Twitter Explained | A Day in the Life of ‘Half of Republicans’

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Half of Republicans

On the morning of April 5, Reuters/Ipsos released a poll that found that half of Republicans believe that the January 6, 2021 attack and invasion of the U.S. Capitol was either peaceful or staged by the left. By the time I logged on to Twitter that day at around noon EST, the phrase “half of Republicans” was trending. 

On Twitter, a “trend” begins when users start to include a word, phrase, hashtag or topic at a higher rate than others. Twitter then features these topics in a “Trending” sidebar, tailored to each user based on their interests, geographic location or other account characteristics. 

Twitter’s enigmatic algorithm picks trends based on sudden upticks in conversation topics. A gradual increase in the use of a phrase or hashtag won’t cause a trend, but a quick spike will. This explains why trends come and go so quickly: Once the peak levels out or becomes steady, sustained growth, the topic is no longer considered trending. 

The idea behind the system is simple: Slow and stable increases in mentions indicate ongoing news, which Twitter highlights in a “News” tab. Twitter trends, on the other hand, are meant to alert you to emerging topics on the verge of making headlines. 

So when a slew of journalists and writers shared the original Reuter’s report, which had in its headline the phrase “half of Republicans,” and repeated those words in their own text, mentions of “half of Republicans” soared. These shares, coupled with other tweets mentioning the story and including the words “half of Republicans,” swiftly brought the phrase to the forefront of Twitter discussion and began to trend. 

 

The dialogue swiftly shifted into the usual short and bitter Twitter discourse. 

 

 

As can be expected, this statistic proved alarming for many tweeters, who, like most Americans, watched the events of January 6 unfold in real-time.

 

 

Most remained focused on criticizing the general group of Republicans.

 

 

But a few used this poll to bring the gone but not forgotten pastime of casting aspersions on former president Donald Trump back to our Twitter feeds.

  

My Twitter search for “half of Republicans” brought me to some tweets wholly unrelated to the actual trending topic, posted by tweeters using the trend to bring attention to their tweets.

These opportunists include the trending phrase or hashtag in their tweets so that their posts will appear in Twitter searches for the trend. And though I found these tweets in my search for ‘half of Republicans’, using hashtags—instead of words or phrases—in a tweet is a generally more effective way to increase the odds of that tweet appearing in search results. When using Twitter’s regular search feature (there is an advanced search feature, but that’s for another time), a hunt for “half of Republicans” will bring up all the tweets that include any of the words in the search term. On the other hand, searching for a hashtag narrows down the results exclusively to posts that contain the specific hashtag. 

The “half of Republicans” social media snowball initiated and sustained the trend for a few hours. However, by the time other news outlets such as The New York Times and NBC News picked up the story (at around 4 p.m. EST), talk of “half of Republicans” had plateaued, downgrading the topic from its trending status and removing it from users’ trending sidebar. 

Although Twitter has its reasons for “trends,” following a topic through its Twitter cycle begs the question: Is it “trending” because it’s news, or is it news because it’s “trending”? Twitter would argue that “trends” are predictors of upcoming top news stories, but some could counter that by following these Twitter “trends” we’re allowing Big Social to dictate the news cycle.    

But if all this went in one eye and out the other as the words HALF OF REPUBLICANS occupied your full attention, here’s a tweet to put things in perspective and calm your nerves a bit. 

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One thought on “Twitter Explained | A Day in the Life of ‘Half of Republicans’

  1. HAG says:

    Time for 50 NEW countries

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