The Self-Defeating Gamesmanship of #ObamaGate

Crying your tag's been censored when it's visibly trending is not likely to win you many converts.

Yesterday, no doubt in response to a report that President Barack Obama had privately referred to his coronavirus response as a "chaotic disaster" and his anxiety over the spread of the same virus within the ranks of the White House staff, Donald Trump went on a Twitter frenzy, tweeting or retweeting over a hundred times in the course of the day, boosting conspiracy theories and memes relating to "Obamagate", a nebulous and baseless accusation that President Obama set out to illegally dethrone Donald through espionage and other crimes.

This recognition from the top was all that the right-wing conspiracy fringe needed to go absolutely hog wild. Seeing the tag "Obamagate" rising in the Twitter trends, they began giving it a push, sometimes with mechanical assistance. By late last night the number of tweets bearing the word was fast approaching 2 million... many of those tweets containing no information except to note how many tweets there were or to note its position in the trends, and many more of which were simply replies or quote-tweets that contained little more than the hashtag itself, maybe with some emojis and/or related hashtags.

And what is the goal of all this frantic activity? In the words of the trendmasters themselves, it's "to spread the truth". They're trying to game the algorithm (without stopping to understand it) in the belief that if they can amass enough tweets, they... well... win. Post enough memes, spam enough replies, and everybody will be forced to acknowledge and agree with them. It's a low investment of energy and effort in something where they imagine the stakes are life-or-death. 

As of this writing, it's over 3 million. I know this because it shows up in the sidebar on the Twitter web interface under my "Trends For You" heading. As many people not in the right-wing loop have noted, if you click on it with no idea what it's about, you're not likely to learn anything. That's because the most substantive posts under it are dense right-wing memes that either say very little ("Obama KNEW!") or are packed with talking points that diverged from reality so far back you need a road map to see how they ever connected in the first place.

And still most of the tweets aren't even that. They're just people talking about the tag: how it's doing, how many tweets there are, where it's ranked, how Twitter is censoring it...

*record scratch*

Wait, Twitter is censoring a tag that shows up in the trending tags with millions of tweets?

According to the people pushing it, yes. Absolutely. How do they figure? Well, because it's not trending more. Because it's not trending higher. Because the number of tweets isn't bigger than it is.

I don't know all the factors that go into Twitter's trending algorithm but I assume they've got some metrics for quality. And I have to imagine that a trend with millions of tweets by people who are mostly discussing the number of tweets, the rank it holds, etc., is going to be ranked lower in quality than a tag that's populated by people discussing the actual topic. It probably also takes into account the quality ranking of the accounts pushing it... i.e., do a lot of them seem to be brand new? Are many of them engaged in activity with the telltale signs of automation?

The Obama-Gators call it "censorship" when they sit there looking at the top ten trends and their topic isn't number one, even when it appears on the list. What kind of censorship would that be? How would that "hide the truth", if there were any truth to be hidden? 

As usual, the right is so invested in the myth of its own victimhood that it has to invent oppression to complain about, which only leads to a further devaluation of their own hashtag as the numerous tweets complaining about Twitter's "coverup" further dilute its meaning. As I'm writing this, the Twitter trending algorithm has added a "Trending With: #ObamaGateCoverUp" notation to the sidebar entry, which obscures its tweet count. It's an automated curation feature but of course the people pushing the trend read this as an attempt to hide the number of tweets. 

In their mind, it's something that Twitter has done to them, not something their massed tweeting achieved. They're trying to amplify their message, but what they're really doing is shouting even louder inside their own echo chamber. The result: more echoes, less information. It's a self-defeating strategy that is ultimately likely to discredit any portion of their actual message that crosses over.

They look like cranks, they're behaving like cranks, they're likely to be written off as cranks by the vast majority of people who come across them.