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Here’s why people on Twitter are seeing news alerts that they didn’t ask for

Twitter’s news alerts aren’t new, but they’re expanding.

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The government shutdown is ending, and I learned about it thanks to Twitter.

Not because I read about it on my Twitter timeline, which is how I usually learn stuff from Twitter. But because Twitter, the company, decided that news about the government shutdown was worthy of pushing to the home screen on my phone. It also sent the news, as a notification, to my mentions tab inside the Twitter app.

So Twitter is pushing important news alerts to users, similar to how a news publication like The New York Times (or even Recode!) might do. These alerts aren’t new — apparently Twitter started testing them a little over a year ago. But Monday’s government-shutdown push was the first one I noticed, and the first noticed by my colleague Peter Kafka, who tells me he’s on Twitter “pretty much all of the time I am awake, sadly.” So it stood out.

We may have been on to something — a Twitter spokesperson says that while, yes, these alerts have been around for a while, the company recently increased the group of users who may see them. So if you’re noticing it today, like us, that might be why.

These alerts are personalized, which means you won’t necessarily get the same news push that other users get. The company is using a mix of algorithms and humans to decide who gets what, a spokesperson added. In either instance, the alert should take you to a Twitter Moment — a collection of tweets into one, themed thread — which are compiled by humans on Twitter’s curation team.

It’s obvious to understand why Twitter is using these notifications: It wants to drive user engagement in the same way any other publisher wants to drive readers to a big story.

“Breaking news notifications allow people to be notified of relevant news stories as they are unfolding, so they can follow along in real-time with what’s happening,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.

New or not, it’s an interesting feature, because sending push notifications about news requires the same kind of editorial judgement that news publishers face. And while Twitter is much more open than, say, Facebook to the idea of using human editors to recommend content (see: Twitter Moments), the company still operates primarily as a media platform populated by others’ content, not a full-fledged media company creating and pushing its own.

Twitter is clearly blurring that line.

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