After the reported suicide of Jeffrey Epstein, the public took to Twitter to express their disbelief in the news. Two hashtags emerged from the conspiracy theories that say one of two Presidents had Epstein murdered to protect themselves. The first was #ClintonBodyCount which broadly referenced the idea that the Clintons have been personally associated with several people who have died under seemingly mysterious circumstances. The second was #TrumpsBodyCount, presumably linking Epstein’s suicide to the idea that the President’s rhetoric, immigration stance, and lack of action in Puerto Rico has led to the deaths of “hundreds” of people.
It appears that Twitter’s “trending topics” bear little or no resemblance to reality, numbers, or anything that is recognizable to the general public. Yesterday, actress and political commentator, Mindy Robinson tweeted out a side by side comparison of trending hashtags that appeared to show that the company was actively replacing one hashtag in favor of another.
The media bias is UNREAL at this point. pic.twitter.com/38QBO7HBIB
— Mindy Robinson 🇺🇸 (@iheartmindy) August 10, 2019
The Gateway Pundit was the first news outlet to report on the removal of #ClintonBodyCount from Twitter’s trending hashtags. Twitter claims, without giving specifics, that “The number of Tweets that are related to the trends is just one of the factors the algorithm looks at when ranking and determining trends.” The company also elaborates on how trends are determined by saying,
Trends are determined by an algorithm and, by default, are tailored for you based on who you follow, your interests, and your location. This algorithm identifies topics that are popular now, rather than topics that have been popular for a while or on a daily basis, to help you discover the hottest emerging topics of discussion on Twitter.
Note: The number of Tweets that are related to the trends is just one of the factors the algorithm looks at when ranking and determining trends. Algorithmically, trends and hashtags are grouped together if they are related to the same topic. For instance, #MondayMotivation and #MotivationMonday may both be represented by #MondayMotivation
Twitter also claims that there are certain rules for trending tweets, explaining that the company “want(s) trends to promote healthy discussions on Twitter. This means that at times, we may prevent certain content from trending.” According to the company’s own definitions, both of the hashtags should have been simultaneously trending, as they did not violate—or both violated—three criteria that Twitter lays out as grounds for removing a trending hashtag. Those criteria are:
- The trend must not “contain profanity or adult/graphic references.”
- The trend must not “incite hate on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.”
- And finally, the trend must not “Violate the Twitter Rules.”
A search of Google’s trending data showed that on their site—for the period of August 10th to 11th—the hashtag #TrumpBodyCount had a maximum popularity score of 61, relative to the hashtag #ClintonBodyBount.
It also appears that on Google, California is the only state that had enough search information to register #TrumpBodyCount with the search engine.
Twitter can have its own rules and algorithms to show users what may be of interest to their individual users. However, at this point, it is no secret that people are using national trends to understand what people are talking about, and those trends should not be tailored at all. These trends should be shown based purely on the number of tweets they are generating. If Twitter truly is interested in promoting healthy conversations, they would allow tens of thousands of users to determine what is actually trending.
One could make the argument that one of the hashtags is criticizing the policies and actions of the president, while one is purely speculation, thus Twitter has suppressed one hashtag over the other. This argument doesn’t hold a lot of water in my mind, because the idea that the Clintons seem to have a trend of personal associates dying has—on the surface—as much credibility as a two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election launched based on a demonstrably fake dossier. However, one was almost always trending (#MuellerReport) and the other has been removed, presumably for not promoting “healthy conversations.”
At best, Twitter is being willfully ignorant of the influence that trending hashtags have on the news cycle and what people are talking about. At worst, Twitter is attempting to manipulate the public conversation, for their own reasons. This idea is not new to conservative spheres, where people have been “shadowbanned” seemingly because of their ideological stance. Twitter appears to back up the claims by their own admission, stating in a blog post regarding shadow banning:
- “It looks like this only affected Republican politicians. Were Democratic politicians also impacted?” Yes, some Democratic politicians were not properly showing up within search auto-suggestions as result of this issue. As mentioned above, the issue was broad-ranging and not limited to political accounts or specific geographies. And most accounts affected had nothing to do with politics at all.
- “OK, so there was a search auto-suggest issue. But what caused these Republican representatives to be impacted?” For the most part, we believe the issue had more to do with how other people were interacting with these representatives’ accounts than the accounts themselves (see bullet #3 above). There are communities that try to boost each other’s presence on the platform through coordinated engagement. We believe these types of actors engaged with the representatives’ accounts– the impact of this coordinated behavior, in combination with our implementation of search auto-suggestions, caused the representatives’ accounts to not show up in auto-suggestions. In addition to fixing search yesterday, we’re continuing to improve our system so it can better detect these situations and correct for them.
Bullet #3 that they refer to is part of a larger point that the company makes about how they rank tweets that are shown to users. Bullet point three, the alleged reasoning for Republican representatives being “shadowbanned,” is bolded.
We do not shadow ban. You are always able to see the tweets from accounts you follow (although you may have to do more work to find them, like go directly to their profile). And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology.
We do rank tweets and search results. We do this because Twitter is most useful when it’s immediately relevant. These ranking models take many signals into consideration to best organize tweets for timely relevance. We must also address bad-faith actors who intend to manipulate or detract from healthy conversation.
As a specific example, if a search result has 30,000 tweets, here’s what we take into consideration when ranking:
- Tweets from people you’re interested in should be ranked highly
- Tweets that are popular are likely to be interesting and should be higher ranked
- Tweets from bad-faith actors who intend to manipulate or divide the conversation should be ranked lower
The number of incidents that appear to have an ideological bias and reasoning behind them continues to mount. As the saying goes, “if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.” Perhaps conservative circles are not wrong in believing the Twitter logo is actually a depiction of a duck.