The hashtag #RapeMelania was briefly trending on Twitter on Sunday, after an (apparent) photo of an anti-Trump supporter in Washington DC holding a sign saying “Rape Melania” — in reference to Donald Trump’s wife —widely circulated on the network, prompting vitriol from users.
But tweeps needn’t waste all their virtual saliva, as it turns out the phrase actually trended for many of the right reasons. Indeed, as Twitter later clarified, the hashtag made it to the trending topic section precisely because so many people were discussing it — and denouncing it — rather than calling for sexual assault.
Many Twitter users who saw the hashtag trending criticized the microblogging site for not taking it down. Some also pointed out Twitter’s double standards when it comes to delisting violent or inflammatory hashtags (the platform has previously been accused of deliberately blocking hashtags #HillaryForPrison and #LockHerUp — two rallying cries of the pro-Trump alt right), all of which contributed to making the phrase trend on the platform.
But that didn’t deter tweeps (both Trump supporters and critics) from wailing the sirens of outrage.
— Schadenfreudelicious (@aggierican) November 13, 2016
— Hddude45 (@hddude45) November 13, 2016
This is really sickening. pic.twitter.com/5dnVMML3uw
— Ryan Graham (@RyanGraham10) November 13, 2016
And as is often the case on Twitter, it quickly escalated into an Internet culture war pitting liberal feminists against the rest of the world. Trump supporters latched onto the fact that the phrase was trending as a ripe opportunity to cast their liberal opponents as hypocrite misogynists.
The fact that #rapemelania is trending on twitter makes liberals and Hillary supporters look demented, hypocritical, & cruel. Inexcusable.
— Morgan Skipper (@Skipzzzzzzz) November 13, 2016
— Kimberly Corban (@Kimberly_Corban) November 13, 2016
Sickened to see so many pro-sex feminists who on any other day would defend a woman being slut shamed come for Melania bc they hate Trump
— elexus jionde (@Lexual__) November 12, 2016
If Dems really care about us women they will denounce the #RapeMelania sign and tag. The hate and hypocrisy is depressing.
— Allie Leppo (@leppo_al) November 13, 2016
When you see Liberal Feminist not saying anything about Rape Melania just shows how fake Feminist they are like
— Hispanic Deplorable (@Chrisevansny) November 13, 2016
— Nanda (@frangiaq) November 13, 2016
This is not the first time this happens. In August 2014, the negative hashtag #FeministsAreUgly surfaced on Twitter and quickly appeared on the top 10 trending topics in the US. While many saw it as pure misogynist bait, it came to light that the hashtag had actually been created and propagated by two feminists in an attempt to subvert stereotypes about feminism. But thousands of users unknowingly joined in, making the hashtag trend without being sure of its origins.
— Jessica Wilder (@JessicaNexus) November 13, 2016
The same thing happened in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Belgium, when #StopIslam began trending worldwide. As Caitlin Dewey noted in the Washington Post, the phrase had been around for almost five years — confined to the Tea Party’s Twittersphere — and started spiking right after the attacks when an anti-Muslim user started tweeting it again. But it didn’t really lit up until people began denouncing how bigoted and misplaced this message was.
But for our increasingly evidence-rejecting public, I guess it’s just easier to conclude that the whole thing was a fake. So when one enlightened tweeter noted that all other signs expect that one were facing forward, people followed suit.
Wait a tick. Why are all the signs facing forward except that one. That's a fake ass "rape Melania" sign if I've ever seen one. Show me vid
— Tarl Tankersley (@TarlwithaT) November 13, 2016
FRAUD ALERT – "Rape Melania" Sign is Bad Photoshopping. No Graphics artists noticed?? pic.twitter.com/izG5ZY6eXI
— Harry T Nacious (@HarryTNacious) November 14, 2016
— Melanie Wesslock (@nycpix) November 14, 2016
As for the protester in question? Alas, no one could reach him for comment.