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Algorithms and agenda-setting in Wikileaks’ #Podestaemails release

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In the month before the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, Wikileaks released 37 serialized batches of e-mails authored by former Clinton campaign manager John Podesta. Each release was announced using a unique PodestaEmail related hashtag (#PodestaEmails2, #PodestaEmails3, etc.). In total, Podesta e-mail related hashtags hit town-wide, country-wide, or worldwide Trending topics lists a total of 1,917 times, remaining on Trending Topic lists everyday within the U.S. for 30 days before election day. In this article, we discuss how Wikileaks’ release methodology increased the potential reach of Podesta E-mail related content. We describe how Wikileaks’ tweets spoke to two audiences: Twitter users and Twitter algorithms. In serializing its content and using new hashtags for each release, Wikileaks increased the potential persistence, visibility, spreadability, and searchability of this content. By creating the possibility for this content to remain persistently visible on the Trending Topics list, Wikileaks was able to potentially realize a greater degree of agenda-setting than would have been possible through singular hashtag use.
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Keywords: Twitter; Wikileaks; agenda-setting; social media; sociotechnical systems

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Information Science, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA 2: College of Information Studies, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA

Publication date: September 19, 2019

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