US Election: The truth about a Twitter conspiracy theory

The hashtag "Go Hillary" strangely shot to the top of Twitter's US trends list on Sunday.

Strangely, because it happened in the immediate wake of potentially very damaging revelations about the Democratic candidate's emails.

News broke on Friday that the FBI had learned of fresh emails which might be pertinent to a prior investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server. The story dominated news cycles over the weekend.

In the absence of much positive news at all for the Democratic candidate, supporters of Donald Trump smelled something fishy and many insisted "Go Hillary" was an artificial trend boosted by Twitter itself.

Image copyright @unityactivist

Trump himself seemed to pick up on the idea, tweeting out:

Image copyright @realdonaldtrump

The truth is somewhat more prosaic. The first use of #GoHillary was by Jennifer Lopez, who sent this message out to her nearly 38 million followers after performing at a Clinton rally in Miami on Saturday night.

Image copyright @JLo

Twitter declined to comment on the allegations by Trump and his supporters. The company's automated method for determining top trends is somewhat obscure, but Twitter has denied that it manipulates its list for political ends, and points out that the algorithm favours new hashtags and phrases.

#GoHillary was virtually unused before Lopez's tweet, and a Trending analysis found that within a matter of hours, around 300,000 tweets used the tag - a number commensurate with other trends that we've seen make the top list.

A similar effect was seen on the social network on Monday, when "Hillary for Prision" (sic) became a top trend. The slight misspelling - notice the extra "i" - appears to have triggered Twitter's algorithm, as the correctly spelled #HillaryForPrison has been used consistently for months.

Not all of the mentions of "Go Hillary" were positive of course - many of the most popular messages were from Clinton opponents suggesting exactly where she should go:

Image copyright @Theresa_Cali

These popular messages had the dual effect of obscuring the hashtag's origins and boosting its popularity. And so "Go Hillary" was a top trend - but perhaps not for the most obvious reasons.

Blog by Mike Wendling

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