October 2, 2020 2:02:40 pm
The last name you would expect to see trending on Gandhi Jayanti is that of Nathuram Godse. But that is exactly what Twitter users in India woke up to October 2, the 151st birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation.
#नाथूराम_गोडसे_जिंदाबाद (Nathuram Godse Zindabad) was up there as the top trend, much to the distress of a lot of users. But how does a fringe thought like this become a top trend, especially when Twitter has over 17 million daily users in India?
For that you first need to understand how the Twitter trends algorithm works.
How does the Twitter Trends algorithm work?
The Twitter Trends algorithm is based on multiple factors and is “tailored” for users based on who they follow, their interests, and location. But in the trends tab, visible for users on the Twitter smartphone app as well the web client, there is also a trending section that shows trends that are not customised for the user.
Twitter says, “this algorithm identifies topics that are popular now, rather than topics that have been popular for a while or on a daily basis, to help you discover the hottest emerging topics of discussion on Twitter”.
It adds that “the number of Tweets that are related to the trends is just one of the factors the algorithm looks at when ranking and determining trends”.
But experts like data scientist Gilad Lotan have explained that this algorithm favours “sharp spikes rather than gradual sustained growth”, and the trends are hence “determined by a combination of volume and how much time it takes to create volume”.
So if there are a lot of tweets using a certain hashtag within a small space of time, it will start trending. When this activity is happening at a time when other trends are not prominent, like early in the morning, there is a high chance the hashtag becomes a top trend too.
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So what happened on October 2?
On October 2, starting around 5 am, as analysed on keyhole.co, there was a spike in the number of tweets using the #नाथूराम_गोडसे_जिंदाबाद hashtag. This was at least an hour before the #MahatmaGandhi tweets started gaining momentum. And though #MahatmaGandhi is tweeted almost on a daily basis, Twitter’s algorithm gave weightage to the spike of #नाथूराम_गोडसे_जिंदाबाद.
On Friday, over 80,000 tweets had used #नाथूराम_गोडसे_जिंदाबाद by 1 pm. These included tweets that were complaining about the trend and random unrelated tweets trying to piggyback on a trending hashtag, a common phenomenon on Twitter.
One of the first tweets that started the trend was from @vishalurl at 1.50 am, getting over a thousand retweets and 3.5K quote tweets in under 12 hours.
Among the handles that helped amplify the hashtag, the most prominent was that of *@Harvansh_Batra* who retweeted scores of tweets with #नाथूराम_गोडसे_जिंदाबाद to his 63,000-plus followers, showed the analytics tool tweetbinder.com.
At least five other handles with over 20,000 followers showed a similar behaviour, helping the hashtag trend. Verified handles do not seem to have helped the trend.
While #नाथूराम_गोडसे_जिंदाबाद was trending in multiple locations across India, there were locations like Kerala where it was not prominent. In Kolkata, meanwhile, another hashtag, #नाथूराम_गोडसे_अमर_रहे (Nathuram Godse amar rahe) was trending with over 18,000 tweets.
By 1 pm, #GandhiJayanti and #MahatmaGandhi were the top trends with over 1,00,000 tweets each.
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