Ridiculous trends show Twitter still falls short on tackling misinformation

Posted on July 9, 2020


In recent months, Twitter appears to have heightened its battle against fake news and hate speech. The last few weeks have seen the social media site not only wipe over 170,000 Chinese-state misinformation accounts, but also finally stand up to US President Donald Trump by fact-checking and hiding some of his tweets.

However, Twitter would do well to look at some of the trending topics it presents to users on their profile pages if it wants to be seen as a credible place to find out what’s happening, and take its responsibility as a news platform (if not a publisher) seriously.

Yesterday afternoon, Twitter displayed the below trends to me under its ‘What’s happening’ panel.

Fair enough, PMQs and delays to the cricket were indeed happening, but what’s with the two RIP hashtags? Why is Twitter hinting that Queen Elizabeth II and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos have died?

Twitter might argue that it is simply telling us what its users are tweeting about and the hashtags they are using, but as one of the most popular and powerful tech companies around, surely it needs to show a little more responsibility than this – especially if it’s going to present it under the banner of ‘What’s happening’. This is not what’s happening at all.

This is a little less sinister than its shameless piggybacking on Punish A Muslim Day two years ago, but it’s still Twitter presenting tittle-tattle without context or explanation, and encouraging people to share and talk about something that’s not true. This all makes Twitter a source of nonsense rather than a source of news. What will happen when the Queen really does pass away? Will anyone believe what they’re reading on Twitter, or will it be a case of The Boy Who Tweeted Wolf?

For businesses, unless you’re trying to be funny and have a brand with a quirky tone, we advise against playing along with some of Twitter’s more off-colour trends, and certainly avoiding anything like the infamous #RIPPRINCE insensitivity shown by Homebase in 2016!

John Murray

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