The “trending topic” as used on Twitter has been responsible for generating quite a bit of news over the last year, as Twitter has become a mainstream site like never before. As news media becomes ever more obsessed with “user-generated content”, the major news agencies are using Twitter to see what people are talking about. Where people used to talk about the news, now what people talk about becomes news.
This has become all the more noticeable in the last year. On one notable occasion a minor British politician appeared as a guest on a Fox News show talking about the differences between the American healthcare system being targeted for reform by Barack Obama and the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) – describing the British system in quite damning terms. The response from British Twitter users was driven in large part by the Irish comedy writer Graham Linehan who ended a tweet denouncing the politician with the hashtag #welovethenhs – and before too long, there were thousands upon thousands of tweets supporting Linehan.
As the hashtag became a trending topic, the support for the British system became a news story not only in Britain but further afield. Arguments from opponents of healthcare reform that under the NHS, a figure like Professor Stephen Hawking would never have lived to the age he has, were picked up on Twitter and denounced by people pointing out that Professor Hawking was born and had lived most of his life in Britain, and would have died without the NHS. The “trending topic” became the news, and there are other examples of this, too.