Tweets of Donald Trump’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
You may have woken up to #TrumpIsDead trending on Twitter this morning, and swiped over to your news app of choice to find out more.
Of course, there would have been no such story there. The former US president is alive and well – to coin one of his favourite phrases, this hashtag was a stone-cold case of fake news.
But in a co-ordinated attempt to test Elon Musk‘s stance on disinformation on the platform following his takeover, trending topics in the US and beyond were for hours topped with news of Mr Trump‘s apparent demise.
Why did it happen?
As ever, when something trends on Twitter, especially if it ends up being false or misleading, much of the discussion was driven by people wondering what on Earth was going on.
But it began as an effort to essentially stick it to new owner Musk, who has made content moderation – and his apparent desire to loosen it – a key part of the conversation surrounding his takeover.
“#TrumpIsDead is the best retaliation to Musk saying disinformation is free speech,” said one.
Another who tweeted the hashtag added: “I mean, he might be alive, but since we’re apparently going in a new direction on fact-checking in Chief Twit’s new world, I guess we’ll never know.”
“There has never been a hashtag that has trending bigger,” said one, echoing Mr Trump’s style of self-praise.
At its peak, tens of thousands of tweets drove the hashtag to the top of the trending charts.
Verified accounts got in on the joke, with one from comedian Tim Heidecker racking up close to 10,000 retweets, while others mocked up screenshots of news sites including CNN.
In the US, #TrumpIsDead even overtook the evening’s World Series baseball action.
How are trends determined?
Trending topics on Twitter come from a combination of the sheer number of tweets and the work of an algorithm, designed to tailor which ones appear for individual users based on their interests and location.
However, Twitter will act to prevent a hashtag or content from trending if it violates its rules.
For now, at least, that includes anything deemed as platform manipulation or spam, and also any forms of so-called “social coordination” which may spread misinformation.
Twitter’s head of safety and integrity Yoel Roth tweeted last night, just as the hashtag was trending: “We’re staying vigilant against attempts to manipulate conversations about the 2022 US midterms.”
Sky News has contacted Twitter for comment about the Trump hashtag.
Have Trump or Musk responded?
Mr Trump is yet to address his return to the trending charts on his platform Truth Social, where he has been posting since being banned from Twitter in January 2021.
There has also been no comment from Musk – but his latest tweets do relate to Mr Trump’s Twitter status.
Having indicated earlier this year that he would reverse Mr Trump’s ban, people have been waiting to see when suspended accounts might be allowed back.
But he tweeted overnight: “Twitter will not allow anyone who was deplatformed for violating Twitter rules back on platform until we have a clear process for doing so, which will take at least a few more weeks.”
That means no return for Mr Trump before next week’s US midterms, as Musk works to create a new moderation council with “widely diverse viewpoints”.