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Why is Twitter mysteriously linking the word ‘People’ to The New York Times?

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Photo by Michele Doying / The Verge

If you’re on Twitter, here’s an experiment: type “Enemy of the People” in a tweet through Twitter’s web client, then see if it automatically suggests an account for you to tag. For a lot of (if not all) users, this currently brings up The New York Times’ Twitter handle. At first glance, it looks like a pretty weird attack on the Times — and it’s something a number of journalists and other users have noticed this afternoon.

It’s not illogical to think that Twitter’s algorithm has drawn a disquieting link between one of President Donald Trump’s favorite phrases and one of the targets that he most frequently flings it at. But the real issue is apparently less damning and more confusing: Twitter seems to suggest the Times for just about any phrase that ends with the capitalized word “People.”

Twitter, New York Times: Enemy of the People
Twitter, New York Times: Friend of the People

In Twitter’s world, The New York Times is the Enemy of the People. It’s also the Friend of the People. And if you mention the bands Foster the People or the Village People, Twitter is pretty sure you really want to tweet about the Gray Lady.

The New York Times Twitter: Foster The People
The New York Times Twitter The Village People

We’re not sure what precise link Twitter is drawing between @NYTimes and “People.” Its autosuggest system is generally a bit opaque, and this could be either an outright bug or an oblique association based on something in the Times profile. (To make things even more confusing, Twitter also apparently links the Times to the word “Sanders.”) We’ve reached out to Twitter for more details — but for now, it’s just one of the inscrutable mysteries of the algorithm.

Update 7:15PM ET: Twitter confirmed in a statement to The Verge that the “People” connection is some sort of glitch. “This is a bug in our search typeahead system limited to desktop that we are working to fix,” a spokesperson said. “The issue is that for some search queries, the word ‘People’ is linked to ‘@NYTimes.’” So while we still don’t really know why the search system is working this way, we do know that it’s supposed to be working differently.