In the buzzy early days of live audio app Clubhouse, Twitter launched its competitor called “Spaces.” Starting November 2020, users with at least 600 followers could broadcast their benign conversations about crypto, or Ricky Martin, or unicorns to anyone who wanted to stop in and listen. Twitter then expanded access to everyone, regardless of follower count, almost a year later in October 2021.
Twitter’s been committed to making Spaces a thing. They’re at the top of your feed, hovering like guardian angels, and the platform seeks to induce FOMO by showing you if people you follow are in a Space, nudging you with notifications that other people are broadcasting.
If there’s one thing that people on social media are good at, it’s exploiting features to boost engagement. Instagram meme pages, for example, are posting their static photos as one-second videos to take advantage of Meta’s push toward video content. Over the weekend, a similar phenomenon surfaced on Twitter.
In a weird Space right now — Starting around Saturday morning, my Twitter feed was inundated with viral posts that all had one thing in common: a Spaces link, mostly to this room which has since ended. The actual audio in the Space (at least during the few minutes that I was listening) wasn’t particularly entertaining or valuable. When I dropped in, there were a few hundred accounts listening to Hindi speakers promote their accounts and I asked my Hindi-speaking friend, Akash Ghosal, to translate some of the conversation. It turned out to be uninspiring, promotional drivel:
“I hope you get all the followers you want,” said one speaker. “Hello all, please follow me. Today is my 25th birthday. Please follow me and I will follow back,” said another. “God is good. Happy birthday and may you get all the followers you want.”
Another Twitter Space that was showing up in tweets was titled “24/7 Russia War on Ukraine #ConspiracyTheories n MORE | FOLLOW HOSTs” and while I didn’t catch the content that was airing, the title is concerning, to say the least.
People started noticing that weird Spaces links were dominating Twitter and hopping on the bandwagon.
Get in losers, we’re algorithm boosting — Pretty soon, Twitter users who were unaffiliated with whatever coordinated follow-grab scheme was happening started using the link in hopes of going viral. A user who goes by the name @dox_gay told me via direct messages that they decided to put the link in their tweet after seeing it on viral memes. “I was not involved or paid by anyone in that Space. I just figured out that if you post any Spaces link with a high number of listeners, the algorithm will prioritize that tweet to the top of peoples’ feeds.” After testing the theory, their tweet got over 200,000 likes.
Ryan Broderick, in his newsletter Garbage Day, writes that many of the accounts promoting this trick are now suspended, but many others are still up. At the time of writing, searching Twitter with the Spaces link will reveal a slew of massively viral tweets.
We reached out to Twitter for comment and will update accordingly.
It appears that whatever loophole people were exploiting on Saturday and Sunday to gain Twitter virality has closed. Still, the escapade shows how quickly users learn to hijack the algorithm for personal gain. I can’t imagine that Twitter wanted to algorithmically boost a conversation about follower-growth hacks or war conspiracies, but it appears that an algorithm tweak to boost Spaces did just that.