Why Twitter isn't blocking #atheistrollcall and #godisnotgreat

Christina here…

For the past day or so, the Twitter hashtag #atheistrollcall has been rather active.

For awhile, the tag was trending on Twitter – but not forever.

Shortly after #atheistrollcall left the lists of trending topics, tweets accusing Twitter of blocking #atheistrollcall started rolling in:


Photo of Tweets claiming Twitter blocked #atheistrollcall and #godisnotgreat

What happened to having evidence before making assertions?


Citation needed. Evidence needed. Prove it.

What evidence do we have that Twitter blocked these two hashtags, aside from the fact that they are no longer trending topics even though people keep tweeting them?


Trending topics change, and Twitter calculates whether something trends or not based on the newness of the trend – otherwise, #justinbieber would trend at the top constantly (and it used to, before Twitter changed how they calculate trends)

Twitter addressed this issue on their own blog, stating:

Since Twitter first introduced the Trends feature in the summer of 2008, one frequently asked question has been “Why isn’t X trending?” This question has come up around a variety of subjects, from #justinbieber and #adamlambert to #flotilla, #iranelection and #demo2010.

The answer: Absolutely not. In fact, some of these terms, including #wikileaks and #cablegate, have previously trended either worldwide or in specific locations.

So, from the mouth of the Twitter monkeys themselves: we do not censor or block terms.

They offer an explanation as to why trends drop off:

Twitter Trends are automatically generated by an algorithm that attempts to identify topics that are being talked about more right now than they were previously. The Trends list is designed to help people discover the ‘most breaking’ breaking news from across the world, in real-time. The Trends list captures the hottest emerging topics, not just what’s most popular. Put another way, Twitter favors novelty over popularity

Even if many #atheistrollcall tweets occur, they have to occur in forever increasing volume to remain a trend:

 Sometimes, popular terms don’t make the Trends list because the velocity of conversation isn’t increasing quickly enough

Trends come and go. I don’t see any evidence that our trend didn’t come and go just like the rest.

So guys, chill out. Twitter probably isn’t persecuting us.

Update: Also, of course you should go get on Twitter and be counted among the godless on Twitter! Don’t have a Twitter account? Now’s a good time to get one!


Learn more about Christina and follow her @ziztur.




About christinastephens
  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    #justinbieber would trend at the top constantly

    The mind boggles! The stomach churns! The gag reflexes!

  • TV200

    That makes sense. How else is anyone going to know when something new is coming up if the old high volume tags didn’t come off the list? I did let out a little groan when the blocking conspiracy theorists started coming out, again. #AtheistRollCall has been fun though.

  • https://plus.google.com/113934400219974764448 Hein

    So, from the mouth of the Twitter monkeys themselves: we do not censor or block terms.

    <paranoia>Well of course that’s exactly what you’d expect them to say if they were censoring it! It’s all part of the conspiracy!</paranoia>

  • Mark

    This paranoia stems from an atheocentric mentality. Maybe there aren’t as many of you as some would like to think.

  • Brownian

    This paranoia stems from an atheocentric mentality.

    Citation needed.

    Maybe there aren’t as many of you as some would like to think.

    If you want to deal in maybes, then maybe there are more.


  • http://inmyunbelief.wordpress.com TCC

    This paranoia stems from an atheocentric mentality. Maybe there aren’t as many of you as some would like to think.

    Somewhat ironically, your comment is exactly the kind of statement that makes many atheists a bit paranoid. Maybe if you thought for a second about your motivation for making a comment like that – you are making it clear that atheists are a minority as if that matters, perhaps as a kind of “there’s more of us than you” strength-in-numbers claim – then you might realize what it’s like to be on the other side of the discussion.

    (By the by, I have been avoiding the “atheist” label, but what the hell, it’s accurate nonetheless, and I get sick of people like this trying to put atheists in their place. So #atheistrollcall, here I come.)

  • SallyStrange: bottom-feeding, work-shy peasant

    The same thing happened when various #occupy hashtags failed to make the trending list for long. Slowly information trickles out…

  • http://joecascio.net Joe Cascio

    I tried to make this point myself to a couple of people. How on earth would anyone know if Twitter’s blocking it or not? Yes, we were having a fun time and getting a lot of responses (and still are, by the way) to the #atheistrollcall, but to trend on twitter takes a LOT of tweets.

    And as your citations said, they use the first derivative as part of the algorithm. This would explain why Mr. Beiber drops off the list. It’s not just how many, it’s how fast the mention rate is climbing.

    So I totally agree. Chill out, brothers and sisters of reason, and leave the paranoid conspiracy theorizing to the pious. I think they call it “Satan”. :)

  • @Thomhew

    Well, Mark, if thats’s your real name: How theocentric of you tip point out the ridiculously obvious. By definition, a minority usually cannot influence a populist system. But the fact is, #atheistrollcall was trending a couple times over the past 72 hours. So please, if you are going to claim majority priviledge, at least be accurate in your statements. Of course, accuracy and proof aren’t exactly strong points for theists.

  • http://kain.org Bryon Roche

    To find out wether or not twitter is blocking a trend, you would have to likely pay for the commercial ‘firehose’ access, and track trends yourself. You can prove it one way, or another, but it will take a LOT of money for the bandwidth and compute/storage power.

    I would also note that twitter has never said that they absolutely do not block trends.

    While it is likely possible to construct a conclusive reductio ab absurdum, the cost of doing so is out of easy reach of individuals. I posit that this leads to the confirmation bias seen by people who think their trend is being blocked. It could be possible, but we lack access to conclusive enough information to make a proof, in either direction.

    I suppose you could always put out a funding drive to get the money together you’d need to collect this information, but there are probably far better places to spend time and energy. I would be tickled for someone to prove me wrong on that count, however!