Disinformation literacy
for concerned people

Who is making this trend?

Today seems ideal to share information about a tool that makes it relatively easy to see who is making a given hashtag or phrase trend on Twitter…

In these volatile times, I take a few minutes throughout the day to see what’s trending on Twitter. Twitter trends are found by clicking on #Explore in the left navigation when on a computer and on the Search if you’re on a mobile device. Trends provides a very high level, albeit limited barometer of what competing narratives are flooding the zone at a given moment.

This morning, the news was focused on the caravan of Trump supporters wielding flags while driving through Portland, Oregon the night before. Their path was choreographed to intersect with Black Lives Matter protests that were also happening in the city.

Knowing this, I was a bit caught off guard to see #BidenRiots trending atop my list. Really?

Biden riots?

I soon read that a Trump supporter had been shot and killed in Portland. Well, this explained why Antifa was also trending. Far-right social media influencers are quick to point fingers at Antifa when violent incidents reach the news headlines.

So, I went to my trusted list of accounts — my first stop when trying to make sense of madness on Twitter. There I happened upon tweet thread by @3r1nG, and is what I found:


Apparently, @3r1nG had been asking similar questions and turned to the open source tool, Hoaxy, created by the Indiana University Observatory on Social Media to learn more. It had been a while since I played around on Hoaxy, so I jumped on their site and saw that they now have a whole whole suite of tools available for the public.

I typed “BidenRiots” into Hoaxy, and there it was.

Donald J. Trump Jr. had amplified BidenRiots a little while earlier. His twitter account was the largest node on the Hoaxy visualization.

Just a few years ago, this would be something to cover up: the son of the current president inferring and using his influence to amplify the idea that the competing candidate was causing riots. But now this is normal.

Back to Hoaxy.

This graphic rendering from Hoaxy tells us that this is not being amplified by many accounts, but that there are a few central sources. A few other far-right influencers have gotten into the game, but as we can see from the size of the cluster around him, Don Jr is the main source of amplification.

Hoaxy is a tool that any of us can use. The only requirement is that you have a Twitter account.

How to use it? Go to the Hoaxy service on the Indiana University site. When Hoaxy opens, type the word or phrase into the text box. By default it will be checking Twitter, though it also checks articles. Then click Search. The hourglass will turn and then you will see a visualization of Twitter activity come to life.

As the visualization takes shape, the tweets will cluster around central nodes if there are central, key amplifiers. In this case, we can see the BidenRiots tweets clustering around Don Jr’s account.

You can also click into the nodes, view the account as well as the tweet. Don Jr’s tweet has since been deleted.

The next time you’re on Twitter and find yourself wondering about the what or who is causing a hashtag or phrase to trend, give it a try.

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