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Can Governments Make a Twitter Trending Topic Disappear?

08.17.2011 · Posted in Reklamcılık

Can a government magic away a trending topic? They may think so. Let’s see how?

Photo Credits: Skirball Cultural Center

Houdini & The Elephant Credits: Skirball Cultural Center

This morning  Turkish people woke-up, yet to another bitter terror event: an evil attack by PKK killed 7 soldiers and left many wounded. This is the last in a series of such attacks in the last few months. Turkish public suffers a great deal from such attacks for the last 30 years. Last year Turkish Government attempted a rather undefined Kurdish or democratic initiative, yet apparently seems to have failed to solve the issue. A few days ago, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened PKK with the words “tougher measures to come after Ramadan”. This “after Ramadan” timing, especially after this morning’s attack drew an instant reaction from a public that long lost its patience. #Ramazandansonra (#AfterRamadan) has quickly become trending topic #1 among Turkish Twitter users.

An hour later or so, the #Ramazandansonra trending topic disappeared all of a sudden. Leaving behind much less frequent and hot trends from a few days ago. This happened a few other times with some other opposing, criticizing topics. And off course this happened during the #Wikileaks days. At the time Twitter was accused of removing #Wikileaks from the trending topics list. Twitter denied the accusations and briefly explained the trending topic algorithm.

As I was suspicious from a few recent instances, this week I went into a detailed research on how Twitter’s trending topics algorithm work. Although I didn’t find much, I came accross the information that Twitter automatically removes any “offensive” or maybe even obscene trending topic.

Unfortunately there are no public web sites that count and compare specific tweets or popular hashtags any more. A few months ago we could have done this at least manually with the good old Advanced Search feature. Nowadays the only solution is to use a professional social media monitoring system or write a web app that counts trending topic hashtag mentions using Twitter’s API. I didn’t try any of these yet.

Today when #Ramazandansonra disappeared, I got a DM from a suspicious friend. This triggered my conspiracy loving mind… I went to Gigatweeter and compared two local trending topics against #Ramazandansonra. To my surprise #Ramazandansonra was polluted with numerous porn links, a seemingly coordinated attack. Those porn links are yet invisible to us through the Twitter interface. I could manage to see one of them, to only disappear in the next refresh. Somehow, it seems that third party apps like Gigatweeter can extract these offensive tweets from Twitter’s API before they go through editing.

I now strongly suspect that a coordinated porn link attack mentioning a trending topic hashtag tricks Twitter’s algorithm to perceive the hashtag as “offensive” and ban it from the TT list.

Can a government magic away a trending topic? They may think so. Each trending topic is a colossal elephant to easily step over any “pretending magician”.

Yet if this is true, Twitter should take immediate measures to fix this hole.

Cem Argun.-


UPDATE 1: I just found this Read Write Web article Maybe Twitter Trends Shouldn’t Be Entirely Automated? which validates my theory. It’s a shame Twitter didn’t fix this since then.

UPDATE 2: Hours after I tweeted this issue, and minutes after this blog post #Ramazandansonra is again on top of the Turkish trending topics list!!!

UPDATE 3: Minutes later, the topic is lost again, porn links continue to pollute #Ramazandansonra as seen here:

UPDATE 4: Here comes #Ramazandansonra again at the top:

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3 Responses to “Can Governments Make a Twitter Trending Topic Disappear?”

  1. Obvious Cencorship is Obvious says:

    Shouldn’t take a genius to figure this one out.

  2. What about some automated tweet bots, which include trending topics in their tweets to benefit from the attraction of them? It may not be necessarily the government to suppress the trending topic, but a 3rd party company which would like to benefit from the social media coverage a trending topic creates.

  3. Cem ARGUN says:

    Well I thought of that as well. That’s why I compared that specific hashtag against two other trending hashtags. If you examine the image, there are no porn links in the other two. So yes, these are automated bots. And as we know that Twitter’s algorithm suppresses these offensive tweets from its own interface, there’s no use for a 3rd party trying to benefit from the reach of a trending topic, other than killing that trend from the list. I’ll retry the same experiment when I suspect another controversial topic not making the TT list. Thanks for your contribution.


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