I was once again reminded this week why social media companies care so much about the content users see. Social Media Marketing World was this week, and while I did not go to the conference, I did find it interesting to follow the hashtag #SMMW16 to catch the pulse of the event. Shortly after adding the hashtag as a column into TweetDeck, every 5 tweets or so I saw a reoccurring tweet. The first day was a tweet accompanied by a picture of Gaggle T-Shirts. Soon I saw another tweet, and another, and another, all coming from what looked like legitimate Twitter accounts at first, but at closer glance were probably not. Before I knew it, bright orange and blue T-shirts were burned into my eyes as endless shirts filled my feed. If I had at all been curious at the beginning what Gaggle might have been, I wasn’t now. They had hijacked the hashtag and got in the way of me viewing content that I wanted to consume.
The following day it got worse. I thankfully didn’t have to view Orange and Blue shirts anymore, but rather an obvious group of spam accounts began hijacking multiple trending hashtags. This group tweets from, again, accounts that looked to have somewhat legitimate profile pictures and names, but completely illegitimate accounts. They were accompanied by a link, and I pity the poor souls who accidentally may have clicked on it. I hope it didn’t do too much damage.
My own reaction to both of these situations was enlightening. At first I went on a tyrannical spam reporting frenzy, thinking that it might help prevent tweets like these from coming in. Eventually, however, I was so annoyed with the influence these spam tweets had on my experience with the event hashtag, that I was ready to stop following the hashtag all together. Hashtag hijackers were wasting the valuable time I wanted to use to consume content from the event, and if my time was going to be wasted sifting out bad content from good content, it was worth it to me to move my attention elsewhere. Twitter does not want my attention to go elsewhere.
Social networks exist on our attention, and their entire focus is providing us with an experience that we desire to consume. The minute we feel like our time is more valuable elsewhere, especially on a consistent basis, then those networks lose. While Twitter has long held back from really controlling the content we see in our feeds, and many Twitter users have encouraged the network to keep in that way (myself included), it was apparent from my experience that if there is no gate to sift out “bad content”, we might leave.
I almost did.