The mystery of the disappearing #flotilla on Twitter [Updated]

As we know from breaking news right now over 10 people have died after Israeli commandos boarded a convoy of ships carrying aid to Gaza, sparking an international controversy. But we’re not going to get into the politics of that situation. What we’re interested in is what happened on Twitter today. Because although the convoy has been dubbed a “flotilla” by Twitter users and a large number of people were using the #flotilla hashtag, this disappeared from after trending briefly. The only remaining related trend topic was Israil, the Turkish word for Israel. [See below for the latest update on this].

As a result, a large number of of people are calling out Twitter for “censoring” the #flotilla hashtag.

In addition #flotilla was not appearing on Twitter’s trending list despite the fact that it is pretty prominent on Google trends. It’s causing a huge wave of controversy right now.

So what can be found out about what happened to the #flotilla hashtag?

We’ve emailed Twitter’s PR people to get a response but they are in the US and likely asleep right now. It’s also a public holiday there.

But given that censorship of popular hashtags is not in Twitter’s DNA, we’ve been looking into why the hashtag disappeared off search.

First of all, we doubt it’s because @flotilla is a twitter account attached to an “indie/classical melodic rock band from Montreal”.

So the most likely explanation is that Twitter’s recently updated trending topics algorithm mistakes #gaza and #flotilla for older news unrelated to current events.

Thus, current events have overtaken the hashtag and mistakenly marked it as hashtag spam. Since Twitter support staff are on a skeleton crew during these hours, the algorithm has no doubt not been updated to take account of breaking news yet.

At least, that’s the way the theory goes – but we’ll update this post when we get a response from Twitter.

Meanwhile, we’d appreciate it if you kept your comments to the Twitter aspect of this story as this is a tech blog, many thanks.

UPDATE: A couple of hours after this was posted it became clear Twitter users had switched to different terms, namely “Gaza flotilla” and #freedomflotilla which are working and trending just fine, so there is clearly no “censorship” going on. As we say, it may well have been down to technical problems with the original hashtags people were using.

UPDATE 2: Twitter has just got back to us with this statement: “We are investigating a technical issue that caused search errors for a short period of time this morning. Twitter facilitates the open exchange of information and opinions worldwide so when that is hampered for any amount of time by a bug, we take it very seriously.”