Faking it: Here’s how Twitter trends are being manipulated

Do you ever look at trends on Twitter and wonder, ‘Is this even real?’. Twitter’s trending topic list is generated by an algorithm without any quality checks. Trust me, my family group will get embarrassed after seeing tags like #happytuesday and #wednesdaymorning trending on Twitter every time!

Some of the reasons why you see a twitter Fake hashtags, trends or news trending are:

  • Organic growth
  • Paid/promoted content 
  • Spam
  • Public Relations (PR) tactics 

Organic Growth

This is determined by the volume of tweets, impressions, etc on a particular topic. When you search for a particular trend, you get the latest posts (unregulated by Twitter’s algorithm) and top posts (regulated by Twitter’s algorithm). Organic growth involves the amount of engagement the netizens have with it. The algorithm then picks such growing Twitter fake hashtags and trends and puts them under the trending list. 

Promotion

These are the paid tweets that you’ll find labelled ‘promoted’. You will see promoted pieces during the time of launches. Promotion usually works for new ventures, features, units, films and more. For example, Samsung promoting #GalaxyS20PlusBTS. 

faketrending

Spam  (fake hashtags, trends)

Spam is any sort of unsolicited or bulk form of tweeting. The ‘fan’ clan enforces these sorts of trends. Any idea, narrative, or group that has a fan following tries to trend these. For example, a few days back, #SidNaaz was trending. It was popularised by Sidharth Shukla and Shehnaaz Gill’s fans after the two appeared on Big Boss. Similar hashtags have gained momentum too. Supporters of strong religious ideologies too find this as a space to alter the narrative of the digital world.

fake hashtags/trends

PR induced

These trends are specific to changing narratives around some ‘famous’ people. To give you more perspective, have a look at this Quora question- ‘Why is Ram Rahim still trending on Twitter?’ The PR team very strategically places him under covert hashtags like #SaveTodayForFuture, #SwitchToClothBags, #HumanityStillExists and more. These hashtags trend most days of the week. It is obvious that if a general person who has no connection with Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh sees his name trending every day, s/he will stop clicking on it after a point of time; but won’t stop clicking on hashtags mentioned above.

fake trends

Twitter Fake hashtags, trends

Trends and hashtags rank on the basis of recency, relevance, engagement, and other factors (like a number of followers, use of rich media, impressions, etc). How many times have you come across a completely baseless Twitter fake hashtags/trends?

A BBC investigation in 2018 found that companies in Saudi Arabia are offering to artificially boost the popularity of hashtags to make them trend on Twitter – in contravention of the social media network’s rules. The price to get automated “bot” accounts to make a hashtag trend for a few hours is around £150 ($200).

In my understanding, these ‘fake’ hashtags/trends & alarms are induced for two reasons:

  • A change in narrative 
  • Observing your emotions towards it

These Twitter fake hashtags/ trends are against Twitter’s policies. “You may not use Twitter’s services in a manner intended to artificially amplify or suppress information or engage in behavior that manipulates or disrupts people’s experience on Twitter.” Politics and high profile cases fuel a lot of propaganda through such tactics.

Leveraging a particular narrative and spamming its way through the trends is not only changing the public opinion but also creating a divide in the masses. I better not even start on fake news!

Parody Accounts

Parody accounts, too, are a leading cause of fake news and trends. In recent news, a Tripura teenager has been detained for spreading fake news from an account similar to the Tripura CM, Biplab Kumar Deb’s verified account on twitter.

The amount of hate, propagated by parody accounts, is unimaginable at times. For Instance, there is a parody account of the Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut by the username @kanganaofficial on twitter. The account has a following of 11.2k (update: the account now stands at 26k). The account bashes people (not like the original account doesn’t but can we imagine the reach it has) in a very unhealthy and unethical way. It’s a very convenient and accessible medium for people to amplify narration. (The following images belong to the parody account and not the real account)

fake trends

A simple example of how such fake or over the top accounts, trends or hashtags impact conversations on social media platforms is, how the conversation regarding mental health in India & Sushant Singh Rajput, became a conversation about name calling, nepotism and a murder mystery. I am not opposing anyone’s argument on this but where did the “we are here for you” evaporate?

People are entitled to have opinions and call out others too with great pomp, but if this pattern is to change the discourse and not maintain a healthy platform for everyone, we must look into it. 

Twitter does give us the option to flag these kinds of activities. Report them, not because they don’t agree with your opinion but because they don’t agree to facts.

Got to go, I need to tweet!

Author: Anukriti Khemka

Anukriti Khemka is the Digital Ninja of The Wonk. She handles all the digital needs of The Wonk. She also writes for her column "Talking Trends". She loves to analyse digital trends and make sense out of them.

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