Last night, questions erupted in the blogosphere about why #Wikileaks hasn’t yet made it to Twitter’s Worldwide Trends. Some speculated censorship on Twitter’s part, citing similar government intervention as is suspected for Amazon and PayPal’s distancing from Wikileaks. An employee came on record as saying that it was just a result of the algorithm doing its work, and that #Wikileaks wasn’t as popular on Twitter as you’d think. We’ve got the story so far, and we’ll keep you updated as it develops.
It all started last week when Angus Johnston of Student Activism wrote a post defending Twitter against critics who cried censorship when #Wikileaks didn’t quickly rise to a top ten Trending Topic. He cited the prominence of #cablegate, a Wikileaks-inspired hashtag, as a Trending Topic for several hours as evidence against censorship claims, and thought he was done with the argument. Until he dug deeper.
Over the course of two more posts last week (here and here) about the issue, Johnston brings to light some in-depth statistics about Twitter traffic around #Wikileaks compared to some other hashtags. You really should read his entire series of posts, as he pulls some interesting data from several third-party Twitter statistic applications to show that there might be something fishy with #Wikileaks’s inability to break through to the Trending Topics. For instance, he says:
“Back in the summer, the title of the movie Inception peaked at 0.4% of Twitter traffic, soon stabilizing at about half that. It trended for a month and a half. Wikileaks has broken 2.0% of total traffic twice in the last week, and hasn’t yet dipped below Inception’s all-time high.”
He also compares the traffic for #Wikileaks with that of “Sunday”, the latter of which was a Trending Topic yesterday. The sheer volume of chatter around “Sunday” was massively less than around #Wikileaks, and the novelty of #Wikileaks (a factor that Twitter says goes into the Trending Topics algorithm) far surpassed “Sunday” as well.
He also includes data from Trendistic, a site which lets you see the trends for any term on Twitter. Take a look at the #Wikileaks trend below (note that it has been more popular since November 28th than Inception was for the entire time it trended):
Johnston is left with more questions than answers at the end of his latest post, but not for long: a representative from Twitter who claims to work on the Trending Topic algorithm entered the comments and attempted to give an explanation as to why a high volume, high velocity, novel and diverse phrase like #Wikileaks wasn’t making the cut.
Josh Elman, the commenter claiming to be from Twitter, responded to Johnston’s observations with this:
“Twitter hasn’t modified trends in any way to help or prevent wikileaks from trending. #cablegate was trending last weekend and various terms around this issue have trended in different regions over the past week. Trends isn’t just about volume of a term but also the diversity of people and tweets about a term and looking for organic volume increases above the norm.”
It’s worth reading through the comments on this post to get at the heart of the exchange between Johnston and Elman that ensued.
The question remains, however: with data showing that #Wikileaks has seen a huge spike in Twitter traffic recently – more so than many other current Trending Topics – why isn’t it a Trending Topic?