Politics

House Democrats Struggle With Their Impeachment Hashtag Game

Nancy Pelosi gestures with her hand in front of a Texas Tribune backdrop.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi #ExposingTheTruth.
Sergio Flores/Getty Images

Nancy Pelosi has a hashtag for the whistleblower complaint that prompted the Trump impeachment inquiry. Actually, she has two.

In the span of exactly 24 hours, the speaker’s account went from #ExposeTheTruth to #TruthExposed. This was not simply a matter of trying out one hashtag and then settling on another. The next morning, Pelosi tweeted #ExposeTheTruth again. Then it was #TruthExposed, #TruthExposed, #ExposeTheTruth, #ExposeTheTruth, #ExposeTheTruth, and #TruthExposed.

The only pattern was the absence of a pattern. Even as Democratic leadership argued for limiting Trump’s impeachment to the Ukraine stuff because a one-issue inquiry is easy for voters to understand, the speaker refused to lock in on a single snappy catchphrase.

So, how’s the campaign going? Thus far, we’ve got #ExposeTheTruth tweets from Donna Brazile, MoveOn, Debra Messing, Pelosi’s daughter, and a handful of House Democrats, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib, one of the first members of Congress to call for impeachment. An account called “We ❤️ and Trust Nancy Pelosi” and someone whose Twitter name includes the hashtag #CloroxTheOvalOffice have also chimed in. Not bad!

On the #TruthExposed side, there’s Pelosi and … a congresswoman retweeting Pelosi.

Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, told me his office is using both hashtags, “but in terms of our guidance to all House Democrats, we’ve only used [#ExposeTheTruth].”

Is there a meaningful strategy behind splitting whistleblower-related tweets among two separate hashtags? Isn’t the purpose of a hashtag to help users find all related conversation in one place, ideally with a specific label that applies to that topic and that topic only?

I’m no congressional social media expert. But the results of this campaign have made one thing very clear: Boy, is it easy for a hashtag as generic as #ExposeTheTruth to go off the rails! #ExposeTheTruth says nothing about Trump, nor about whether the truth will condemn or absolve him, making it a ready target for flipping or hijacking.

Scroll through a few pages of hashtagged tweets and you’ll see a bunch of pro-Trump messaging sprinkled in among the resistance tweeters and completely unrelated content. “The truth is that @JoeBiden bullied the Ukrainian government into firing the prosecutor that was investigating Hunter Biden’s company #ExposeTheTruth,” tweeted the publisher of the right-wing publication Human Events. I’ve seen several #ExposeTheTruth tweets that mention Benghazi—some in response to Pelosi’s tweets, and some from years back.

#TruthExposed stands an even worse chance of catching on as an anti-Trump battle cry. Turns out it’s really hard to describe the actual uncovering of a government conspiracy without sounding like a conspiracy theorist! Multiple QAnon accounts, a climate denier, a claim that Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah were bribed to promote a film about abuse allegations against Michael Jackson, some kind of flat Earth situation, a tweet explaining “5 events the government wants you to not know existed,” something about how women would rather have a rich boyfriend than a physically fit one—all say they’re serving up #TruthExposed.

Pelosi’s team tells me Twitter users have engaged with #ExposeTheTruth tweets about 14.8 million times. On Monday evening, the most recent #ExposeTheTruth tweet included the word DemoRATS, and the most recent #TruthExposed tweet read, “#TruthExposed is that you are a traitor to AMERICA Pelosi.”