Where the #trumpwon trend came from (not Russia)

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After the #trumpwon hashtag topped the Twitter trending charts — something Trump gleefully noted, saying it proved he’d won the initial debate with Hillary Clinton — @DustinGiebel’s claim that the trend had originated in St Peterburg, Russia (along with an accompanying map, supposedly from Trendsmap) went viral, with more than 15,000 retweets.

But no one else has been able to get Trendsmap to cough up a similar analysis of the #trumpwon data. Instead, data scientist Gilad Lotan (previously) produced another of his invaluable, data-driven reports on the real mechanisms social media manipulation (previously, Lotan had outed a fake ISIS scare; the command-structures of anti-vaxx Twitter; and more).

Where did #trumpwon come from? It began in Baltimore and Detroit. It blew up when a "highly organized group of users" all tweeted the same tweet (with the hashtag), within a few hours of one another, having set their Twitter accounts to make it seem like the tweets were coming from all over the world. The users who engineered this have "dense connectivity and a clear understanding of how information flows," "follow each other at significantly higher rates compared to the general Twitter user," and "clearly know who is a hub — who has the ability to accelerate the flow of information." They tweet at those hubs and ask them for retweets, and they tweet at each other, asking everyone to chase those hubs.

Twitter’s trending model is very interested in tags that appear all over the world, with accelerating frequency. These users knew how to exploit that model to create a worldwide trend. Analysis of these users — and the masses who retweeted them — shows that they share a set of core beliefs (Trump has a 4 point lead over Clinton; Hilary used hand-signals to cheat in the debate; Alicia Machado was involved in a plot to kill a Venezuelan judge).

These users can be grouped into four cohorts: #MAGA (Make America Great Again), Trump, #Trump2012 and #TGDN.

Now, what about the people who spread the false information about the #trumpwon tag’s Russian origins? This group breaks into two cohorts based on their tags (#NeverTrump and #ImWithHer), and share some core beliefs: (Trump didn’t pay for $100K in pianos; Trump secretly did business in Cuba; Trump denies ever saying he didn’t pay taxes).

The people who originated the Russia hoax are also highly connected and highly organized, but Lotan doesn’t have much else on them — yet.

Typically you see a trend jump from one city to another before reaching country-wide or world-wide status. This was not the case here. There was a group of highly-organized users who all posted the exact same message at around the same time, from (seemingly) different geographic locations. These exact same message was published by thousands of accounts, likely all over the world, a few hours after the debate had ended (between 3–5 am UTC time). This is the piece of content that was shared:

By the time folks got up in the east coast, Twitter timelines were filled with these prompts to tweet #TrumpWon —likely generating enough acceleration for the hashtag to reach worldwide trend status.

#TrumpWon? trend vs. reality

(via John Naughton)