Twitter controls trending topics. How do I know this? Let me tell you about my past few days.
As most of you know, Troy Davis was put to death last night, September 21, 2011, by the state of Georgia. Davis’ death sentence was extremely controversial because witnesses who helped to convict him of murder recanted their testimony. His supporters went on a campaign to save him from his unfortunate fate.
According to numbers reported by Troy Davis’ supporters, including Amnesty International, nearly one million people signed a petition seeking clemency for Davis. Countless celebrities and media outlets including (this is a very small sampling), Russell Simmons (@UncleRUSH), Sean “Diddy” Combs (@iamdiddy), Kimora Lee Simmons (@OfficialKimora), Donna Brazile (@donnabrazile), Goapele (@Goapele), John Legend (@johnlegend), Mia Farrow (@mia_farrow), OutKast’s Big Boi (@BigBoi), Spike Lee (@SpikeLee), Common (@common), A. J. Calloway (@AJCalloway), Solange Knowles (@solangeknowles), Marlon Wayans (@MARLONLWAYANS ), Cederic the Entertainer (@CedEntertainer), Vivian Green (@iamviviangreen), Claudia Jordan (@claudiajordan), Evelyn Lozado (@EvelynLozada), Brian White (@actorbrianwhite), Tia Mowry-Hardict (@TiaMowry ), Tamera Mowry Hously (@TameraMowryTwo), Jeanette Jenkins (@JeanetteJenkins), MC Lyte (@mclyte), Fonzworth Bently (@cooloutrageous), Soledad O’Brien (@Soledad_OBrien), Rickey Smiley (@RickeySmiley), Kim Kardashian (@KimKardashian), Ronnie Devoe (@RonDeVoe), Anika Noni Rose (@AnikaNoniRose), Questlove (@questlove), Frank Knuckles (@FrankKnuckles), Idris Elba (@idriselba), Will Packer (@willpowerpacker), Sandra Bernhard (@SandraBernhard), Lupe Fiasco (@LupeFiasco), Talib Kweli (@TalibKweli), Djimon Hounsou (@djimonhounsou), Holly Robinson Peete (@hollyrpeete), Roland Martin (@rolandsmartin), Anderson Cooper (@andersoncooper), CNN (@CNN), MSNBC (@msnbctv), Huffington Post (@HuffingtonPost), Today Show (@todayshow), Global Grind (@GlobalGrind), The Root (@TheRoot247), Terry McMillan (@MsTerryMcMillan), Alec Baldwin (@AlecBaldwin), Matthew A. Cherry (@MatthewACherry), Dres of Black Sheep (@DresBlacksheep), Jermaine Dupri (@Mr_Dupri), Seth MacFarlane (@SethMacFarlane), and LeVar Burton (@levarburton), tweeted about Troy Davis over this past week.
In fact, for me over the past week, there wasn’t an hour that passed by without a Troy Davis tweet showing up in my “Twitter Feed.” Then the day before yesterday several tweets showed up in my feed asking why Troy Davis wasn’t trending. Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it until that moment. But, whenever my feed is consumed with a particular topic, as it was with Troy Davis tweets, that topic is usually trending. That it was not trending struck me as highly unusual. I decided to investigate.
After checking, I found that Troy Davis was not trending in the United States or even in Atlanta. I decided to check other countries and cities. Oddly, Troy Davis was trending in France and Canada. I decided to check the search feed on the #TroyDavis tag. Strangely the search was not populating with real time posts about Troy Davis. I had posted using this tag myself several times, yet none of my posts showed up in the feed.
By later in the evening my timeline was overwhelmingly consumed with posts about Troy Davis but his name still wasn’t a trend. I decided to search his name again and found that tweets about him were populating the search every few seconds. This prompted me to randomly click on one of the current national trending topics. I chose “Love My Wife.” I was surprised to find that current trend hadn’t even been updated in nearly a half an hour.
Initially I thought this could be a coincidence, that maybe I knew all the people who were tweeting about Troy Davis and my feed was the only one consumed with information about him. After all, according to Twitter, their ”trending topics” isn’t biased, “it’s designed “to help people discover the ‘most breaking’ breaking news from across the world, in real-time. The list is generated by an algorithm that identifies topics that are being talked about more right now than they were previously.“ Well, Twitter’s algorithm was working and did pick up what people were talking about, in real time. It turns out in Atlanta people were talking about Casey Anthony. The reason why people were talking about Casey Anthony…they were comparing her to Troy Davis.
In fact, people were comparing Casey Anthony to Troy Davis so much that Casey Anthony became a national trend by the evening and continued well into yesterday. Now, I may be able to accept the possibility that the people I follow are just more socially conscious and for that reason my feed was filled with posts about Troy Davis. However, I cannot accept the possibility that posts about Troy Davis caused a trend but his name in itself, was not a trend.
According to Hashtags.org the tag Troy Davis was being used 10 times more frequently than the tag Casey Anthony. (Please note the scale on the graphs below. Troy Davis is scaled at .1 while Casey Anthony is scaled at .01.)
Here are more numbers to consider. Remember all the celebrities and news media outlets listed above who tweeted about Troy Davis? Their approximate combined total of followers is 37,250,500 (thirty-seven million, two hundred fifty thousand, five hundred.) This number does not include the followers of every single celebrity or media outlet who tweeted about Troy Davis not to mention every single person who was not a celebrity but tweeted about him.
A rough estimate of the number of followers of the names listed above, even if we factor in overlapping, by conservatively taking a quarter of that number, means that over 9,000,000 (nine million) people saw a tweet about Troy Davis in the past 7 days. Even if only a quarter of those posted about Troy Davis in response, that’s still nearly 2,000,000 (two million tweets) about Troy Davis. How is it possible that nearly 2 million tweets did not trend?
The evidence is very clear and available for all to see. Twitter made a deliberate action to block the words “Troy Davis” from trending. But why? Why would Twitter want to prevent people from knowing about Troy Davis? Of course Twitter admits to removing “offensive” trending topics. Were the words Troy Davis removed because they were “offensive?” Well, “youknowyoughetto” trended steadily all day Tuesday and was not removed as an “offensive” topic.
Twitter, while not an official news media outlet, does play a large and integral part in social awareness in our world. Twitter has approximately 200 million users worldwide. That is major influence.
Several thoughts come to mind regarding Twitter controlling trending topics. Why would Twitter prevent its users from knowing about Troy Davis? Who would make such a decision? Twitter is not a public company, agency or service. It is a private company. Yet in it’s own way, because the public uses it, Twitter is a public voice. It has the power to influence so much. It has the ability to tell 200,000,000 (two hundred million) what is currently being talked about world wide.
Why did Twitter censor the voices supporting Troy Davis? And what about the next political or social issue? Will Twitter censor again? Will it again abuse its ability to influence 200 million and possibly prevent them from knowing about something that affects them? Has Twitter done this before? And, what about Twitter using its reach to influence the masses? As easily as they blocked Troy Davis from trending they could expose over 200 million people to a “trend.”
I implore you to contact Twitter CEO, Dick Costolo (@dickc) and ask why Twitter deliberately blocked Troy Davis from trending?
I do not believe that Twitter has the power to save a man from the death penalty but Twitter does have the power to inform the world of what people are talking about. For all we know, if Troy Davis’ name had been allowed to trend, maybe there would have been more active support and maybe, quite possibly he could be alive right now.
Kai Doggett is owner/publisher of www.Flaimahmy.com
Also please visit InnocenceProject.org for more information on how to end the death penalty.