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What's Trending?: A STATUS/الوضع "Quick Thoughts" report by Laila Shereen Sakr

"What is Trending on Social Media in the Middle East?" is a regular feature of the "Quick Thoughts" special segment on Status. It offers insight into subjects that dominate online discussion in the Middle East. Every month, Laila Shereen Sakr, who monitors, collects, and analyzes social media trends for R-Shief, will provide an update on what's trending, and we will speak to her for every episode of Status.

The data visualizations for this episode (above) illustrate the patterns of hashtag use in the Middle East pertaining to various topics in the month of February 2015. Created by R-Shief, these visualizations show the top hashtags for this period. Laila Shereen Sakr's comments (below) explain these visualizations, highlight the most compelling aspects of these trending hashtags, and offer insight into how they should be understood.

February’s Twitter trends were all about the #ISIS and #A7a. Within the top twenty trending hashtags, three of the top four were about the Islamic state: #داعش, # الدولة_الإسلامية, #isis. And #Daesh (that is English transliteration of ISIS in Arabic) came in as the twelfth most trending hashtag in our Twitter collection.

Most of the trends that appeared this month were to be expected. The one that stands out this month was the hashtag #A7a. And though we only saw a few hundred thousand mentions of that tag, as compared to the sixty million mentions we see on #Bahrain [this] month, it is still considered a trend.

What is a Trend?

Twitter trends are automatically generated by an algorithm that attempts to identify topics that are being talked about more in the present than they were previously–measuring the change in how much a hashtag is used in the past to the present. The greater this change, the faster a hashtag is trending. Our trends list is designed to help people discover the "most breaking" news from across the world, in real-time. It captures the hottest emerging topics, not just what is most popular.

Sometimes a topic does not break into the trends list because its popularity is not as widespread as people believe--such as #freealaa or #humanrights. And, sometimes, popular terms do not make the trends list because the velocity of conversation is not increasing quickly enough, relative to the baseline level of conversation happening on an average day--this is what happened to #Muslimlivesmatter.

February 2015

As I predicted last month, however, the hashtag #chapelhillshooting (the hashtag referring the name of an event) has outlived #Muslimlivesmatter, a hashtag representing a position for justice and nondiscrimination.

The final point I want to raise about this months trends is the how we can understand different communities engaging on the same subject. In particular, looking at English-speaking solidarity networks in comparison to Arabic-speaking networks. As mentioned last month, the Arabic hashtags almost always predominate. See figures 5, 6, and 7. In each of these hashtags on #Saudi, #Egypt, and #Bahrain, their Arabic equivalent were consistently mentioned more often. However, what is significantly notable is how the English hashtag #Iraq suddenly spiked beginning 22 February, and the English-speaking audience began a dialogue about #Iraq that occurred more than double the frequency of its Arabic equivalent.

This most clearly has to do with the clashes that took place between the “Popular Mobilization” and ISIS along the Iraqi and Syrian border. This also explains why the hashtag on #سوريا came in sixth this month. The Joint Forces operations in Iraq against ISIS/ISIL explains this sudden spike. Indeed, #ISIS is taking over the Twitter-sphere conversations among English-speaking networks as well as Arabic. Let us see what March brings. 

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