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Palestine: Twitter accused of silencing Gaza tribute

Twitter has been accused of attempting to silence tributes to Gaza one-year after an Israeli onslaught devastated the Palestinian enclave.

Pro-Palestinian and human rights activists used the influential Twitter portal to mark the one-year anniversary of the Gaza War, and express support for the besieged territory.

Tweets using the hashtag #Gaza flooded in on December 27th, peaking at number 3 on Twitter's top ten Trending Topics list.

However, complaints emerged of users being briefly blocked from tweeting #Gaza, with the trend being forced downwards and off the Trending Topics.

In an extensive analysis, Lebanese blogger, Nadine Moawad, accused Twitter of preventing #Gaza from trending:

People were logging in and feeling so energized to see Gaza trending already, so they boosted with great tweets. I was so sure we were going to hit number one any second. And then came Hayley.

Who Hayley is I don’t know and I don’t care to google. It was her birthday today, so suddenly (and very illogically), HappyBdayHayley shot to number 1. It didn’t make any sense!

What made it even weirder is that @zalface discovered many spam bots like this one:@carolmeatsix that were spamming twitter with #HappyBdayHayley for hours at very high rates. How come they didn’t get blocked? This adds to our suspicion that we were being reported by people.

The only sense we could make was that twitter didn’t want #Gaza to trend. And after HappyBdayHayley came HappyBdayHayleyBR – the Brazilian version – also trending! Ridiculous! But still, the tweeters kept signing on, news, links, videos, feelings, thoughts, cartoons, blog posts, stories, all sorts of expressions kept flowing onto twitter, all for Gaza, the Gaza Freedom March, and Viva Palestina. Eventually, we made it to #3.

We tried really hard after that, but couldn’t get it past #3. I believe we were stopped there on purpose.

Did Twitter really hinder tributes to Gaza?

Comments on Nadine Moawad’s post offered varied explanations.

One comment  by Jillian C. York argued that it was not necessarily Twitter that obstructed #Gaza tweets, but pro-Zionist online activists competing with pro-Palestinian Twitterers by reporting #Gaza tweets as spam:

As for those who got blocked for short periods: It seems that it was not Twitter automatically doing it, rather, if a certain number of people reports someone as spam (which could be done nefariously – as in prodded by the @JIDF or someone else, or because they actually see it as spam (e.g. lots of @s in a tweet), Twitter will auto-block then review the account. It happened to people who were “tweeting for Shalit” too, so I don’t think we can say it was biased, necessarily.

Another comment by Toufoul gave a more technical explanation of the bizarre events that unfolded on Twitter:

One thing that might explain the discrepancy between Trendistic and Trending Topics in Twitter is the different algorithms they use. Twitter’s Trending Topics is not only based on the number of tweets, but also the number of tweepers. It is also more difficult for topics that are trendy all the time to climb up the list (Twitter is, after all, about what is hot RIGHT NOW!). If you look at the longer term graph, you will see that Gaza has been consistently trendier than Bailey, Hayley or whatever her name is. It is self-defeating in a way.

Discussion of the unusual demotion of the #Gaza trend also ensued on Twitter itself:

srichani @nmoawad @Beirutspring @antissa blocking commercial messages from TT is 1thing,political intervention etc is another.#twitter ought 2clarify

Beirutspring @srichani @antissa I was just saying that the trending topics have always been tempered with by a twitter editor. I'm not surprised at #gaza

srichani @Beirutspring @antissa that doesnt adress NM's observation.#Gaza tweets reminding of vicious war claiming 1300 civilians is not commercial

Beirutspring @srichani @antissa , Twitter is known for moderating trending topics, to avoid featuring commercial messages they say..

srichani ur right, they ought to clarify this, concerned @Twitter‘s attempts 2 obstruct free speech&silence#Gaza tweets http://bit.ly/4YKNBt

Whether Twitter was deliberately behind the manipulation of the tributes to Gaza is unclear, but the bizarre trending of #Gaza has left many confused and pondering.

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