Election 2020: When Suspicious Hashtags Trend


Do you think social media will avoid a lot of the problems we encountered in the lead up to the 2016 election?

Yeah, me neither.

This truth was evident earlier this week when several hashtags trended in an attempt to cut down one of our presidential candidates. (To be clear for any of my new readers, I am not publicly endorsing any presidential candidate.)

I don’t think any of us average citizens will know in the moment whether a hashtag is trending because of normal, organic activity or if it’s a coordinated attempt by groups of people to cause greater division. We may know more in the days after a trend, as experts take a look at the data. But what are we supposed to do in the meantime if we’re suspicious of a hashtag?

I see two main responses:

  1. Ignore it, so as not accelerate the reach of the hashtag.
  2. Use the hashtag, but with a counteracting message.

As I see it, there are advantages to both tactics. As for me, I generally ignore the hashtag. That is, I won’t use it. But, I will check out some tweets under the hashtag, especially of folks with big followings and scroll through the replies. I’m looking for replies that seem like the work of trolls–particularly divisive or inflammatory language, no profile pics, extremely low followers, or accounts created recently. Then I’ll mute them (or sometimes block if they are really nasty) so I don’t see their handiwork in the future. I don’t do this with every negative/suspicious hashtag that trends, but I will do it.

I use Twitter to reach like-minded voters to encourage them to engage politically and hopefully, inspire them to take action. I am open to ideas and comments from those who feel differently than I do, but only if they are respectful. If they are trying to upset me, I distrust all of their motives and will likely mute them. Over the past 4 years, I’ve developed a lot of rules for myself.

I encourage you to read Why #NeverWarren should make you nervous about 2020 in Recode for more on the landscape we’re facing in this election year.

Twitter: @DHStokyo
Instagram: @DHStokyo
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7 replies

  1. Excellent advice. I took choice two yesterday. There are two individuals who use most of their Twitter feeds blasting Warren and Sanders. You know, the two #never hashtags that were trending yesterday? I used a few others who said they’d vote blue no matter who, retweeted their tweet and tagged the two #never people, with a comment or two about how they are helping Trump get reelected. I did get a reaction from one of them, Sally Albright, who said she would refuse to sacrifice ‘down ballot’ Democrats for so-called party ‘unity.’
    Say what? I just don’t get these people. I’m thinking confronting them is better. I just can’t let it slide. I see the same kind of stuff happening now, as did in 2016. We can’t let that happen!

    • The primary period is so fraught. I’m fine with folks being passionate about their favorite candidates, but only tearing down others is not something I want to be around. Beyond the big accounts who are loud and just that way, though, being divisive, jumping on people’s posts to be inflammatory or make people feel like it’s a lost cause and “why bother”—these are the messages that make me suspicious.

      • Me too. The one guy, @reesetheone, he’s really bad. I can’t quite figure out if he’s a bot or not. I don’t think he is, but he’s so divisive I sometimes wonder. You have to be really careful these days!

      • I just checked him out. He seems like he is still mad about Harris being out and clearly still stans for Hillary. I don’t think he’s a bot. For your own sanity, you might just mute him.

      • You know, you’re right, I should just mute him. Yes, he’s very bitter about Harris dropping out. I’ll continue reading him and bothering him until he probably mutes me!

      • Spare yourself the irritation. Much better things to focus on.

      • There sure are!

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