2011-09-20 "Troy Davis and the Twitter Black Out Conspiracy"
We are not here today to debate the guilt or the innocence of Troy Davis. Troy Davis will receive the death penalty on Wednesday, September 21st for the murder of a police officer in 1989. For information on the case and the recent denial of clemency, see this TIME article [http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2094103,00.html]. It is one of many. Before we more forward, let me state unequivocally that Troy Davis was convicted of a crime by a jury of his peers. Our thoughts and prayers here at SingleBlackMale.org go out to the family members facing the possible impending death of Troy Davis and to the family members of the slain officer, Mark MacPhail, who have waited 22 years to find out the fate of the man they believe is guilty of comitting this crime. In my opinion, the loss of life is always tragic. However, today we will focus primarily on the role Twitter played during this saga.
As a blogger, a number of people contacted me throughout the day on Tuesday, September 20th with the theory that “Troy Davis” and related topics were being censored on Twitter. I also received an email that day from Courtney Rose-Harris of the NAACP New Media Department in Washington D.C. She asked that I share the story of Troy Davis with my network. The subject line of her email included the hashtag “#TooMuchDoubt.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with Twitter hashtags, these are used to unify related subjects under a similar term. In theory, this will allow a “trend” to begin, whereby more and more attention is drawn to the topic discussed by people with similar interest.
A casual observation of current Twitter trends at the time saw no mention of #TooMuchDoubt or another popular and obvious hashtag, #TroyDavis. Despite the fact that the story was being covered by national news organizations across the country, I gave Twitter the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it simply was not trending worldwide I assumed. With this in mind, I limited Twitter’s trending search to one of Georgia’s largest cities with a high concentration of African Americans, Atlanta. I still saw no mention of #TooMuchDoubt or #TroyDavis trending in this area. I did notice #SideChickBirthdayGifts and #DudesThatSayNoHomo trending 1 and 2, respectively. I found this somewhat suspicious.
By this time, the belief that Twitter was actively censoring and blocking the Troy Davis topic from trending was spreading. Eventually, a member of the music group Outkast tweeted the following: "@BigBoi: #TroyDavis was the #2 trending topic in ATL [Atlanta] 5 minutes ago, now his name has been removed completely!!! Wowzers."
BigBoi’s Tweet was quickly Re-Tweeted over 100+ times. While I have no way of proving it – and no reason to go further because I am not an investigative journalist – there is strong evidence, at minimum, to suggest that Twitter was in fact actively restricting topics related to Troy Davis. It is plausible that this topic may not have trended around the world but is is highly unlikely, if not impossible, that a story generating as much discussion as this topic all around the web would not trend somewhere in the top 10 topics on Twitter. It is far less likely it would not trend in the very city serving as the epicenter of the story.
Even if true, Twitter is well within their right as a free social media site to manipulate and censor topics as it sees fit. In fact, Twitter has made the decision to censor their publicly trending topics on at least two known subjects: (originally) the Egyptian Uprising and WikiLeaks. However, it is misleading for national media outlets and Twitter itself to claim it is the source for an accurate portrayal of what people (or it’s over 200 million members anyway) are discussing.
This 200 million membership just so happens to be 25% African American, which is double the population represented in America. It is interesting that a topic that would likely garner discussion among the members representing a quarter of the population of your site is the one selected for restriction and monitoring. Calling this a “conspiracy” may be far-fetched, maybe even inaccurate. Nevertheless, every article that has sourced Twitter for portraying the interest of predominately young Americans without the disclaimer that topics allowed to trend are themselves manipulated, censored, and filtered is disingenuous at best and willfully misleading at worst. Mind you, these are often the same outlets which lament the topics discussed by Twitter’s members.
This is not a black issue. If you have ever looked at a trending topic on Twitter with shame – and even as a member myself I have on more than one occasion – you may wonder what is Twitter’s motivation for restricting content. Further, what other content are they restricting? What content are they manipulating? After all, this is the same site that allowed #SideChickBirthdayGifts and #DudesThatSayNoHomo to trend on the same day it ALLEGEDLY restricted content referencing #TroyDavis.
Whether we like it or not, these social media websites we participate on – both socially and professionally – are viewed as a representation of us, the members, and yet, here we find that the site we are using is altering that representation. For whose benefit? Who did it serve? In this instance, it did not benefit us, it did not serve us. Instead, it showed the world – ignorant to the content filtering habits of Twitter behind the scenes – Twitter users would rather discuss #SideChickBirthdayGifts and #DudesThatSayNoHomo while #TroyDavis counted down the hours til his death.
We, of course, cannot definitively prove Twitter censored this or any content – content which may cause us to think and reach deeper into our conscious than the topics they deem “OK” for us to consume. There is, however, #TooMuchDoubt they are not. It would seem Twitter believes its users are far too irresponsible, immature and apathetic to form thoughts of their own or think for themselves. I hope they are mistaken.
So what are your thoughts, readers? Is this an illustration of a “Twitter conspiracy” or a reflection of a generation that would rather spend the day discussing #SideChickBirthdayGifts than the death of a possibly innocent man, #TroyDavis? If Twitter is proactively censoring topics, can media organizations source it as an accurate representation of Blacks, Whites, Mexicans, Asians or any other race when the very foundation from which their conclusions generate are manipulated? Admittedly, it’s easy for this generation to dismiss all topics, facts and stories that do not directly effect us. We are egocentric and quite honestly, Twitter is representative of that very fact but if you can take a moment…
Irrespective of your opinion on Troy Davis’ guilt or innocence, if Twitter was your main source of communicating to the masses the plight you or a loved one faced and they silenced you, while calling themselves the source for open communication for this generation, how would you feel?