2020 presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard has been gaining lots of momentum recently. Last week, Gabbard announced that she was suing Google for suspending her search ads a few hours after the first Democratic presidential debate. Then on Monday, she called for the breakup of big tech monopolies to protect free speech online.
Gabbard built on this momentum during last night’s second Democratic presidential debate by calling out candidate Kamala Harris for her record as a prosecutor – an interaction which became one of the debate’s most discussed moments and gained millions of views on Twitter.
— Current Affairs (@curaffairs) August 1, 2019
This moment briefly propelled Gabbard to the top of Twitter’s trends, albeit with an accompanying article that didn’t mention Gabbard or the moment in question.
Then mysteriously, Gabbard was scrubbed from Twitter’s trending list while mentions of the nine other candidates remained. The description for #Harris even acknowledged the interaction and said that Harris was trending with Tulsi. However, no trending hashtags for Gabbard appeared on Twitter’s list of trending hashtags.
After the debate, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper asked Gabbard about the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and people started to use a section of the interview to suggest that Gabbard refuses to criticize Assad’s actions, even though the full interview shows her addressing this.
C’mon now !!! Did you even bother listening to the entire interview or you are just another one who goes by clicks and short clips ??? She did acknowledge that Assad is a brutal mass murder, short clip and full clip link. https://t.co/DLfXNLCPZ1 pic.twitter.com/DDYJKAQRg4
— akarsandas (@amitkarsandas) August 1, 2019
This clip, which presented Gabbard in a negative light, quickly hit number one trending on Twitter under #Assad. However, hashtags related to Gabbard and her interactions with Harris were still nowhere to be seen on Twitter’s trending list.
What makes Gabbard’s removal from Twitter trends even more strange is that it happened when she was the most searched for Democratic candidate in America on Google during the debate.
— GoogleTrends (@GoogleTrends) August 1, 2019
Of the ten candidates on stage, Gabbard also saw the second-largest growth in Twitter followers after the debate and gained more than twice as many Twitter followers as eight of the other candidates.
How many new Twitter followers each candidate’s campaign account gained after #DemDebate
de Blasio: +402
— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) August 1, 2019
Being the most searched for candidate on Google during the debate, the second most followed candidate on Twitter during the debate, and part of one of the most talked-about moments of the debate would in most circumstances garner enough attention to remain at the top of Twitter’s trending list for most of the debate and during the hours after the debate. However, in this instance, after being removed from the trending list, Gabbard only re-appeared hours after the debates had finished and while most Americans were sleeping.
Gabbard’s notable absence from Twitter’s trending list during the debate and immediately after has resulted in many people accusing Twitter of rigging the trending results and meddling in the 2020 presidential election.
How on earth can Tulsi Gabbard be the most Googled candidate yet not trend on Twitter when all the other candidates trended? Rigged.
— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) August 1, 2019
So Tulsi pretty much doesn't trend at all on Twitter even though shes the #1 google trend, but now Assad is trending?
This is election meddling.
— Winkle, just a dude (@WinkleAbides) August 1, 2019
@Twitter wants us to believe that "Assad" is tending at #12 in the United States but Tulsi Gabbard doesn't make the list. It's very clear that someone at Twitter has specifically removed her name from the trends list. @jack @kayvz @leslieberland @vijaya @derella
— Currie Dobson (@Ventuckyspaz) August 1, 2019
Twitter is the go-to platform for politicians and journalists during live and trending events so the information people see during political debates can have a significant impact on people’s perception of candidates, their eventual vote, and by extension the final election results.
The accusations of election meddling come after Twitter has shown time and time again that it’s willing to manipulate content related to both the US presidential election and other elections around the world.
Last week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey vowed to suppress what he deems to be “misleading information” in the run-up to the 2020 presidential elections. Twitter also announced changes that may hide President Trump’s tweets last month – changes which have the potential to significantly influence the 2020 presidential elections.
During this year’s EU elections, Twitter also introduced new features to stop the spread of what it categorizes as “misinformation” and took down the campaign accounts of two British candidates who were running as Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Like with the changes related to the US presidential election, these changes also likely impacted some of the results of the EU elections.