Twitter and Twitocracy: the Case of Moonfruit

If you haven’t eaten moonfruit, then you’re missing out on a lot. It’s a delicacy in some parts of the world. But it’s rare and expensive, and not everyone can afford it.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a moon fruit. But there is a web development company called Moonfruit. To celebrate their 10th anniversary, they’ve recently run a Twitter campaign involving the giveaway of 10 MacBook Pros. The mechanics are simple: Just include the hashtag #moonfruit in your tweets and every day they select a winner at random from among those who mention the keyword in the past 24 hours.

Sounds interesting? Of course to the folks who want a free MacBook Pro, it is. And a lot have participated, resulting in #moonfruit being a trending topic. People have won, and Moonfruit has even sent special prizes to folks had been creative in using their keyword–some have sung, some have created poems, some have recorded videos.

So is everyone happy? Apparently not. According to the Moonfruit blog, Twitter imposed some kind of censorship, in particular by taking the #moonfruit keyword off the trending topics list.

Late Friday night 3rd July, around midnight UK time Moonfruit finally tumbled off the top of the trends list on Twitter. Now this wasn’t wholly unexpected with July 4th on the way and the resignation of Sarah Palin. But what was odd is how it that it never returned despite the stats being above other trending topics.

[I]f Twitter had come to us and said, “guys, enough is enough”, then we would have worked with them to limit the campaign, or complied with whatever they were demanding. However, if they have pulled the trending without explanation or communication, this sets rather a different tone.

Moonfruit provides some links to statistics, claiming that the #moonfruit hashtag continues to surpass most others, but is nowhere to be found in the trending topics list.

There are precedents here. Twitter is known to have taken off inappropriate terms from the trending list in the past. It’s understandable that Twitter needs to protect its network and technology. Adult and raunchy material definitely don’t fall under “acceptable” given Twitter’s diverse audience. I wouldn’t want my kid to read about those kinds of things. But what about keywords that are not necessarily offensive?

The argument here is whether Twitter’s trending topics list should be a pure numbers game, or whether it should involve some algorithm that determines which is eligible, and which is not.

Should there be an algorithm for trends rather than making trending topics a pure numbers game? Should the system be fixed so that #liesboystell doesn’t win out over truly important, significant, or newsworthy content? Should tweets, like images and other kinds of content, be screened for “adult” material and user preferences be set accordingly? Or do trends really belong to the lowest common denominator?

And if all else fails, should there be human intervention to flag something as spammy or obscene?

Other social media services involve some sort of algorithm to minimize or moderate the possibility of gaming. DIGG, for instance has its secret algorithm for bringing entries to frontpage. It’s not just a purely numbers game, but it also involves a host of other factors like aging, authority, timeliness of votes, and the like. Even Google doesn’t use a purely numeric algorithm in determining PageRank. It’s secret algorithm also uses a lot of factors. And even search results don’t rely solely on PageRank and the quantity of links.

The danger here is that using a simple numbers game would make Twitter prone to spam. I’ve already encountered my share of spammy marketers trying to push affiliate links at my face. Without some filtering or moderation mechanism, the Twitter trending topics list would be easy to fill up with useless keywords. Not that marketing on Twitter is bad. There is, after all, a better way of doing it, which does not involve in-your-face, pushy and spammy advertising. But if trivial, unimportant topics keep on edging out the more relevant keywords, this could dilute the value of Twitter as a live search platform.

Still, the question here is about “Twitocracy.” Is Twitter democratic at all? And is there sense in implementing a purely democratic system of presenting information? Or is pure social media democracy a pipe dream?

15 thoughts on “Twitter and Twitocracy: the Case of Moonfruit

  1. a greater problem than #moonfruit and similar promos is the huge amount of porn spam accounts flourishing. though Twitter tries, they don’t seem to be able to keep up. it’s gotten to be a serious problem in be able to keep up with new followers.

    i can handle seeing some creative moonfruit tweets from real people.

  2. Twitter needs to filter spam, this is what that was, even though it might have been good fun. But twitter should let people know that the trending topics are moderated and they are not necessary the real top trends.

  3. Yes, twitter needs to moderate the tweets. It’s badly being used by marketers and spammers (oh, may be there’s no difference between marketers and spammers now?). I stop following whoever tweets a lot daily, which of course contain advertisements…

  4. This is an interesting article. Don’t the users of Twitter form their own censorship by choosing not to post tweets with particular hastags, by not retweeting things that they disagree with and by unfollowing whom ever they feel is spammy, etc?

  5. This is an interesting post. When does an approach on any social media cross the line? Who sets the rules and how are they enforced? Does a campaign to celebrate something by giving away prizes cause harm to a site like twitter? Does moving up in the trending topics list by offering people prizes for mentioning the keyword cause harm to twitter and other social media sites? Since twitter owns the site why can’t they decide what crosses the line on their site? In fact, does twitter really own the site or do the people who tweet? If people disagree with twitter’s rules and the tweeters then stop using twitter, who is the real owner? I do not know the answers to these questions. Maybe these should be blog topics.

    Thanks for this post. It may be a spark that sets off a big social media fire.

  6. One thing I love about twitter is that they don’t moderate your post its somehow gives us marketers some sort of freedom, but we know that its not forever.

  7. I like all those twitter giveaways recently. Doesn’t take any skill or effort and you can win great prices! Sure I haven’t had any luck as of yet but why should I stop trying?

  8. As with any site that continues to grow such as Twitter. As conditions arise, terms shall be altered. I do agree that there should be an algorithm set up to filter out such sites. There are people of all ages here and lines should be drawn and clearly outlined.


  9. Interesting take on moonfruits spamming. I can see why Twitter would censor the trending topics list, and not just from adult material. Twittering is supposed to be fun, and moonfruits spamming doesnt fit in!

    Although I may just be bitter that I was not quick enough with # moonfruit!
    Great post!

  10. This is really interesting. It seems like such a silly thing for Twitter to get all worked up over. Maybe Twitter needs to have some sort of contest application where site owners could submit to run a contest like this..although if that were the case I’m sure it wouldn’t be free. Interesting post, thanks!

    Brenon MacLaury

  11. Let’s not forget #squarespace – 30 Iphones in 30 days… not trending at all.

    I’m curious about the “democratic” movement on Twitter… well, really interested in how Twitter responds!

    Great post, thanks!

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