Social Advocacy & Politics: How to Run a Denial of Hashtag Campaign

DrDigipol
Alan Rosenblatt Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy, turner4D

Posted on May 28th 2013

Social Advocacy & Politics: How to Run a Denial of Hashtag Campaign

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It doesn’t take that many people to steal a hashtag. A dozen or so independent tweeters pushing an alternative  message on someone else’s campaign hashtag can dramatically shift the sentiment of a conversation in a matter of minutes. A sustained effort can effectively deny a campaign of its ability to use its hashtag to promote its message.

The first time I tried a denial of hashtag campaign it was the summer of 2010. I got wind that the Republican Steering Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives was having a “Twitter Day.” Several House Republicans signed up to use the #RSC hashtag to tweet their commitments to the American people.

I quickly sent out a few emails to some lists I belong to asking folks to jump on the hashtag to tweet questions, challenges and alternative commitments to the Republican Representatives participating in the Twitter Day. I also tweeted out a calls to action and a few questions, challenges and alternative commitments of my own. Very quickly, we were able to take control of the conversation.

One of my favorite examples of challenging questions emerged without my suggesting it (thanks to my mobilizing a group of very smart people). Several Republican Representatives tweeted that they would never let the government get between a doctor and his/her patient. Each time, within a minute or so, 60-100 progressives replied to that Member asking if their commitment included keeping government from getting in between a woman and her doctor when it came to the right to choose. Classic.

This was, as I mentioned, my first effort to deny a hashtag to an opposing campaign. As you might imagine, it wasn’t perfect. The next day, several media outlets ran the story about the RSC’s Twitter Day. But instead of recounting the story of how progressives hijacked the hashtag, they ran (either verbatim or paraphrased) the press release from the Republican Steering Committee declaring the event to be a great success based on the number of Representatives that participated. They never bothered to check the hashtag timeline to see the full scope of the discussion.

So, the key lesson here is that if you are going to launch a Denial of Hashtag campaign, be sure to alert the press at the beginning of the campaign. Provide them with a link to the hashtag timeline so they can see the conversation unfold. Then follow up by sending them a press release with stats on the results (SocialMention.com offers a free sentiment analysis of hashtags if you don’t have a premium service).

Social Advocacy & Politics is a weekly, exclusive column for Social Media Today by Alan Rosenblatt that explores the intersection of politics and social media. Look for the next installment next Tuesday morning. 

DrDigipol

Alan Rosenblatt

Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy, turner4D

Alan Rosenblatt, Ph.D. is a social media and online advocacy strategist, professor & thought leader. He is Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy at turner 4D (formerly Turner Strategies), the co-founder and host of the Internet Advocacy Roundtable; and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins, American, (Georgetown and Gonzaga Universities), where he teaches courses on internet politics. He was Associate Director for Online Advocacy at the Center for American Progress/CAP Action Fund from 2007-2013, where he created and directed the Center’s social media program, as well as Ombudsmen and co-founder at Take Action News. Alan taught the world’s first internet politics course ever at George Mason University in 1995. He founded the Internet Advocacy Roundtable in 2005; blogs at SocialMediaToday.com, Connectivity.CQRollCall.com, DrDigipol.Tumblr.com and occasionally/previously at BigThink.com, HuffingtonPost.com, techPresident.com; serves on E-Democracy.org’s board of directors and Social Media Today’s Advisory Board; In 2008, he was a fellow at George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet; and is a co-founder of  MediaBureau.com.  Alan has a Ph.D. in Political Science from American University, an M.A. in Political Science from Boston College and a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy from Tufts University. Find him on Twitter and across social media at @DrDigiPol.

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Comments

juliustok
Posted on May 28th 2013 at 9:06PM

Right now I'm a strategist for a mexican party on social media. And this is something I have to deal a lot. 

Cool article! With pleasure I will share it on my twitter account.

Hope to read more later on.

willk
Posted on May 31st 2013 at 12:12PM

So much for freedom of speech, decency, and consideration of your fellow citizen. One more example of how a few extremists (from any party, persuasion or group) can drown out someone’s message (regardless if the message is for good or ill.) Start your own counter-tweet because stealing or hijacking is just that…stealing or hijacking and as un-American as it gets. This is not fun and games. This is someone else’s right to freedom and the pursuit of happiness.  

