Anatomy of the Stephen Colbert Twitter storm

All it took was a single tweet out of context to ignite a Twitter tornado. On Thursday, a tweet from the Colbert Show account, since deleted, read: “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”

The joke was taken from a segment on Wednesday night’s show about Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder and his charitable foundation for Native Americans.

Out of context, it read more like a racist joke than a joke about racism. And so #CancelColbert was born when social media activist Suey Park tweeted on Thursday evening:


I used Crimson Hexagon ForSight to take a peak at the anatomy of the Twitstorm. On March 28, there were 85,340 with the #CancelColbert hashtag. Out of them, 48,410 were retweets.

The majority – 39,065 – were from the U.S. But the story ricocheted as far as Bahrain, Botswana and Bhutan.

Posts by country

And the story seems to have struck a chord with men, who made up an estimated 70% of the tweets from the U.S. The largest single number of tweets came from California, just over 6,000, followed by New York at around 5,000.

A word cloud drawn from a sample of 20,000 tweets gives a sense of what people were talking about.

CancelColbert word cloud

Excluding about a third tweets that were classified as neutral, the overall sentiment was negative.

Daily Basic sentiment trend #CancelColbert

This is just a snapshot of the Twitter activity around #CancelColbert.

It is an example of what happens when meaning is changed, when a tweet is divorced from its context.

Anyone seeing on the receiving end doesn’t have the necessary background to interpret the message.

UPDATE: By Saturday, chatter on the #CancelColbert hashtag had died down by 76 per cent. The number of tweets feel to just under 21,000, with slightly more positive messages. The figures suggest the Twitter storm has passed.

#CancelColbert traffic