One of the most useful features of Twitter for events like conferences and tweet chats is the hashtag. A hashtag – a keyword preceded by the ‘#’ symbol – enables conference-goers, the event organizer and anyone else interested in the event to see all tweets that include the hashtag.
It enables anyone to listen to the conversation and easily participate.
- People use the hashtag symbol # before relevant keywords (no spaces) in their Tweet to categorize those Tweets and help them show more easily in Twitter Search.
- Clicking on a hashtagged word in any message shows you all other Tweets in that category.
- Hashtags can occur anywhere in the Tweet – at the beginning, middle, or end.
- Hashtagged words that become very popular are often Trending Topics.
The popularity of this useful device has captured imaginations everywhere. It’s getting harder to find events that don’t have a hashtag.
Unfortunately, that popularity has also attracted the attention of spammers, bots and other unsavoury elements of the social web to the extent that hashtag hijacking is becoming increasingly common. It shows itself by tweets with content and links that include your hashtag but have no relation at all to that hashtag.
Here’s an example from the hashtag associated with the Public Relations Institute of Ireland’s annual conference in Dublin yesterday, where I was a speaker; the hashtag is #priiconf12. Only two of the tweets in this screenshot from earlier today are genuine, ie, are directly related to the event and the hashtag:
The spam tweets in this screenshot are typical – they’re often suggestive and profane, usually with avatar pics of attractive-looking women, and with short-code links that you click at your peril.
While you can just ignore them, the effect of them in your hashtag stream ruins the hashtag experience for everyone else.
Until such time as there is a clear, effective and universal method of cleaning out such unwelcome content from your hashtag, there are things you can do to help Twitter address the problem.
For instance, in your own account on the Twitter website, you should block and report the spammer to Twitter. You don’t have to ‘own’ the hashtag to do this.
- Click on the spammer’s name and you’ll get the popup you see above.
- Click on the dropdown link next to the ‘Follow’ button and you’ll see a menu.
- Highlight and click the ‘Report…’ choice.
That interaction gets the ball rolling for Twitter to take the steps they need to do starting with reviewing the tweeter’s account and blocking it from your view while they investigate.
I’ve heard quite a few anecdotal examples of Twitter’s swiftness in addressing hashtag spammers (and others who violate Twitter’s rules), so they do take it seriously and take action when they’re made aware of problems by legitimate Twitter users.
If you feel that a hashtag spam issue is really serious – eg, during an event where it’s pretty clear that your hashtag is being overwhelmingly hijacked – then you can address the matter directly with Twitter by filing a support-request ticket. Again, I hear anecdotal reports of Twitter’s swiftness in addressing such requests.
Hashtag spam is a genuine problem, one that is increasing. While it does seem like a game of Whack-a-mole at times, grit your teeth and persevere! Report all instances to Twitter to help them do their job.