To see the current velocity of the Twitter outrage machine, look no further than the #BoycottABC hashtag, which went from being a liberal advocacy campaign to a pro-Trump censorship rallying cry in a matter of minutes.
It started on Tuesday morning when Roseanne Barr compared Valerie Jarrett, a black senior adviser to former president Obama, to an ape, tweeting "muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj." Barr was responding to a Twitter thread about a conspiracy theory that Jarrett had covered up CIA spying. She first defended the tweet, and then apologized over Twitter to Jarrett. "I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks," she wrote before announcing she was leaving Twitter.
As the racist tweet gained traction across Twitter, a campaign on the left began to put pressure on ABC to pull Barr's hit sitcom, which was revived this spring. #BoycottABC followed in the footsteps of similar past campaigns on the left; last year, for example, advocacy groups worked to pressure advertisers for Fox News host Sean Hannity (over his coverage of the sexual assault allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore) and former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly (over sexual harassment allegations against him).
And so on Tuesday morning, #BoycottABC took off as an anti-racism protest.
A number of users noted they planned to cancel streaming subscriptions to the channel. "Your entire network, including your local stations, is dead to me while she remains at ABC," one said.
Hundreds of tweets followed:
That is, until midday, when ABC responded. The network announced it had canceled Roseanne, calling her tweet "abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values."
After ABC's announcement, it took only minutes for the hashtag to completely change hands, switching from those denouncing racism on the left to pro-Trump and conservative accounts accusing ABC of partisan bias and censorship.
In similar fashion, Roseanne defenders attempted to get the hashtag to go viral on social media to put pressure on ABC.
Despite advocating for opposing goals, the pro- and anti-Roseanne #BoycottABC tweets were quite similar.
While it's normal for outrage to seesaw back and forth between partisan factions on Twitter, #BoycottABC is unique in that both sides waged war against the other under the same hashtag. As Renee DiResta, a computational propaganda researcher for the organization Data for Democracy, pointed out, it appeared as if the Roseanne defenders didn't even realize the left had been using the hashtag.
While perhaps an extreme example, #BoycottABC neatly illustrates how closely the tactics of online political advocacy campaigns mirror each other. And as DiResta notes, the right's choice to take up the hashtag — which seems more motivated by laziness than a desire to co-opt — is an indicator of how little each group is listening to the other's rallying cries.
"It's all filter bubbles and hashtag wars now," DiResta tweeted.
Valerie Jarrett's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.