A trending topic on social-media sites Wednesday was raising fresh questions about the integrity of those platforms and their capacity to foment antipathy, or even disrupt democracy, rather than foster genuine political discourse ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
The hashtag #NeverWarren has been the most popular topic on Twitter
following Tuesday’s closely watched Democratic debate in Iowa, the last such event prior to that state’s caucuses on Feb. 3, and it isn’t entirely clear why.
The trend emerged after the six-person debate’s conclusion, at which point Warren was seen approaching Sanders, who reaches forward for a handshake but is apparently snubbed by Warren. The two have described themselves as longtime friends.
Check out the YouTube footage of the encounter below via CBS News — it occurs at about the 11-second mark:
The exchange has seemingly revived hostilities between the two presidential candidates and their supporters, which both camps had appeared eager earlier Tuesday to put behind them.
Sanders and Warren are progressive candidates who are seen as having the best shots, along with former Vice President Joe Biden, of winning the Democratic nomination and ultimately going head-to-head with President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 contest for the White House. The 45th U.S. president is attempting to secure a second term on the back of a healthy economy and record highs on popular stock benchmarks including the Dow Jones Industrial Average
, the S&P 500
and the Nasdaq Composite
At the heart of the tensions may be the Warren camp’s claim that Sanders — who serves in the Senate as an independent but is competing for a second time for the Democratic presidential nomination, having fallen short against eventual nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016 — told Warren during a private 2018 meeting that he disagreed with anyone who thought a woman could beat Trump. According to reports, that remark came just before Warren officially kicked off her presidential campaign.
Sanders, however, has denied the claim, saying Tuesday night in Des Moines: “Of course a woman can win.”
On Twitter, however, the apparent clash was erupting into fresh hostilities between Sanders’s staunch supporters and those backing Warren (the hashtag #NeverSanders was also in evidence).
An article on Fast Company’s website speculates that the #NeverWarren trend is being fueled by the same type of algorithms and bots that sought to undermine the Clinton campaign through various tactics including disinformation and voter discouragement.
“This what we mean when we talk about tech sowing division,” wrote Ben Collins, an NBC News reporter who specializes in cyberthreats and online misconduct, via Twitter.
The Hill, back in August, wrote that bots and automated disinformation campaigns on social media are a major threat to the 2020 election, just as they’d been four years earlier. “Some warn disinformation from fake accounts is intensifying, while others say those hashtags were promoted by regular Twitter users. And the debate is highlighting how the issue remains a challenge as the next election nears.”
Some fear that the current debate could be sowing divisions among Democrats and could bolster the chances of Trump’s winning a second term.
Currently, the political betting market PredictIt shows Trump with a good chance of repeating his narrow 2016 victory, with Biden running a distant second. Contracts on PredictIt pay out based on whether a given outcome occurs. The higher the price, the higher the assumed probability an outcome will come to pass.
Back in 2016, Facebook
in particular played an unwitting role in voter-manipulation schemes and has since insisted that it has fortified its digital defenses to fend off meddling in elections. Back in October, the social-media platform said it had thwarted new interference attempts from Russian and Iran.
It’s unclear whether bots or algorithms are at play in Wednesday’s trending topics, but it is an issue that will likely be closely watched as the field of Democratic candidates is winnowed and the race for the Oval Office heads for the home stretch.