Did Twitter mislead its users about #ILikeObamacare?
Yesterday the Obama campaign decided that starting a hashtag appropriately named #ILikeObamacare was part of the way it was going to commemorate the 2 year anniversary of Obamacare. Unfortunately for President Obama, as first reported here on Twitchy, the hashtag was taken over by conservatives whose mocking soon lead to #ILikeObamacare trending worldwide. The hijacking was so utterly complete that liberal outlets Gizmodo and Talking Points Memo bitterly acknowledged it and The Daily Caller picked out its favorite tweets mocking Obama’s greatest legislative accomplishment.
However, according to Twitter’s official “Discover” tab the takeover never happened. Instead of telling the full story about #ILikeObamacare, Twitter’s official story post on the “Discover” page links to a Huffington Post piece which regurgitates the Obama campaigns talking points on how they’ve “embraced” the term Obamacare. While the piece, posted at nearly the same time as our piece, mentions Obama’s creation and use of #ILikeObamacare, it completely ignores how users actually interacted with the hashtag and why it became a worldwide trending topic.
Now, some might think this post on Twitter’s official “Discover” page is actually a form of advertising that could have been paid for by the Obama campaign. However, while President Obama’s tweet embedded above was a promoted tweet, Twitter currently doesn’t offer any way of sponsoring story posts on the Discover page and there is no indication that this particular post is a special exception. The stories section under “Discover” tab is meant to spotlight interesting and important things happening on Twitter.
Twitter’s help article on the subject says that stories are “algorithmically generated” based on a “combination of signals” from a user’s interaction with the site. That explains why certain users will see Twitter’s story about #ILikeObamacare when they go to the “Discover” tab while others won’t. However, other than saying it “does not editorialize stories,” there is no explanation for how Twitter picks which news articles these stories link to for the full story.
The Huffington Post article attached to Twitter’s story on #ILikeObamacare was only tweeted 65 times and was only tweeted alongside the #ILikeObamacare hashtag 7 times. The Huffington Post article also appears to be the only one associated with Twitter’s official story on the hashtag. According to bit.ly Twitchy’s post was tweeted at least 100 times and in tweets tagged with #ILikeObamacare over 40 times. Bit.ly also reports that Gizmodo’s post was tweeted at least 84 times and it was also tweeted in conjunction with the tag at least 30 times. Given this, it is reasonable to assume an editor, not an algorithm, picked the misleading article.
If the Huffington Post article was, in fact, chosen by a human editor at Twitter it seems there are only two reasonable explanations for why Twitter didn’t link to a story that told the whole truth about #ILikeObamacare. One possibility is that the editors who run Twitter’s official “Discover” tab are unaware of what is actually happening on Twitter and didn’t bother actually to read through #ILikeObamacare. The other possibility is that they know that #ILikeObamacare was full of tweets mocking and expressing dissatisfaction with the program and simply went out of their way to protect the President.
As many people know, Twitter has had a close relationship with President Obama in the past. He appointed Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo to an advisory board. In turn Twitter hosted a town hall for the President that was roundly criticized for filtering out users’ most difficult and critical questions.
So did Twitter use a computer algorithm to choose a misleading and relatively unpopular article to provide background on #ILikeObamacare or was it a conscious decision made by a human? If it was a person who chose to feature the Huffington Post story, then did they do so out of ignorance or was Twitter intentionally misleading its users to cover for President Obama?
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