On the morning of April 5, Reuters/Ipsos released a poll that found that half of Republicans believe that the January 6, 2021 attack and invasion of the U.S. Capitol was either peaceful or staged by the left. By the time I logged on to Twitter that day at around noon EST, the phrase “half of Republicans” was trending.
On Twitter, a “trend” begins when users start to include a word, phrase, hashtag or topic at a higher rate than others. Twitter then features these topics in a “Trending” sidebar, tailored to each user based on their interests, geographic location or other account characteristics.
Twitter’s enigmatic algorithm picks trends based on sudden upticks in conversation topics. A gradual increase in the use of a phrase or hashtag won’t cause a trend, but a quick spike will. This explains why trends come and go so quickly: Once the peak levels out or becomes steady, sustained growth, the topic is no longer considered trending.
The idea behind the system is simple: Slow and stable increases in mentions indicate ongoing news, which Twitter highlights in a “News” tab. Twitter trends, on the other hand, are meant to alert you to emerging topics on the verge of making headlines.
So when a slew of journalists and writers shared the original Reuter’s report, which had in its headline the phrase “half of Republicans,” and repeated those words in their own text, mentions of “half of Republicans” soared. These shares, coupled with other tweets mentioning the story and including the words “half of Republicans,” swiftly brought the phrase to the forefront of Twitter discussion and began to trend.
Reuters: 3 months after MAGA mob stormed the Capitol to try to overturn his Nov. election loss, “about half of Republicans believe the siege was largely a non-violent protest or was the handiwork of left-wing activists “trying to make Trump look bad.”
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) April 5, 2021
Half of Republicans believe the insurrection was a non-violent protest or was the handiwork of left-wing activists, and 6 in 10 believe the election was stolen from Trump. This is why we need to bring back the Fairness Doctrine – propaganda is dangerous! https://t.co/qe21bVDbqX
— Amy Siskind 🏳️🌈 (@Amy_Siskind) April 5, 2021
The dialogue swiftly shifted into the usual short and bitter Twitter discourse.
This is how democracy dies.😞👇🏼https://t.co/I5X7AddFfr
— Fernand R. Amandi (@AmandiOnAir) April 5, 2021
We are so screwed.
Half of Republicans believe false accounts of deadly U.S. Capitol riot: Reuters/Ipsos poll https://t.co/hTxaszQxwF
— Charlie Sykes (@SykesCharlie) April 5, 2021
As can be expected, this statistic proved alarming for many tweeters, who, like most Americans, watched the events of January 6 unfold in real-time.
It’s truly frightening and frustrating that half of Republicans believe the January 6th riot was “peaceful,” even as the families of dead officers are still mourning those they lost.
Misinformation is deadly.
— BrooklynDad_Defiant! (@mmpadellan) April 5, 2021
When half of Republicans believe Jan 6th was non-violent, and 60% of them feel the election was actually stolen, then yes… that’s the needed sign to END THE FILIBUSTER. If not, then you’re allowing disinformation to reign supreme just as Democratic voting rights are taken away.
— Jake Lobin (@JakeLobin) April 5, 2021
Half of Republicans think Capitol riots were left-wing activists in disguise. 60% of ALL Republicans believe Biden “stole” the election. Different media leads to different cultures and identities but now also a not different realities. This is mass insanity.
— Cenk Uygur (@cenkuygur) April 5, 2021
Most remained focused on criticizing the general group of Republicans.
🙋♂️Raise your hand if you think far more than half of Republicans are brainwashed.
— Steve Herzfeld 🌊 (@american2084) April 5, 2021
Half of Republicans believe the lies being told about January 6th.
The other half are either telling the lies or need to find a new party.
— Chris Hahn (@ChristopherHahn) April 5, 2021
But a few used this poll to bring the gone but not forgotten pastime of casting aspersions on former president Donald Trump back to our Twitter feeds.
The Trump campaign accounted for 3% of all credit card fraud claims in the US!
Half of Republicans believe 1/6 was peaceful or fake
Republican men are the most reluctant to get vaccinated
The damage that this devil has done is incalculable
— Lindy Li (@lindyli) April 5, 2021
My Twitter search for “half of Republicans” brought me to some tweets wholly unrelated to the actual trending topic, posted by tweeters using the trend to bring attention to their tweets.
38,000 gun deaths a year . . . GOP opposes gun control laws.
2 cases of voter fraud a year . . . GOP passes 253 new voter suppression laws.
— Steve Rustad (@SteveRustad1) April 5, 2021
Half of Republicans need science facts and are to be snaked TF out, effective immediately. 🐍☕️🤬🖕
Fact- Sunbeam snakes are non-venomous and found in Southeast Asia. They’re a burrowing snake and rarely seen by humans. They can be kept as pets but are shy and prone to stress. pic.twitter.com/Lc361snUvX
— Random Snake Facts (@random_snakes) April 5, 2021
These opportunists include the trending phrase or hashtag in their tweets so that their posts will appear in Twitter searches for the trend. And though I found these tweets in my search for ‘half of Republicans’, using hashtags—instead of words or phrases—in a tweet is a generally more effective way to increase the odds of that tweet appearing in search results. When using Twitter’s regular search feature (there is an advanced search feature, but that’s for another time), a hunt for “half of Republicans” will bring up all the tweets that include any of the words in the search term. On the other hand, searching for a hashtag narrows down the results exclusively to posts that contain the specific hashtag.
The “half of Republicans” social media snowball initiated and sustained the trend for a few hours. However, by the time other news outlets such as The New York Times and NBC News picked up the story (at around 4 p.m. EST), talk of “half of Republicans” had plateaued, downgrading the topic from its trending status and removing it from users’ trending sidebar.
More than half of Republicans still say the Capitol attack on January 6 was started by “violent left-wing protesters trying to make Trump look bad,” a new poll finds, even though the FBI has found no evidence to support that claim. https://t.co/oiNsul6mgl
— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 5, 2021
3 months after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol, about half of Republicans believe the siege was largely a non-violent protest or was the handiwork of left-wing activists “trying to make Trump look bad,” a new Reuters/Ipsos poll found. https://t.co/aUeMWoGvNH
— NBC News (@NBCNews) April 5, 2021
Although Twitter has its reasons for “trends,” following a topic through its Twitter cycle begs the question: Is it “trending” because it’s news, or is it news because it’s “trending”? Twitter would argue that “trends” are predictors of upcoming top news stories, but some could counter that by following these Twitter “trends” we’re allowing Big Social to dictate the news cycle.
But if all this went in one eye and out the other as the words HALF OF REPUBLICANS occupied your full attention, here’s a tweet to put things in perspective and calm your nerves a bit.
Yes, half of Republicans sounds scary, but look at the context:
– Only 25% of US adults ID as Republican (Gallup); so we’re talking 1 in 8 here
– This is consistent w/ level of support for far-right parties in Europe
– This means 7/8 Americans are still somewhat rooted in reality https://t.co/SOK9AWLbTO
— Jake Stockman (@stockman_jake) April 5, 2021