Alexandra Petri / Don't mess with my Twitter feed

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If a chicken somewhere ever became convinced that the sky was falling, we would hear about it on Twitter first.

On Twitter, news spreads like wildfire, unfiltered, from the ground up. In fact, sometimes impatient wildfires get on Twitter to speed the process along.

This is one of the advantages the social media network offers. So it is no wonder that a report last week in The Wall Street Journal with Twitter's chief financial officer sent the entire bloc of Twitter-crazed-power-users (not a great band name) into a panic. We summoned up Henny Penny and Cocky Locky and the whole unfortunately rhyme-named gang and went marching off to see the king.

But, as someone wise once said, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you."

It may be that Twitter is not on a path to changing for the worse. But it certainly sounds that way.

The essence of Twitter is that you get to curate your own feed: You follow those who interest you, you read what they tweet and retweet, and you see what they favorite. For everything else, there are "trending topics." You hear about things from people, not algorithms: A story makes its way into your feed because your friends or colleagues or favored Internet strangers found it interesting and decided to pass it along.

Facebook is not like this. What you see there, by default, gets tweaked and altered by algorithms that decide what you would Like and Engage with. This became particularly apparent during the events in Ferguson, Mo., when Twitter overflowed with news, and Facebook kept rambling on about the Ice Bucket Challenge.

The recent Wall Street Journal interview was worrisome in several ways.

As the Journal noted, "Twitter's timeline is organized in reverse chronological order, a delivery system that has not changed since the product was created eight years ago and one that some early adopters consider sacred to the core Twitter experience. But this 'isn't the most relevant experience for a user,'" CFO Anthony Noto said."

True, the reverse chronological timeline may not be "the most relevant experience for a user," but this democratic organization of content, centered around people, not algorithms, is crucial.

I hate it when my online feeds try to show me content that is "relevant to me." I don't want content that I already know is relevant to me. I want the things I don't already know I want - the kind of mouth-to-mouth information that Twitter is known for. Filtered feeds that cut through the "noise"? The value of Twitter is that it doesn't filter.

We're used to this sort of thing from Facebook - changing everything we knew and loved, willy-nilly, with little notice, or altering our feeds for Sinister Social Experiments. We are, after all, not the consumer. We're the product.

And that's true of Twitter, too. We'd just forgotten.

Alexandra Petri writes for The Washington Post.

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