When hashtagging goes out of control
By Patricia Hului
SOCIAL TECHNOLOGY EXPERT, Chris Messina is credited for using the very first hashtag on Twitter when he posted #barcamp in August 2007.
The purpose for his hashtag was to gather discussions regarding Barcamp, an online technology conference. By putting # in front of a word or phrase to discuss specific events and relevant issues, suddenly online users could search for the topic and join in the conversation.
Seven years since hashtag was officially used, now millions of people are using it not just on Twitter but also on Facebook, Instagram and Google+.
What started out as a useful information gathering tool has now taken another turn in these recent years where it is no longer used to exclusively discuss its related topic. The results; the use of hashtag sometimes can be more annoying rather than helping.
These are few examples how hashtags have gone away from serving their original purpose.
Hashtag to Bully
Cyber bullying is like a virus. From sending anonymous emails or messages, spreading fake rumours through social network sites (SNS) to creating hashtags to target and bully somebody online, it keeps recreating and transforming itself.
When Siti Fairrah Ashykin Kamaruddin, otherwise known as ‘Kiki’, was caught on video ranting and bullying a senior citizen for bumping into her recently bought Peugeot, Malaysians took notice.
#cdm25, the plate number of the woman’s car almost immediately went viral on Twitter, Instagram and even on Facebook.
Some used #cdm25 or #kikikamarudin (the woman’s online Facebook name) to criticise her or give a piece of their minds, others just plain out bashing her online.
The mass online onslaught became so heated that Minister of Youth and Sport Khairy Jamaluddin tweeted, “We can criticise her actions, but naming, shaming and cyber bullying her just makes you the same”.
Of course it would be the last thing on everyone’s mind to agree with the woman’s outburst of unnecessary rage and racist ranting but it does not give us the permission to publicly humiliate her.
Hashtag to Scam
Malaysians were once again devastated when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was struck down over eastern Ukraine on July 17 killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew members on board.
Shameless spammers took the tragedy as an opportunity to open Facebook pages – some created by using the MH17 Flight victims’ names – to links that went to pop-up ads.
Using the #MH17 hashtag, the links were also spread through Twitter. This act called ‘hashjacking’ is when some people use unrelated hashtags – usually hot and trending – to promote their posts or tweets to generate more visitors and income for the spammers.
Malaysian Computer Emergency Response Team (MyCERT) reported on its website that the suspicious tweets leading to malicious links were written in Indonesian, using the trending #MH17 hashtag in order to entice and mislead internet users looking for news related to MH17.
Hashtag to Advertise
Used wrongly, hashtagging is used for nothing other than for cheap publicity. If you clicked on any trending hashtag on Instagram for example, don’t be surprised to see clothing, phone casings and other unrelated photos show up in the results.
It is of course a sore to our eyes. But truth be told, there is not much we can do about it.
When Kiki the now infamous road bully hammered on Uncle Sim’s car with a steering lock, #steeringlock became trendy. Some online marketers took this opportunity to gain exposure for their products by hashtagging everything from watches, monopods, and face cream to veils with #steeringlock.
In this case, while no harm was done, no malware spread when someone hashtagged #steeringlock to advertise, it was still an opportunistic and immature marketing move.
Other than promoting their products, some internet users have also used the trending hashtag to promote their selfies. This has also included #MH17.
As much as some of us, especially the older generation hate hashtags or do not get the purpose of it at all, hashtags are here to stay, and the best that we can do is remind people to hashtag responsibly.
Instagram came up with three best practices for using hashtag; be specific, be relevant and be observant so that it is easier to connect with like-minded people which is the real purpose of hashtagging.
MyCERT was formed on Jan 13, 1997 to help the internet community in Malaysia to deal with computer security incidents such as intrusion, identity theft, malware infection, cyber harassment and other computer security related incidents.
Any form of suspicious links or website and even cyber bullying and harassment can be reported to them.
These are the many ways to file a report:
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Phone : 1-300-88-2999 (monitored during business hours)
Fax : +603 89453442
Handphone : +60 19 2665850 (24×7 call incident reporting)
SMS : CYBER999 REPORT to 15888
Business Hours : Mon – Fri 08:30 -17:30 MYT