scroll for a bit, get caught up, then stop.

Twitter, like every other social media platform, moved primarily to an algorithmic feed that tries to guess what users want to see. This means it’s organized to keep us on the platform, running our eyeballs over advertisements and engaging with people who are inevitably The Worst instead of usefully keeping things in order. Ironically, the "show best tweets first" function first launched in 2018 never fails to show me trash, in an incomprehensible order. I keep it turned off, but various other algorithms running behind the scenes still show me bad tweets people I follow liked, or clumps of hashtags and keyworded Moments.

I've previously mentioned my struggle to wrangle my social media feeds to a bearable din. My mute list is a living document containing hundreds(!) of people against whom I hold no personal grudge but either tweet too much or retweet dumb shit into my feed too often. Over the holidays this year, I tried to limit opening the Twitter app to only once every few days (as opposed to every 90 seconds, compulsively) and found that only the worst people online were logged on, tweeting about nothing to no one. It was a convenient way to grow my mute list.

Aside from those people I still follow out of politeness but don't care to see, I also mute keywords and hashtags (including #TheBachelor, "covfefe," and "feral hogs"). But I recently learned that the way I'm using the mute function on Twitter is incredibly un-galaxy-brain of me. Maybe it's not the people or topics who end up floating into my feed, but the algorithms that put them there that need muting.

By adding a few strings—little bits of code used by Twitter to tag types of tweets—to your muted keywords list, you can change the way the Twitter algorithm sends content to your feed.

While logged in to Twitter, go to Settings > Notifications > Muted > Muted words, and add the strings below.

  • suggest_activity_tweet: Stops the platform from feeding you tweets you might like
  • suggest_recycled_tweet_inline: Stops repeated tweets from appearing over and over
  • suggest_pyle_tweet: Stops serving tweets because mutuals engaged with them
  • suggest_grouped_tweet_hashtag: Stops tweets associated with popular hashtags from appearing randomly in your timeline
  • suggest_who_to_follow: Self-explanatory
  • generic-activity-momentsbreaking: Keep tweets served simply because they're part of a Moment out of your feed

There are more strings in these Pastebin lists.

This hack has been an open secret for years. Designer Jeff Green compiled his own list of mute-strings sourced from various other people into a Github repository last fall. Programmer Nicolás Bevacqua suggested it in 2018. As another person stumbles upon this workaround, they share it, and more people experience the joy of brute-forcing a billion-dollar platform used by millions every day into being less terrible. I personally stumbled into it because Andrew Parsons tweeted it on Thursday. I'm sharing now in hopes that if we can't log off in 2020, maybe we can take back some control, and twist the algorithm into making our feeds a little less draining.