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Global: Reactions to Twitter’s sinking #flotilla hashtag

The recent flotilla debacle may have started at sea but it was to the Twitosphere that many activists turned, filling it with condemnation of Israel. The power of Twitter as a mobilizing force and alternative platform for affecting change is not to be underestimated. From the Iranian election, to the more recent Thai protests, citizens and activists alike have come to rely on Twitter as a way of bypassing mainstream media and making themselves heard. But what would happen if Twitter started censoring, as many tweeting about the flotilla began to fear?

Panic and a re-tweeting furor began when people noticed that the #flotilla hashtag was not trending on Twitter despite countless Tweets and Re-tweets and it trending on Google. On Twitter, hashtags are used to as a way of identifying and grouping tweets, making it easier to follow a conversation. In this case, the #flotilla hashtag was used.

It didn’t take long for the twitosphere to react:

@lalajohnny

Find it very hard to believe that #Flotilla & #FreedomFlotilla wouldn't be in the top 10 Trends. Is Twitter playing censorship???

@overhere1

Good to see that #huddlestone is trending but #freedomflotilla is not. Censorship or return to proper English values? Or #cockup?

@melihaksan

Global censorship is enormous.. #flotilla

To try and avoid what was believed to be censorship, people were urged to use the #freedomflotilla hashtag :

@gkrrr

@RokOdyssey PS. #Twitter sucks esp. with its #censorship. But now we're trying to get the #freedomflotilla point across. #Gaza

@amirMusthafa

unbelievable #twitter has done it again #freedomflotilla #flotilla #censorship all the way

@adesri

@twitter please remove your censorship about flotilla, gaza & israil #freedomflotilla

The tweets kept coming and so did the questions about why certain hastags weren’t trending:

@qu1j0t3

RT @ ddowza Why Israil is trending & #flotilla is not – http://bit.ly/aMhkwU – Twitter blocking #flotilla #Censorship #freedomFlotilla

@keefieboy

@TurkeyPalestine Very odd: #flotilla trending 7, #freedomflotilla nada #censorship #gaza

Twitter’s response was that there was no censorship. They said a problem with their algorithm prevented the hashtag from trending. Twitter’s anti-spamming system flagged the hashtag as spam because the same hashtag had trended the week before.

Here’s an official tweet from Twitter's Sean Garrett , VP of communications:

We are investigating a technical issue that caused search errors for a short period of time this morning….

But some still remain unconvinced:

@simsimt

So a tweet by a Twitter official staff is all what it takes @Herdict to assume no censorship was applied to the #flotilla hashtag? #nonsense

Regardless of whether or not the hashtag was censored, the graver reality is that even on Twitter issues and voices can be sidelined.

Adrian, a blogger, touches on this:

It is frightening to think that anyone is purposefully blocking words from being discussed by a greater audience so lets hope this is all some sort of coincidence or error.

The Herdict blog points out that future technical glitches could prevent other issues from trending:

While it is a great relief to be reassured that, at least for now, Twitter seems to be an unbiased center for the information flow of Tweets, there are still questions about if this can happen again. Most people consider the word “flotilla” to be a fairly unused word, so the idea of it being hashtagged for two different trending topics within a short time frame was especially surprising to Twitter. It is easy to foresee this set of errors repeat itself in the future through an overlap of more common words in a hashtag.

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