Twitter's well-documented spam problem is creeping into the hashtag section, making it difficult for the kind of people who take their hashtags the most seriously: denizens of the endless social media conferences. In just the last two days we've seen two twitter hashtags, at two separate tech conferences, overwhelmed by spam bots, one from The Guardian's Activate NYC conference and another from Wired's Business Conference.
Twitter spam is so bad for #ActivateNYC hashtag that we're switching to #ActivateNYC12. First time I've seen conference overrun like that.— David Weiner (@daweiner) May 3, 2012
The way the hashtag works makes it particularly susceptible to spam. Spam bots are often triggered to a specific word or phrase, which is exactly what a hashtag is. Plus, a hashtag gathers a group of eyes in one spot, making it an even more attractive target for spam bots. But, beyond these more traditional forms of spam-bot invasions, the hashtag draws other types of spam, such as those trying to co-opt it for their own commentary, "ironically." And, really if you think about it hard enough, the hashtag is inherently its own form of spam. Twitter hashtag spam comes in at least four forms, leading us to question the value of the hashtag altogether.
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Hashtag Spam Type 1: Porn Bots
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This is your regular old, run of the mill spam. Some automated bot discovers a tag and then sends out some spammy tweets to the group. That's what happened with our conferences above. And robots also attacked the #newtsnext tag. This is particularly frustrating for those deeply involved in a hashtag, as it gets in the way of the actual discussion of things.
It is time for Twitter to acknowledge and deal with the hashtag spam issue. This is getting ridiculous. See: #activatenyc #newtsnextact— Colin Jones (@Colin_Jones) May 3, 2012
This is probably the most problematic of the hashtag spam-types, as an accidental click could compromise a Twitter account. It's also annoying for people who really want to enjoy the hashtag.
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Hashtag Spam Type 2: Jokesters
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This is the type of spam that doesn't come from a robot and doesn't link to malware. But that doesn't make it totally docile. This happens when some organization puts out a serious hashtag, like #AskRomney, as Diane Sawyer did to draw questions for her ABC News interview with Mitt Romney. And then, some funny people decide to use it to make jokes, usually as a way to mock said hashtag. Here are some examples, via Lucid Dispair.
Is it true that if I kill you, and eat you, that I become you?
Can you open this jar for me?
Who mucks out your dressage horses stalls twice a day?
Have you ever made it with one of your slaves?
Hilar! But no, actually, for Katie Couric, we imagine this proved very annoying to sift through. And this happens a lot with issues with sides, like politicians and Occupy Wall Street.
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Hashtag Spam Type 3: The Hashtag as Spam
For those not following an event the hashtag of said event in and of itself is a form of spam. Nobody wants to read sound-bytes from a business whatever conference. It's especially annoying when trusted tweeters get involved in one of these. (We're looking at you, media people at your Guardian media conference.)
Hashtag Spam Type 4: The Hashtag as Paralanguage
Some clever people have turned the hashtag on its head using it for a sort of hilarious or cutesy after-thought. Like this: "Unfortunately, the hashtag is ruining talking. #NotGonnaLie," which is from Gizmodo's Sam Biddle as he wrote about this phenomenon last December. As Hashtag creator and former Google employee Chris Messina explained to The New York Times, it works as a sort of inside joke creator. "You kind of have to be in-the-know," Messina told Ashley Parker. "So it's one of those jokes where you're like, ‘Oh, I see what you did there, because you're on Twitter and I'm on Twitter.'" Biddle finds it annoying because he thinks it's a comedic crutch, but really it's spammy because it's not an actual hashtag. One can't search #Joke and find a useful thread of information.
The hashtag in its pure original form provides a useful way to organize a topic on Twitter, an otherwise difficult platform to search. Unfortunately, this is the very thing that has created all this hashtag spam. And for all this useless stuff, it still offers an easy way to follow a topic. But, at the very least, Twitter, clean that robot stuff up.