As the Washington Post observed, many social media users were aghast at encountering the repugnant phrase “Rape Melania” among trending topics on 13 November 2016, touched off by photographs showing an anti-Trump protester holding up a sign bearing that legend at a Washington D.C. demonstration outside the president-elect’s new hotel. Viewers were critical both of the sign’s abhorrent message and Twitter’s allowing the phrase to remain among their trending topic list:

Some Twitter users saw “Rape Melania” in their trending-topics boxes after images of a protester holding a sign bearing the phrase during a demonstration in the District circulated on the social network.

Photos of the chilling banner, taken at an anti-Trump rally outside the president-elect’s new hotel in the nation’s capital, drew strong condemnations from Trump supporters and opponents alike. The online conversation — almost all of it about the sign’s inappropriateness — placed “Rape Melania” on a list of trending topics for some, but not all, Twitter users. Twitter customizes trending topics based on who users follow and where they are located.

Many Twitter users who saw that “Rape Melania” was trending criticized the technology giant for not removing it from lists of most-discussed subjects.

Beyond the indignation about the sign’s repugnant message, debate centered on whether the images showing it were real, and what the intent of the person(s) responsible for the sign image (real or not) might have been. Was it genuinely intended to advocate violence towards the future First Lady, or was it a troll planted to negatively skew the reputation of anti-Trump protesters in the public eye?

As to the former point, many viewers claimed the sign seen in the image was faked — that it looked oddly unreal, that it curiously faced away from rather than toward the object of protest (as if its message had been digitally added afterwards), and that it wasn’t visible in multiple video reports of the protest.

Others proclaimed that circulated images of the sign were undoubtedly real rather than the product of digital manipulation, as the sign was captured in multiple photographs of the protest taken from different angles, and other protest signs held up at the event faced in various directions:

rape melania

 
Naysayers pointed out there was no apparent variation in the lettering of the sign when viewed from different camera angles, indicating its message was photoshopped in afterwards:

signgif

Still frames from another video of the event show what looks like the same person holding a sign that actually reads “WE LOVE YOU JOIN US!”:

fakesign

As to the latter point, the sign images (real or not) were used as fodder for both Clinton and Trump supporters as the hashtag #rapemelania trended on Twitter. Trump supporters claimed that the sign represented the hypocrisy of the anti-Trump contingent, while the latter denounced the sign and proclaimed that it was not representative of the protests:

twitter rape melania