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In which Occupy Wall Street (though not #occupywallstreet) finally trends on Twitter

More evidence that Twitter’s algorithm rewards spikes over steadiness.

I wrote last month about new research analyzing why #occupywallstreet, despite its trajectory as a political event and despite its seeming prevalence on Twitter, never became a trending topic in the epicenter of the movement: New York. Last night’s occupation of the occupation — the NYPD’s evacuation of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, apparently at the behest of the (public) park’s (private) owners — has changed that…sort of. The Occupy movement trended in the U.S. and (for a brief moment early this morning, Eastern time) globally.

That’s not surprising — the evacuation was and is important news, and it’s being copiously documented on Twitter, by participants and journalists alike — but it offers evidence that would seem to support the theory put forward by SocialFlow‘s Gilad Lotan to explain #occupywallstreet’s trend truancy: that Occupy Wall Street’s steady growth over time, as a movement and as a subject for discussion on Twitter, might have actually hurt its chances to trend. Since trending isn’t just about volume, but also (and apparently more so) about the changing velocity of the usage of a given term or hashtag, Twitter’s algorithm rewards spikes over steadiness. And last night’s raid of Zuccotti — and the flurry of reporting and commentary it occasioned on Twitter — provided a prime opportunity, it seems, for just that type of spike.

However. It’s noteworthy that #occupywallstreet itself, the umbrella tag, still didn’t trend. Nor did #ows, or any of the other broader terms of the movement. Instead, it was specific #ows terms — “Zucotti Park” [misspelled], “The NYPD,” “Foley Square” [the spot where OWSers evacuated to], and “Broadway and Pine” — that trended, along with trendtastic classics like #HottestPeopleOnTwitter, #iwannabe, and (aw) “Hate Sleeping Alone.” Again, further evidence, it seems, that Spikiness is more important than Stickiness when it comes to trending terms.

The bigger question here is whether trending actually matters. And the broad answer is that it doesn’t, much. Occupy Wall Street — though, as a movement, it relies on social media both to spread and to amplify its messages — doesn’t need to trend on Twitter to get the word out. It has other ways to do that. Still, trending topics are pretty much the mother of all hashtags; in that, they’re one-stop-shops for the ideas that matter, across communities, at a specific moment in time. For a movement like Occupy Wall Street — like #occupywallstreet — that kind of convening power matters. And, given some conspiracy theories that have accused Twitter of censoring activist efforts on its platform, it’s worth noting that the latest evidence tracks with what Twitter has been saying all along: that trending topics, more than anything else, “reward discussions that are new to Twitter.”

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Mark Coddington    Aug. 22, 2014
Plus: Controversy at Time Inc., more plagiarism allegations, and the rest of the week’s journalism and tech news.
  • Medicalquack

    Again, it’s all about the Attack of the Killer Algorithms, skewed and flawed math that protesters can’t see, touch or feel.  It’s a tough battle. 4 part series here.  This is the root of all this frustration as it took math to re-arrange the wealth and it will take math (aka algorithms) to fix it, good math.

    No matter what gets said, nothing happens until the math gets fixed.  Numbers don’t lie, but people do, take from an NYU professor and he’s right.

  • Steffen Konrath

    A wonderful piece Megan. Thanks for that. Would like to add: as long as trends are measured by hashtags, results will be biased anyway. #occupywallstreet, #ows, #occupy – alternatives, spelling errors, new hashtag inventions: enough to make trend identification a hugh problem. So Twitter indeed allows to identify trends (as you mentioned before) but only one form of it. That’s why it your article is indeed helpful to clarify how to make use of Twitter in trend research.

    - Steffen Konrath :: 
    Future of Journalism | 
    Blog: | Twitter:

  • Ashley Ellen Goetz

    It’s interesting that Occupy Oakland was saved from a SWAT raid though, wait, which last night are we talking about? The hashtag for that, which I was following, was #occupyoakland, because I didn’t know that was happening a week (or a couple?) ago – and TweetDeck kept informing me. Eventually my profile was inaccessible and I could only post on Ustream at the time. But TweetDeck owns Twitter, and apparently, just needed to catch up. Because of the seeming urgency of the situation, #OO became the main hashtag I could use to repost seemingly urgent tweets from others I was following who were–though parents of some had been warned by email of a raid–still at the scene, mobile, and in danger of another “Christopher Square”-type event happening right here, again, on American soil. In a not sarcastic, and not rude way, I have to say…When -will- we ever learn? What -will- it take for us to recognize human beings, and animals even, as beings that feel pain, nomatter their sex, genotype, etc.? When will that day come? I’m going to the Goodwill this week. And Target, I know you left me a message, same to you Wells Fargo, but I’m not going to deal with you anymore. I tried. I’m done. I have work to do. And a novel to somehow organize through my dyslexia. Thanks for listening. I (in a not funny/joking way) <3, heart, love, etc. you all for caring! 


    Ashley Ellen 

    Now back to work…(and sorry…I've had a rough last couple of months breaking it off with my fiancé of three years–he's a good guy, we just are too similar!–but some things have to come to an end, there are still some ((not dead or oily or farmed)) fish in the sea; I'm confident in that! I've seen one. ;) And no, I'm not usually sarcastic or rude, and no I'm not "manic" right now, but sometimes I think I may come off that way, ? anyway, sorry, about a lot of things, and yes, this is normal for my writing, and yes I'm 25, and yes I'm learning grammar too, and yes I used to be an artist, and yes, I still am that too, but right now, mostly, I'm a FICTION student, and instructor of College Writing (and my class is doing awesome!) 99% of the time at UMass Amherst.).