Once on the fringe, Twitter speculation about Clinton’s health has gone mainstream.
Tweets about Clinton’s health as the share of election-related conversation jumped 6 percent on Monday, and the floor seems to be reset.
By John West
On Sunday, as Hillary Clinton left a 9/11 memorial ceremony and entered her van, she buckled, stumbled, and nearly fell. Later, the Clinton campaign revealed that the Democratic presidential nominee had been diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday. On social media, the discussion of Clinton’s health immediately rocketed.
The Electome — a project of the Laboratory for Social Machines at the MIT Media Lab — aggregates Twitter posts, and, by piping them through a sophisticated algorithm, it can determine with a high degree of accuracy if a given tweet is election-related.
Data from the Electome showed that conversation about Clinton’s health rapidly spiked. The Electome is capable of searching for specific terms in tweets about the election, and on Sunday, over 4 percent of all election-related tweets used terms relating to Clinton’s health. The number kept growing; on Monday, over 6 percent used those same terms.
This dramatic increase is unusual in both its size and duration.
For context, most policy issues on Twitter rarely reach even 6 percent of the conversation, and their spikes tend to be one-day affairs. When Trump remarked that “Second Amendment people” might stop Hillary from abolishing gun rights, Conversation spiked, but it only lasted a couple of days before dropping back down to pre-remark levels, and that spike, even at its height, represented only about 8 percent of the total election conversation on Twitter.
You can see for yourself that even top issues on Twitter don’t spike for very long, and that 6 percent — the portion of the conversation about talk of Clinton’s health — is hefty when compared to most policy conversations.
The increase in conversation following Sunday’s revelations also differs from previous jumps in its makeup. Previously, Clinton followers have not reacted strongly to the stories about her health, but in this case, they did.
Past events around Clinton’s health have barely piqued the interest of exclusive Clinton followers — users who follow Clinton but no other presidential candidates (a proxy for Clinton supporters). Exclusive Trump followers, on the other hand, have been talking quite a bit about Hillary’s health over the course of the campaign. Initially, this was driven by unsubstantiated allegations that she suffers from some kind of brain injury.
But in the last month, worries about Clinton’s health have started to make their way from conservative outlets into the mainstream. When these speculations collided with real indications of health troubles such as Clinton’s prolonged coughing spell and, finally, her stumble on Sunday, the result was this stunning surge.
As of yesterday, the conversation seems to have settled, though it remains elevated from pre-stumble levels. Before the spike, tweets about Clinton’s health made up less than a third of a percent of all election-related tweets. Yesterday, they approached 2 percent — an almost 600 percent increase. It seems, as we approach the debates, the floor on the issue has been raised.