  

Posted on May 31st 2013 at 2:55PM

No one interfered with the politician's speech - their messages went out without editing, censorship or any action that prevented the tweets from being distributed. This was a political campaign, and political campaigns invite open discussion, questions and criticism. Use of a hashtag does no more than indicate that the message relates to a specific topic or area of discussion; it is not the property, real or moral, of any particular person or group.

willk
Posted on May 31st 2013 at 4:28PM

The key from the article that show that it is a moral/ethical issue is the first paragraph:

"It doesn’t take that many people to steal a hashtag. A dozen or so independent tweeters pushing an alternative  message on someone else’s campaign hashtag can dramatically shift the sentiment of a conversation in a matter of minutes. A sustained effort can effectively deny a campaign of its ability to use its hashtag to promote its message." 

That my friend, is trampling on another's right to freely express (an opinion in this case) to their tweet followers without fear of reprisal. If you do not consider the tweeter worthy of your respect as a fellow American because you don't like their produce/service (or opinion) but simply intend to drown them out/harass them into making their tweet channel useless then it is nothing more than the cyberbullying. 

"...their messages went out without editing, censorship or any action that prevented the tweets from being distributed."  The point is the statements get lost in the barrage of mob mentality negativity, not thoughtful discussion. Not that tweets allow for much more than slogans I'll grant you that.

"political campaigns invite open discussion, questions and criticism"-...and nasty pointless attacks from close minded folks on both extremes (in this case spoken from the relative safety of anonymity in numbers.) 

"it is not the property, real or moral, of any particular person or group." I disagree with the moral part. See above. Why is it acceptable to treat your fellow Americans this way because it is "political" but not if it was ethnic, gender, religious or orientation? We are all equal and equally deserve respect even if their beliefs appear to you to be utterly reprehensible.  

By the way, your statements were thought provoking. :-)

DrDigipol
Posted on May 31st 2013 at 5:18PM

Hashtags are fundamentally public and non-exclusive. Everyone using it hs an equal right to use it. Your first mendment rights do not give you the right to promote a single message in public unchallenged. In fact, it is the right to political disagreement that is at the heart of the First Amendment.

What you are advocating, William, is censoring one side by denying the opposition the right to respond. If you truly support the First Amendment, you should not do that.

willk
Posted on June 3rd 2013 at 1:31PM

I apologize if anything I said in my first response lead you to believe that I was suggesting censorship!  Let it NEVER be! :-)

I am suggesting that anyone considering the course of action espoused in this article needs to check their OWN motivations and determine:

  • Am I drawing those I disagree with into a constructive debate over whether their support of a product/service or belief/opinion is beneficial?
  • Or am I attempting to subvert the goal of the tweeter?

An uncensored response to hashtag IS appropriate but that is NOT what you said in the first paragraph. 

"It doesn’t take that many people to STEAL a hashtag. A dozen or so independent tweeters PUSHING an alternative message...  

A sustained effort can effectively DENY a campaign of its ABILITY TO USE its hashtag to promote its message." 

That my dear friend is not a productive debate for the common good. That that is a form of grassroots censorship by using volume (by even a small group of people) to discourage debate and intimidate. Everyone should consider the greater good all the time! Exercising one's freedom means caring for our fellow man to the point that we don't let our revulsion at the thought of the inaccuracies of our opponent message lead us to treat thier perspective any worse than we would like our opinion to be treated.

Someone in theory could create a dozen or so accounts and steal the hashtag by oneself.  Wow! Democracy at its finest!!! 

Part of the reason I'm suggesting we examine our motivations is that if we accept this behavior in the political arena, how long will it be till it spills over into the business, 501c3, non-political ideology realm?

My intent in all this was to convey that we can go on an opponents hashtag and say, "We disagree, here is why, by the way come follow us if you want the truth". We should ask a challenging question and propose a debate with them (even via tweets) with rules. But if we don't respect someone and their freedom to safely express their own opinion then we are in essence haters. 

For example, If you are part of a group of folks who like tweeting about BMW M3's and I like the Lexus IS-F do I have the moral right to gather a few friends and  take over the use of your hashtag? It may fall within my constitutional rights to freedom of speech to participate, but denying ease of access to the intent of original message does not fall within my moral rights when I consider your freedom of speech or your right to the pursuit of happiness. 

By the way, I do appreciate your articles! :-)

DrDigipol
Posted on May 31st 2013 at 5:19PM

The role of a hashtag to to aggregate conversation about a common topic. That means people who disagree are brought together to work out that disagreement.